In a case that could have broader implications, a Florida lemon law board just declared a cheating Volkswagen a “lemon,” and ordered VW to buy it back. But this isn’t your usual lemon law case, and there’s more to it than you think.
Walter Melnyk owns a Volkswagen diesel, and felt that it was a lemon under the state’s Lemon Law. As one is required to do in that state, he filed an action to have a panel declare the vehicle a lemon. VW fought to have the action stopped and when they lost that, they apparently fought to keep the TV cameras away from the hearing. Which they obviously lost too, as reported by the TV.
The crack VW defense team tried the all-time-classic defense of “but you still drive it, how can it be a lemon?”
The panel didn’t buy it, and ruled in Melnyk’s favor. The TV talking-folk suggest that this could be a huge deal in Florida. And yes, it could. But not necessarily. Among other things, VW is still batting .500 on these - they won the only other such hearing that anyone knows of.
And if you are in another state, this has very little to do with you - other than that this will cause people to pick up their phones and call lemon law attorneys and say they want to go the Full Melnyk on VW. But here is the problem: Each state’s lemon law is different, primarily in that they are handled by that state’s court system. And different courts in different states have differing attitudes on how to interpret said laws. And court cases from other states’ courts - especially ones that have not been written up by appellate courts - have virtually no precedential effect in your state court.
For example, there is no evidence as to whether Melnyk brought his car in and demanded that VW fix it. If he had not - even though VW still does not have a fix - many states would dismiss the case as being premature.
I have seen cases tossed because of technical deficiencies and I assure you, when the law says you must present the vehicle so many times before it is a lemon, present it so many times. Even if it means going in, having them tell you, “We have no fix,” leaving, and then repeating the process 3 more times (or however many times your state requires you to present the vehicle for repair).
Silly? Perhaps. But I don’t write ‘em; I just tell people how they work.
If you have a cheating VW and want to try a Melnyk, here’s my advice. Find out what your state’s lemon law requires as to the number of repair attempts. Then, take your VW in that many times. See if they will give you a work order for your visit, but don’t be surprised if they don’t. Document your visit (take a selfie in the writeup lane!) Once you have the requisite number of visits and the car is still unfixed, call an attorney, and see if you can become your own state’s Melnyk.
One final note: Even though Volkswagen has been caught red-handed here, you will likely still have to meet ALL your state’s lemon law requirements. So, for example, if you bought the VW used, it might not qualify. (But it might qualify under other laws.)
And, as always, consult a local attorney.
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Steve Lehto has been practicing law for 24 years, almost exclusively in consumer protection and Michigan lemon law. He wrote The Lemon Law Bible and Chrysler’s Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit’s Coolest Creation.
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