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Lemon Law Summaries - State by State

Lemon Law - Fraud FAQs
- General -

By:  Adam J. Krohn

What Constitutes Fraud  ?
Fraud may be committed by an automobile dealership by misrepresenting or failing to disclose such things as the true condition of the vehicle (i.e., whether the vehicle was involved in an accident or sustained some type of damage when in possession of a prior owner), the true mileage of a vehicle or the true ownership history of the vehicle. Fraud may also occur where a dealership allows a consumer to take delivery of a vehicle prior to obtaining financing, promises to obtain financing, fails to do so and then refuses to return the consumer's down-payment or trade-in vehicle.

Fraud may also occur when a vehicle repair facility charges for repairs not performed or performs work in a sub-standard manner or performs work not authorized by the vehicle owner. Most states have Consumer Protection Laws affording consumers a recourse when victimized by such misconduct.

What Defines a "Lemon" Vehicle  ?
It is difficult to state a precise definition for a "Lemon" vehicle as laws vary from state to state. In general, a vehicle may be considered a "Lemon" if it is subject to repeat repairs for the same defect within a certain time frame. Some states also consider a vehicle to be a "Lemon" if it is out of service for a specified number of days, generally thirty [30] or more. Although the number of repairs necessary to have a lemon law claim vary between states, generally at least three [3] repairs for the same defect are required before a consumer may institute a claim against an automobile manufacturer.

What Documentation Do I Need  ?
It is wise to retain all documentation received at the time of purchase, in particular the bill of sale or retail installment contract as this details the amount paid for the vehicle and whether any down-payment was tendered. More vital than the purchase documents are the repair invoices received each time the vehicle is serviced, as these documents evidence the repairs performed to the vehicle. It is important to retain each invoice received; however, should invoices be lost consumers can obtain a printout of warranty work performed from any dealership which specializes in the particular make of vehicle the consumer possesses.

If consumers have no documentation an attorney may be able to subpoena records from the dealerships that serviced the vehicle. Consumers may also order a vehicle history report by utilizing our Free Lemon Check section.

What Rights Do I Have  ?
Much like lemon laws vary from state to state, a consumer has different remedies depending upon the state in which he or she resides. In general, a consumer can hope to recover one [1] of three [3] remedies . . [1] Refund . . [2] Replacement, or . . [3] Cash Compensation for the Diminished Value of the "Lemon" vehicle. Again, as state laws vary, what constitutes a refund in one state may be quite different in another. Consumers utilizing the federal breach of warranty statute are generally limited to refund or cash compensation. Some states offer a replacement vehicle as a remedy, while others provide for cash compensation due to the diminished value of the vehicle as a result of the defects.

How Do I Enforce Those Rights  ?
Enforcement of rights again varies depending on the particular state's statute or whether the federal statute is used. Many states require a consumer to notify the manufacturer in writing about the specific problems incurred and how many attempts at repair have been made. While many "Lemon" laws in theory can be enforced outside of court, in reality a consumer is often required to file a formal lawsuit in order to enforce his or her rights.

Do I Need an Attorney  ?
Although it is not absolutely necessary to retain the services of an attorney, it is always wise to at least consult with an attorney before attempting to institute a lawsuit as most "Lemon" laws are very specific and have nuances that are better understood by an attorney. As many states, including the federal breach of warranty statute applicable to all states, have "Lemon" laws that require the manufacturer to pay a prevailing consumer's attorneys' fees on top of whatever remedy received, consumers often have little to lose and much to gain by consulting with an attorney.

How is My Attorney Paid  ?
Again, the federal breach of warranty statute requires a manufacturer to pay the attorneys' fees of a consumer who prevails on a "Lemon" law claim. State statutes vary; some require the consumer to pay attorneys' fees while others provide for attorneys' fees like the federal statute. Generally, a consumer is responsible for court filing fees and costs associated with hiring an expert witness if desired.

How Long Will It Take  ?
It is very difficult to say how long a particular "Lemon" law case will take as each case is different due to the manufacturer, age of the vehicle, mileage, and number of repairs. While some cases settle in as little as thirty [30] days, cases that go to trial can last up to two [2] years or more. On average, most cases do not last more than six [6] months.

What Is A Reasonable Expectation of Outcome  ?
As each case is different it is difficult to state what to expect in general as an outcome. Once an attorney reviews the particular facts of a consumer's situation he or she should be able to give a general idea of possible outcomes. However, it is important to note that each manufacturer is different and offers distinct offers of settlement. Moreover, should a case go all the way to trial, it is nearly impossible to discern what a jury would award.

How Do I Select the Right Attorney  ?
There are countless resources available to consumers to aid in selecting an attorney. You may consult your local bar association, as many have lawyer referral services. The Internet is also an excellent resource for researching and selecting attorneys. A good place to start is by visiting the "Local Attorneys" section on the I-Can web site.

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