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Special Lemon Law Report: How Government Fails Consumers Who Have Defective Vehicles (Part 7)

Posted on by Sergei Lemberg

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Consumer Redress through the Courts

State lemon law also gives consumers the right to file suit against auto manufacturers in state court. Once a consumer retains an attorney, the attorney typically collects the relevant documentation and ascertains whether or not any actions must be taken to qualify the vehicle as a lemon. For example, the attorney might direct his client to notify the manufacturer of the defective vehicle in order to give the manufacturer a final repair attempt.

Once there is adequate documentation, the attorney typically tries to resolve the case in the pre-litigation phase by contacting the manufacturer and obtaining a settlement for his client. Possible resolutions include the manufacturer buying back the lemon vehicle, providing a cash settlement to the consumer, or delivering a replacement vehicle to the consumer.

If a settlement is not reached, the consumer’s attorney usually files a lawsuit. Most often, the lawsuit settles prior to trial. If not, the court process proceeds with hearings, discovery, and a trial.

There are no statistics available on the number of lemon law cases filed in state courts. Even if such statistics were available, they would not include the number of pre-litigation settlements achieved by attorneys representing clients with lemon law claims.

Attorney marketing site Avvo, which features profiles for 160,000 of the 1.6 million attorneys in the U.S., lists 24 lemon law attorneys in New York, 6 lemon law attorneys in Connecticut, and 14 lemon law attorneys in Massachusetts. Because it is a single marketing site, Avvo’s listings likely represent only a percentage of practicing lemon law attorneys in those jurisdictions.

Because lemon laws include fee-shifting provisions, settlements and favorable trial verdicts typically lead to recovery of court costs and attorney fees. For this reason, lemon law attorneys usually do not charge clients fees or court costs, and instead recover those costs and fees upon successful settlement or litigation.

While there are no hard statistics, it is reasonable to conclude that the 24 New York lemon law attorneys listed in the Avvo directory, which represent an unknown fraction of all New York lemon law attorneys, collectively recovered more settlements and replacement vehicles for consumers in 2014 than the New York lemon law arbitration program, which helped 65 consumers during that same year, or the BBB Auto Line program, which helped 43 consumers. Similarly, it is reasonable to conclude that the fraction of Connecticut lemon law attorneys listed in an online marketing directory were able to achieve favorable results for more than the 28 Connecticut residents helped by that state’s lemon law arbitration program, or the 5 residents helped by BBB Auto Line.

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