I have been filing lawsuits over defective vehicles — Lemon Law and others — for 23 years now. And one thing has not changed in all that time: I hear one dumb argument from manufacturers and dealers over and over again.
Recently, I filed a case on behalf of a consumer who bought a boat, which is not covered by Michigan’s Lemon Law. Shortly after he bought it, the outdrive failed. It simply would not work. He brought it back to the selling dealer who fiddled with it a bit and gave it back to him. He dropped it in the water and it wouldn’t go. He brought it back to the dealer. The dealer fiddled with it some more and said it was fixed.
Client picked it up and repeated the process. No go. The dealer told my client, “It needs a new outdrive, but the manufacturer won’t authorize us to replace it.” They said the manufacturer would only authorize his guys to keep repairing the defective one. When asked if he could take one out of a boat on his showroom floor, the seller said no.
So, we filed suit. And here is where the expected defense comes in. The manufacturer showed up and said, “We’ll replace the outdrive now if you drop your suit.”
How idiotic is this? 1. My client’s boat was still under warranty. He was entitled to the repair at no cost, so the “offer” was something to which he was entitled to before we filed suit. 2. The seller and the manufacturer could have avoided this lawsuit by fixing the boat before we filed it.
And yet, I hear this one all the time. The good news is that in Lemon Law cases, manufacturers are put on notice that suit will be filed if they do not take the opportunity to do their last repair. Even so, I hear it there too. They ignore the last chance letter, we file suit, and they offer to repair the vehicle in exchange for a dismissal. As my dad says, “Day late and a dollar short.”
But it is much more common in the non-lemon law arena. Boats, motorcycles, RVs, ATVs and so on. The defendants think they can avoid legal liability by offering you what they owed you all along. And clients are not wrong to turn this down.
Among other things, if they couldn’t fix it before suit what makes anyone think they can fix it now? And, the filing of the suit took time and money. Why should the consumer have to foot that bill? (Laws such as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act allow for a successful consumer-litigant to recover their attorney’s fees and court costs from the warrantor.)
Once or twice I have had a client agree to such a settlement if the defendant also agreed to pay the attorney fees and costs of the action. But defendants don’t like that. I have had attorneys actually say to me, “You’re just in this for the money.”
Oh, and you work for free?
Actually, I do do “this” for the money and because I love to have stories like this I can write about on the internet. I just don’t tell them that.
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Steve Lehto has been practicing law for 23 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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