Legislators across the nation have enacted lemon laws as an effective method to protect consumers against seriously malfunctioning vehicles. By definition, a “lemon” can be any newly purchased vehicle in used or new condition that experiences an unexpected flaw that cannot be repaired by the manufacturer or seller after repeated attempts within a reasonable time frame.
Every year, approximately 150,000 vehicles are found to have unfixable, repeated issues. Because of that, many states have enacted lemon laws as a safeguard for consumers stuck with paying and maintaining defective automobiles.
Even though every state has its own version of the lemon law, the laws in most states share commonalities including the types of vehicles protected (leased or purchased and new or used vehicles). The lemon law enacted in Rhode Island requires automobile manufacturers to refund the purchase price of the vehicle or replace the vehicle if it is determined to be a “lemon.”
A Substantial Defect
For a vehicle to qualify as a “lemon,” it must have a substantial defect. By law, this means the problem must be covered by some type of warranty and that the defect impairs the vehicle’s use, safety or value. This could include defective steering, faulty brakes or other significant problem. Neither a minor defect on the vehicle or any issue caused by abuse is considered a legally substantial defect.
That said, the difference between substantial and minor defects can be legally hazy. Some defective problems are not always obvious including exposure to noxious fumes, defective materials or other serious issues that become apparent later on. In every state, the substantial defect must appear within a specific timeframe – typically a year or two – or occur within a specified number of miles that usually ranges from 12,000 to 24,000 to be considered a lemon car.
Reasonable Attempts to Repair
To meet the legal threshold of a substantial defect under lemon laws, the car owner or lessee must provide ample opportunity for the manufacturer or dealer to reasonably attempt to repair the problem. To qualify, the vehicle must meet at least one of the three following standards that include:
• An Extensive Safety Defect – If the defect involves steering, brakes or other safety equipment, the car can be deemed a lemon if it cannot be fixed in one repair attempt.
• Adequate Attempts to Repair – The vehicle can be considered a lemon if other substantial problems other than safety defects are not resolved after three or four attempts to repair.
• Too Much Time to Repair – If the vehicle repair takes longer than a specified number of days – typically one month over a one-year period – it might meet the definition of being called a lemon.
Seeking Legal Assistance
In many incidences, an arbitrator will serve as a mediator and hear both sides of a lemon law dispute. However, successful arbitration typically takes the skills of an experienced Massachusetts lemon law attorney to ensure that the owner or lessee has kept adequate records and provided the vehicle manufacturer a notice as required by law.
The MA lawyer will take three specific steps before arbitration that includes:
• Assemble a Repair Record – The lawyer will assist the lessee or owner in maintaining a repair record showing every repair attempt in the time the vehicle was in the shop and out of service. The record will address the problem, the types of repairs made and any part that was replaced.
• Provide Written Notice – Based on the state’s notice requirement, your attorney will send the manufacturer written notice to seek qualification that the client’s car is a lemon.
• Argue for a Refund or Replacement – The lawyer will argue that the car must be replaced or its cost must be refunded.
A seasoned Mass. lawyer experienced in handling lemon law cases can provide various legal remedies to ensure the vehicle qualifies for a refund or replacement. The Massachusetts lemon law lawyer will take steps to negotiate a financial agreement with the vehicle manufacturer which might include a replacement vehicle, full refund or cash.