Fiat Chrysler loses Supreme Court appeal over its vulnerability to cyberattack lawsuits

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear Fiat Chrysler’s appeal in a class action lawsuit over allegations that its Jeeps and other trucks are vulnerable to hacking, one of the first legal cases involving automotive cybersecurity risks.

The court’s action paves the way for a March trial in the litigation centering on the question of whether truck buyers can sue over hypothetical future injuries without having been actual victims of cybersecurity attacks on their vehicles. Fiat Chrysler has received widespread support from industry groups in the dispute.

Three car owners from Illinois, Michigan and Missouri in 2015 sued FCA US and Harman International Industries, a subsidiary of Samsung Electronics Co. that manufactures the Uconnect infotainment system installed in various Ram, Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler vehicles.

According to the lawsuit, cybercriminals are able to gain access to the infotainment system, allowing them to take over safety-critical functions such as acceleration, braking, steering and ignition.

The plaintiffs allege that both companies have known about the defects for years, saying cybersecurity researchers revealed the vulnerabilities as early as 2011. The issue received attention when a 2015 article by technology magazine Wired showed researchers hacking a Jeep Cherokee while it was driving.

The consumers have said that, had the defects been disclosed, they never would have purchased the vehicles in the first place or paid less for them. They also said the defects reduce their vehicles’ resale value.

FCA and Harman have denied the allegations, calling the lawsuit meritless and saying the plaintiffs lack the necessary legal standing to bring the case.

FCA in a statement on Monday said it looked forward to presenting its case at trial.

“None of the more than 200,000 class members in this lawsuit have ever had their vehicles hacked, and the federal safety regulators at NHTSA have determined that FCA US has fully corrected the issues raised by the plaintiffs,” the company said.

The vulnerabilities were fixed in a 2015 recall, when FCA issued free software updates for the roughly 1.4 million affected trucks. NHTSA determined the issue to have been fully addressed.

But U.S. District Judge Michael Reagan in East St. Louis, Ill., who oversees the litigation, in August 2017 denied the companies’ request to dismiss the lawsuits.

Instead, Reagan certified classes of consumers for claims of fraudulent concealment, unjust enrichment and violation of various state and federal consumer protection laws and scheduled a jury trial for March 2019.

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