Driver wins lawsuit over car’s bad case of BO

News   ·   October 13, 2006

A jury awards more than $300,000 to a man who said he could not rid his Bentley of a foul odor.

By JOHN GITTELSOHN
The Orange County Register
August “Gus” Doppes always wanted to own a Bentley, one of the world’s most luxurious cars. But something about the one he bought four years ago didn’t smell right.

And if there’s one thing Doppes knows it’s smell. His Irvine company, California Scents, makes car air fresheners.

Bentley Motors Inc. and its local dealer could never satisfactorily eliminate the stench of burning oil whenever he warmed up his 2001 Bentley Arnage. But after four years of legal wrangling, Doppes is enjoying the sweet smell of victory.

An Orange County Superior Court jury agreed this week that he was right about the odor. They jury verdict said he should get $214,300 for the car and assessed a damage award of $100,000.

“I’m happy about the award, but I wish they’d taken the car back four years ago,” said Doppes, who has put only 3,000 miles on the odometer. “It’s been a monumental pain in the ass.”

Doppes’ attorney, Jeffrey Benice, said his client stands to recover an additional $650,000 in fees from Bentley Motors and Newport Auto Center to cover the cost of the case – bringing the total award to almost $1 million.

Attorneys for Bentley and Newport Auto dispute Doppes’ allegations and their obligation to pay.

“The odor – whether or not it existed – is a manufacturing issue,” said Elizabeth Kolar, attorney for Newport Auto. “We don’t owe one cent.”

Jonathon Kaplan, a Los Angeles lawyer for Bentley, said Doppes can accept $100,000 to cover his damages or $214,300 in exchange for the car – but not both – under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. He regretted the matter had gone to court and said legal fees will be resolved later.

“Bentley Motors is very disappointed one of its valued customers was dissatisfied, and, as with all Bentley customers, the company made all efforts to fix his car,” Kaplan said.

Doppes expected more from the world-famous luxury brand.

It had always been his dream to own a Bentley. The 59-year-old scent aficionado recalls the big grin on his face when he drove his silver 400-horsepower Arnage off Newport Auto’s lot in April 2002. The smile disappeared after he started sniffing “an oily, greasy, chemical smell” before he even reached his Newport Coast home.

At first he thought the odor was oil on the new engine, but the stink kept coming back. Even Doppes’ air fresheners failed to clear the air.

“You couldn’t open the window or the sunroof, because it would smell worse,” he said.

At first, the dealer and automaker denied there was a problem, Doppes said. His lawyer, Benice, said they accused his client of having a hypersensitive nose because of his car-freshener business.

For his part, Kaplan denied he ever directly impugned Doppes’ olfactory sense. He said other Bentley owners complained about odors, but none sued the company and there was never a recall because of the problem.

In 2003, Newport Auto offered Doppes a kit supplied by Bentley to remedy the odor, but the results didn’t pass his sniff test. In March 2003, he took his complaint to an arbitrator, who ruled in favor of Bentley. In May 2004, he took his case to court.

That’s when they learned that Bentley itself referred to an “obnoxious odor” in its four-door cars and advised its dealers about a repair kit in the summer of 2001 – months before Doppes bought one.

The problem occurred after BMW sold Bentley to Volkswagen, Benice said, leading Bentley to use a different rust inhibitor, also called “wax oil,” to coat the body. Bentley failed to bake the gelatinous oil to the body properly, Benice said.

Despite his troubles, Doppes has not lost his love for Bentley.

“If they live up to the judgment, I’d consider going back and buying another Bentley,” he said. “It’s a great car.”

But the one he’s got still stinks.



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