The Fifth Circuit Holds that a Manufacturer’s Transfer of a Vehicle to a Dealer is a “Sale of the Product” that Triggers the Statute of Repose

The Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code indicates that “a claimant must commence a products liability action against a manufacturer or seller of a product before the end of 15 years after the date of the sale of the product by the defendant.”  See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §16.012(b).  This is known as the statute of repose.  However, the statute does not define “sale.”  For years, the date of sale was presumed to be the date the customer purchased the product from the dealer/store.  As such, the date reflected on the sales receipt (or title) triggered the statute of repose regardless of how long the product was in inventory.

In Camacho v. Ford, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit was presented with a situation wherein a vehicle was transferred from the manufacturer to the dealer in October 2003 yet was not sold to a customer until January 2004.  In August 2017, the vehicle was involved in a rollover and a lawsuit was filed in January 2019.  Ford argued the date of sale was when it was transferred to the dealer, while the plaintiffs argued it was the date the vehicle was sold to a consumer (when the title was issued).  The Fifth Circuit looked to the UCC’s definition of “sale” and held that the date of the first sale was when the ownership of the vehicle passed to the dealership when it was released.  Unfortunately, this holding will shorten the statute of repose as products inevitably spend time in inventory before they are sold to the public and makes it easier for manufacturers to escape liability.