Tesla Responds To Lemon Suit: What The Hell?

A lemon lawsuit was filed against Tesla on Monday, and it was accompanied by a totally bizarre video featuring a cardboard cutout of George Clooney. Tesla declined to comment at the time, but it's hard to keep them from talking back. They just put up a blog post, and it's got some pretty strong implications.

The post, titled "When Life Gives You Lemons...," goes on for a bit about how the company believes in lemon laws, which protect car buyers, and that people who buy Teslas are pretty happy people. That's general public relations-type stuff.

But the real meat of the response to Robert Montgomery and his morose lawyer, Vince Megna, comes near the bottom. They imply, in not-so-thinly veiled terms, that they think its a setup:

Another issue was that the car's fuse blew on numerous occasions. Each time, our engineers explored all possible explanations and were never able to find anything wrong with the car. Still, just to be sure, we replaced several parts that could have been related to the alleged problem – all at no expense to the customer. When the fuse kept blowing despite the new parts, and faced with no diagnosis showing anything wrong with the car, the engineers were moved to consider the possibility that the fuse had been tampered with. After investigating, they determined that the car's front trunk had been opened immediately before the fuse failure on each of these occasions. (The fuse is accessed through the front trunk.) Ultimately, Tesla service applied non-tamper tape to the fuse switch. From that point on, the fuse performed flawlessly.

That's circumstantial evidence that something fishy is going on with Montgomery and Megna's suit, but it's pretty big circumstantial evidence. But Tesla alleges that there were other factual inaccuracies as well:

The customer did not make three demands for a buy-back. The only time any such claim was made was in a legal form letter sent to Tesla in November 2013 as a prerequisite for pursuing the claim in Wisconsin. Our service team was in close contact with the customer both before and after we received the letter, and the possibility of a buy-back was never mentioned during those discussions.

That's also pretty huge, legally speaking. Because, as Tesla earlier stated in their blog post, they offer to buy the cars of unhappy customers back (on "fair terms," whatever that means), and if the customer never asked for a buy-back, then there's not much grounds for a Lemon Law suit.

If you want to sue, first you have to request the car be either replaced for free, or bought off you with a reasonable amount deducted for mileage, and then the request needs to be denied. And before you can even put in that request, it needs to either have a serious defect the company can't fix in four tries, or you need to be prevented from using the vehicle for 30 days.

Montgomery and Megna's suit claims that the car was unuseable for 66 days.

But Tesla's blog post claims that Megna never really asked for a buyback, so they don't know why he's suing. Furthermore, they say that they haven't been able to replicate his malfunctioning door handle issue, but replaced the door handles anyway. Again, Montgomery complained.

Oh, and Montgomery and Megna apparently have a history of filing lemon law suits against car companies, including one against Volvo just last year.

It is worth nothing what Tesla's blog post doesn't say. It doesn't mention the car's alleged issue of not keeping a charge, or a failure to start. So there may still actually be something here.

Anyways, we'll soon find out what the deal is.

The full Tesla blog post is below:

When Life Gives You Lemons...

We were taken by surprise by a lemon law claim recently filed against Tesla by a Wisconsin lawyer, describing himself as the "Lemon Law King", who says that we ignored his client's three demands for a buy-back after alleged problems with a Model S.

First, let us state that we believe in lemon laws – they exist to protect customers against cars that repeatedly suffer defects. That's a worthy thing to address. We also make a point of going above and beyond in customer service, which extends to buying back cars on fair terms from any customer who ultimately remains unsatisfied with their vehicle. We never want someone to be unhappy in their ownership of a Model S.

In this case, however, there are good reasons to be skeptical of the lawyer's motivations. The service record shows that the Tesla service team did everything reasonably possible to help his client and they were continuing their efforts to service his vehicle right up until the point the suit was filed with no warning. Indeed, our service team, which has been in contact with the customer numerous times since November, is still trying to resolve his stated concerns, many of which have elusive origins.

This lawyer's claim strikes us as unusual on several counts. For a start, it contradicts the general customer experience as measured by outside surveys. The annual Consumer Reports survey, for instance, gave Model S top marks for owner satisfaction, with a score of 99/100, the highest rating of any car ever. That doesn't mean a single customer can't have a bad overall experience, but it makes it highly unlikely. The claim also doesn't jibe with the other accolades afforded to the car, including Consumer Reports' "Best Overall" designation for its Top Picks 2014 awards, and the 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year award.

More tellingly, however, there are factual inaccuracies in the lawyer's story. The customer did not make three demands for a buy-back. The only time any such claim was made was in a legal form letter sent to Tesla in November 2013 as a prerequisite for pursuing the claim in Wisconsin. Our service team was in close contact with the customer both before and after we received the letter, and the possibility of a buy-back was never mentioned during those discussions.

To give you a sense of our service relationship with this customer, it's worth considering our efforts to resolve two of his main complaints. One related to malfunctioning door handles. Even though our service team wasn't able to replicate the issue with the door handles as described, we replaced all the handles anyway. Despite the fix, the customer said the problem persisted. We were never able to reproduce the alleged malfunction but offered to inspect the car again and are still trying to do so.

Another issue was that the car's fuse blew on numerous occasions. Each time, our engineers explored all possible explanations and were never able to find anything wrong with the car. Still, just to be sure, we replaced several parts that could have been related to the alleged problem – all at no expense to the customer. When the fuse kept blowing despite the new parts, and faced with no diagnosis showing anything wrong with the car, the engineers were moved to consider the possibility that the fuse had been tampered with. After investigating, they determined that the car's front trunk had been opened immediately before the fuse failure on each of these occasions. (The fuse is accessed through the front trunk.) Ultimately, Tesla service applied non-tamper tape to the fuse switch. From that point on, the fuse performed flawlessly.

It's also of interest to note that this particular lawyer filed a lemon law suit against Volvo in February last year – on behalf of the very same client.

We are continuing our efforts to work with the customer and are happy to address any legitimate concerns he has about his Model S. Customer service remains of utmost importance to Tesla, and no Model S owner should be unhappy with their car. However, we would also like the public to be aware of the potential for lemon laws to be exploited by opportunistic lawyers.