Wis. Supreme Court Nixes Class-action Lawsuit Against Harley-Davidson

July 13, 2007

The Wisconsin Supreme Court refused on Thursday to reopen a class-action lawsuit that accuses Harley-Davidson Inc. of failing to disclose a defect in two engine types sold in 1999 and 2000.

In a 4-3 vote, the court upheld a circuit court decision refusing to reopen and amend a 2001 case brought by Steven Tietsworth, of California. Tietsworth claimed the Milwaukee-based motorcycle maker knew or should have known the engine design for some motorcycles made in 1999 and early 2000 was inherently defective. The flaw, he claimed, diminished the value of his motorcycle.

A court of appeals had overruled the circuit court in December 2005, saying Tietsworth’s case could be amended to include warranty and contract claims. The state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the circuit court has no authority to reopen the amended case.

Harley-Davidson spokesman Bob Klein said the company would not comment until it had reviewed the decision. Tietsworth’s lawyer, Ted Warshafsky, also declined to comment before reading the decision.

Harley-Davidson sent letters in January 2001 to Tietsworth and 140,000 other owners of 1999 and early 2000 models built with the Twin Cam 88 and Twin Cam 88B engines. The company told owners the rear cam bearing in some bikes had failed but would probably not cause engine failure. Harley extended its warranty for the part and made cam repair kits available for $495.

Tietsworth’s complaint, which later involved four other owners, said the problem increased riders’ safety risks and decreased the value of their Harleys. A circuit court judge threw out the original case, saying Tietsworth and others failed to show actual damages or economic loss, and its decision was eventually upheld by the state Supreme Court.

In 2004, Tietsworth asked a court to amend his original complaint to include contract and warranty claims. Thursday’s Supreme Court decision ended that effort.

Harley shares rose 72 cents, or 1.17 percent, to $62.14 midday Thursday.

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