Kawasaki, Louisiana dealer win appeal in 'malfunctioning' ZX1400 case

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A Louisiana appellate judge has found Kawasaki and one of its dealers not liable for a malfunctioning motorcycle, overturning a lower court verdict.

The case involved a redhibition suit, in which a plaintiff asks for a purchase to be rescinded and then to be refunded the cost of the product and the money spent on it. It was a long and drawn out matter that serves as a reminder to every service department: Keep complete records, and enlist a second opinion from another dealer if you think you need backup.

The plaintiff, in this case, is Eric Cazaubon, who sued Cycle Sport (doing business as Cycle Shop in Slidell, La.) and Kawasaki Motor Corp. for refusing to take back a ZX1400 and refunding him the full purchase price plus any additional money he had spent on it – or to reduce the sale price for a partial refund. He also sued for legal fees.

Cazaubon claimed that the motorcycle had a defective engine and a cracked frame. In the end, however, the appeals judge found that the motorcycle was not proven to be defective and ruled in favor of the OEM and the dealer.

Background. Cazaubon purchased the ZX1400 from Cycle Shop in September 2006 but brought it in for servicing an engine rattle in April 2007. (According to court records, Cazaubon had owned another ZX1400 with the same problem, and Cycle Shop reportedly repaired it under warranty.) Cazaubon testified that Cycle Shop’s service manager, identified as Dane Beagle, suspected a loose rod – which had been the problem with Cazaubon’s other bike. In the course of this discovery, the two reportedly removed the clutch cover, oil pan, exhaust and side covers. Cazaubon said Beagle told him the repair would be covered under warranty and would order the parts to make the fix.

Cazaubon said he left the vehicle at the shop, where it sat for more than a year, without any repair. When a shop mechanic finally looked at the vehicle, he discovered that it had a cracked frame. At that point, Cazaubon told Cycle Shop that he didn’t want the bike back due to 1) the cracked frame and 2) the fact that it had sat in the dealer’s service shop for so long.

Here’s where the stories diverge. Cycle Shop owner Robert Miller testified that Cazaubon actually took the bike home in April 2007 while the parts were on order and brought it back in August 2007. When he brought it back, Miller said he informed Cazaubon that the repair would not be under warranty because the motorcycle, Miller had discovered, had been used for competitive racing. Cazaubon would need to guarantee payment for the repairs, Miller said, before the dealership would begin working on the bike. Cazaubon, Miller said, then agreed to pay to have a new motor installed which he would personally provide.

“When the mechanic took out the old motor on Mr. Cazaubon’s motorcycle to start working on it, he discovered that the frame was cracked, so he ordered a new frame and replaced it,” according to the court documents. “No repairs were ever done to the engine, and Mr. Miller did not believe that there was ever anything actually wrong with the engine. This opinion was based on his assertion that Cycle Sport’s employees started the motorcycle almost every day to move it in and out of the shop, and never heard any noise. Although they did not test out the motor initially because Mr. Cazaubon had removed the exhaust, after this litigation began Cycle Sport put a stock exhaust on the bike and tested it, and found nothing wrong. Cycle Sport then sent the bike to another dealership, D&L Power Sports, who tested it and confirmed that there was nothing wrong with the motorcycle.

“Brian Lambert, Cycle Sport’s head mechanic, testified that he had no knowledge of what [Beagle] told Mr. Cazaubon when he first came in with the bike or what parts were ordered for the bike,” the records state. “However, none of the parts ordered by [Beagle] were ever used on the bike. The only work Mr. Lambert ever did on the bike was between June and August of 2008. At that time, he took the engine out and inspected the rod bearings and crank bearings to make sure there was no damage before putting it all back together. After reassembling the bike, he put a stock exhaust on it because Mr. Cazaubon had removed the exhaust, and then he started it and rode it. He testified that when he rode it there were no noises, no hesitations, and the bike rode just like it should.”

But the lower court sided with Cazaubon’s claims that he and Beagle (who is no longer working for the dealership and was not called to testify, according to court documents) diagnosed an engine problem and that Cazaubon had not race or abuse the motorcycle, and concluded that the motorcycle engine had a redhibitory defect. It also concluded that the motorcycle frame was defective. So it ruled in favor of the plaintiff, ordering the dealership to pay Cazaubon $10,500 (the purchase price of the ZX1400) and $2,508 (the cost of preserving the bike), and instructing Kawaskai to pay $7,500 in attorney’s fees.

Kawasaki and Cycle Sport filed an immediate appeal, and on Nov. 9 the appeals court overturned the lower court’s verdict.

What the appellate judge said.  “There was no evidence offered to prove that anything was ever actually wrong with the engine,” the appellate judge stated. “Cycle Sport and D&L Power Sports both examined the engine and found nothing wrong. Mr. Cazaubon did not have a mechanic examine the bike. The only evidence he presented was his own testimony that they looked at the bike with the service manager and knew what was wrong. Finally, Mr. Cazaubon testified at trial that he did not know if there was anything wrong with the bike’s engine. Based upon this, we find that Mr. Cazaubon failed to carry his burden of proof that the bike was defective, and the court was clearly wrong in concluding that the bike had a defective engine.”

The appeals court also overturned the lower court’s finding that the motorcycle frame was defective. “It is unclear from the testimony presented at trial when or why the frame cracked on the bike,” the appellate judge stated. Neither Kawasaki nor the dealer could determine the source of the cracked frame; however, the judge noted that Kawasaki supplied a brand-new frame at no cost and that the dealership replaced the cracked frame with the new one at no cost. “At the time this suit was filed, the bike had a brand new frame,” the appellate judge stated.

In addition to reversing the lower court’s decision, the appellate judge assessed all costs of the appeal to Cazaubon. You can read the decision at www.leagle.com by clicking here.

Posted by Holly Wagner with Mary Slepicka