Smittys Sued over Hydraulic Fluid

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A small business owner in Texas sued Smittys Supply and its distributor Atwood Distributing, alleging they sold defective, inadequately tested tractor hydraulic fluid that destroyed a logging tractor.

Smittys Supply Inc. is a manufacturer of finished commercial lubricants in Louisiana, and Atwood Distributing L.P. is an Oklahoma-based seller of farm supplies.

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According to the lawsuit filed last month in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Texas, Harvey Heisler – individually and doing business as East Texas Timber Co. – purchased Super Trac 303 Tractor Hydraulic Fluid in early 2011, and claimed that in March of that same year, it caused a complete breakdown of his logging tractor, resulting in significant repair cost and lost income.

Heisler claims in the lawsuit that the hydraulic fluid made by Smittys and sold by Atwood was defective and had been made with reconditioned, reclaimed, used or secondhand base oil ingredients. The suit alleges that the fluid had not been adequately tested nor properly additized, and was ultimately not compatible with the type of use for which it was marketed and sold.

The defendants are accused of violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, breaching implied warranty, and negligence, having knowingly and intentionally used refurbished and off-spec oils as base oils in their hydraulic fluids. The case also claims that the accused parties knowingly and intentionally did not use additives, yet concealed that information from Heisler.

The attorney representing Smittys had not responded to Lube Reports requests for comment by deadline. In its original answer document filed with the court in response to the lawsuit, Smittys denied all allegations, asserting that any damages caused were a result of the acts, omissions, fault, negligence, or other conduct on Heislers side.

Smittys on April 1 told Lube Report the mechanical breakdown alleged in the lawsuit is the result of misapplication of the product, noting that 303 specification fluids have not been recommended by equipment manufacturers since the mid 1970s. Smittys alleged that Heisler admitted to the company that he used the Super Trac 303 tractor hydraulic fluid in a 2000 model year John Deere 648 G2 Grapple Skidder. Manufacturer John Deere specifies such equipment must use a J20C specification fluid, Smittys said.

Richard Edward Harrison, the lawyer representing the retailer, Atwood Distributing, told Lube Report that unless the complaint is amended to differentiate between and find fault with both the selling and the manufacturing of the product in question, his client has no real allegations to defend. Instead, he says, the allegations and fault (if any) will lie directly on the manufacturer of the [THF].

Tractor Hydraulic Fluid is a unique multifunctional lubricant that acts as a hydraulic fluid, transmission fluid, and gear oil, Petroleum Quality Institute of America President Thomas Glenn told Lube Report. PQIA, based in Metuchen, N.J., tests and reports on the quality of lubricants in the U.S. market.

Lawsuits investigating the quality and specs of THFs, while not uncommon in the U.S., tend to open up a can of worms, as Glenn puts it. He noted that many specifications for the performance of THFs are established by the original equipment manufacturer (such as John Deere or New Holland), and are sometimes mutually exclusive, yet labels on many pails and drums of tractor hydraulic fluid purport to have universal specs, or to meet specs which have since become obsolete.

Furthermore, Glenn says, many of the THFs on the market reportedly dont even say the products meet Deere and other OEM specifications. Instead, they use such phrases as recommended for use, commonly used, typically used, or can be used where the following recommendations are made.

The Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Association stresses how important a role testing plays in maintaining a fair and competitive marketplace for its members. ILMA conducts random testing of members lubricants, including tractor hydraulic fluids. The association adopted an enforceable code of ethics in 1984, and initiated its program of testing members lubricants in 2007, to assure adherence to the code. Smittys Supply is not a member of ILMA.