Caterpillar C15 engine.
Caterpillar C15 engine. (Photo: Caterpillar.)

Lawsuits from around the country claiming Caterpillar Inc.’s engines for trucks, buses and recreation vehicles frequently break down have been centralized in federal court in New Jersey.

The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, in consolidating five cases from California, Florida, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and New Jersey on Wednesday, said similar suits that are brewing in Georgia, Minnesota, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin may be transferred at a later date.

Caterpillar wanted the venue to be Miami. The plaintiffs supported that choice but also suggested New Jersey, which the JPML said it chose because the case already here, BK Trucking Co. v. Caterpillar, is relatively advanced, with discovery underway. The case is assigned to Chief Judge Jerome Simandle, who will also take on the others.

The suits charge that Caterpillar’s C13 and C15 Advanced Combustion Emission Reduction Technology (ACERT) engines have defective emissions systems that cause them to stall suddenly, placing drivers and passengers at risk. The company knew of the defects but concealed them from buyers, the plaintiffs say, raising claims of breach of warranty and violation of various state consumer protection laws.

The ACERT six-cylinder engines were made from 2007 to 2009 in response to stricter federal limits on emissions from diesel engines. Caterpillar stopped making truck and bus engines after 2010, says the complaint in BK Trucking.

The plaintiff in that suit claims vehicles with ACERT engines incorporate a diesel particulate filter in the muffler to reduce soot buildup, but the filter becomes extremely hot, putting harmful pressure on other engine components, causing them to fail.

In an answer filed on May 14, Caterpillar denied that the engines are defective and predisposed to failure or that it made misrepresentations to buyers about the reliability of its engines.

The company also denied the plaintiff’s claims that it suffered an ascertainable loss as a result of deceptive business practices and denied that vehicles the plaintiff bought with the ACERT engines have a lower resale value.

Further denied was the plaintiffs’ claim that Caterpillar dealers saw sharp increases in the volume of repair work they did after the ACERT engines were introduced.

BK Trucking of Newfield, the plaintiff in the New Jersey case, is represented by Shepherd, Finkelman, Miller & Shah in Collingswood, N.J., and Trimble & Armano in Turnersville, N.J.

Plaintiffs in the other four cases are represented by the Complex Litigation Group in Highland Park, Ill., with Seeger Weiss also on the plaintiff side in the California, Florida and Pennsylvania cases, and Cohen, Milstein, Sellers & Toll in Washington, D.C., also representing plaintiffs in the Florida case.

Caterpillar is represented by Sedgwick in the California, New Jersey and Florida cases. In the Pennsylvania case it is represented by Campbell, Campbell, Edwards & Conroy of Wayne, Pa., and in the Louisiana case by McGlinchey Stafford of New Orleans.

Caterpillar spokeswoman Barbara Cox said its ACERT engines offer operating cost savings and have successfully performed “across millions of miles in North America.” She said the company “looks forward to addressing these allegations now that they have been consolidated in one forum.”

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