Deal Reached in Tractor Fluid Suit

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A preliminary settlement has been reached in a second class action lawsuit in Missouri accusing a lubricant company and a store chain of fraud for the supply of 303 tractor hydraulic fluid.

This case was brought against lube marketer Smittys Supply Inc. and Tractor Supply Co., and the $1.7 million settlement would partially reimburse consumers for purchases of fluids and help cover costs of equipment damage.

In April a settlement was reached in a similar case against Omni Specialty Packaging and OReilly Automotive Inc. Both cases had the same plaintiffs attorneys – Horn Aylward & Bandy and White, Graham, Buckley & Carr – and alleged that the defendants violated Missouris Merchandising Practices Act and were fraudulent and negligent in supplying hydraulic fluid that did not adequately protect equipment.

The settlement with Smittys and Tractor Supply Co. still requires the sign off of the judge in the case, which is in federal district court for the Western District of Missouri. Smittys and Tractor Supply Co. maintain that their actions were defensible.

The lawsuits are just part of the scrutiny that 303 and JD 303 tractor fluids have come under the past few years. The names allude to an old John Deere standard for tractor hydraulic fluids, which was developed in the 1960s but has long been considered obsolete. John Deere has since developed replacement specifications, but some lubricant blenders and retailers continue to supply 303 fluids as low-cost products. Critics note that such products are not required to pass performance tests and complain that they do not protect equipment in use today.

Several states have ordered stores to stop offering 303 fluids, and the National Conference on Weights and Measures recently adopted a mandate that 303 fluids bear labels that clearly state they have no demonstrated ability to protect equipment. ASTM International is now developing an industry standard for tractor hydraulic fluids.

The settlement with Smittys and Tractor Supply Co. is calculated to reimburse some 10,000 plaintiffs for half of the price of 303 fluids that they purchased since 2013. The $1.7 million also includes $5,000 for each of four lead defendants in the case, $150,000 to reimburse attorneys for expenses and $511,500 in contingency fees for the plaintiffs attorneys.