Marketing of Private-Brand Motor Oils - Were Customers Misled?

Litigation, North America

Advances in automobile engine performance have driven engine oil improvements to meet more demanding lubrication requirements; however, many older vehicles can still operate on a less highly-formulated oil. A suit was filed by a class of purchasers who claimed they were misled by a retailer of an inferior quality store brand motor oil that damaged their engines. Baker & O'Brien opined with deposition testimony on compliance with industry product labeling requirements, and if the store brand oil could have harmed customer engines.

Motor vehicle manufacturers, in conjunction with oil industry organizations, specify the preferred grades and qualities of motor oil suitable for their engines. Over the years, advances in engine performance have demanded improvements in motor oil quality. However, many older vehicles still on the road can operate satisfactorily on less highly-formulated, lower-cost oils.

A discount retailer manufactured, packaged, and marketed its own "store brand" motor oils at prices below that of well-known major oil company brands. The retailer sold several different grades and qualities-including the advanced quality-in the same aisle alongside competing major brands. Several store brand oils were only suitable for use in older vehicles, and the retailer labeled them as such. The retailer claimed the labeling met all of the statutory recommendations outlined by the American Petroleum Institute (API) and other industry organizations that publish guidelines for such products. Despite this, a number of purchasers of the store brand oils claimed that they were misled into using inferior quality oil in their vehicles, which subsequently damaged their vehicle's engines. A class-action lawsuit was filed against the retailer.

Baker & O'Brien was engaged to: (1) opine on whether the labeling complied with all industry guidelines and included required cautionary statements; (2) opine on whether the store brand oils would have harmed the customers' engines if applied appropriately; (3) opine on what, if any, damage might have occurred from misapplying the oils; and (4) determine whether any of the plaintiffs had purchased the store brand oils for non-automotive use.

Following our investigations, Baker & O'Brien prepared a report detailing our findings and provided deposition testimony. After extensive discovery, the parties were able to negotiate a satisfactory settlement, thereby avoiding trial.

Ed M. Scardaville

Senior Advisor

Petroleum Refining
Standard of Care / Litigation / Expert Witness Testimony / Product Quality
North America