VOL. 117 | NO. 61 | Thursday, March 27, 2003
Amended lemon law less sour for consumers
Amended lemon law less sour for consumers
By BRYAN MASSEY
The Daily News
For three to four years, Memphis attorney Kevin Snider has
heard new-car owners from Mississippi and Arkansas wonder aloud why consumer
law appeared to work against them.
After about 100 cases, he wondered, too.
I simply got annoyed seeing attorneys having to do for
consumers what the law was supposed to, Snider said. I began to see what they
saw: a law meant to protect them that wasnt.
Effective in all 50 states, lemon laws provide a framework
through which buyers and leasers of new vehicles can get those vehicles
repaired or replaced if they prove substantially impaired through no fault of
To qualify, consumers must meet certain requirements,
including a minimum number of repair attempts and a complaint filed to the
manufacturer within a specified time period. The requirements differ by state.
It was disparity among Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas
lemon laws that finally raised Sniders hackles.
He often served out-of-state clients buying vehicles in
Memphis who found themselves with no protection whatsoever. To qualify for
protection in Tennessee, buyers and leasers must register and license their
vehicles in the state.
Because Mississippi and Arkansas lemon laws protect only
purchasers of vehicles bought in those states, they were left without recourse
at home, as well.
But thats changing.
This week, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed a
bill amended by Rep. Larry Turner, D-Memphis, that qualifies out-of-state
buyers and leasers of new vehicles that is, vehicles no more than a year old
for Tennessee lemon law protection. A second amendment reduces from four to
three the number of times consumers must have sought vehicle repairs.
In bills of their own, Turner and state Sen. Roscoe Dixon,
D-Memphis, proposed those changes as well as a provision giving consumers 12
months to file a lemon law claim once a vehicles warranty expires. The current
law requires consumers to file within six months.
Instead of those bills, however, legislators in the House
and Senate approved bills endorsed by automobile manufacturing interests,
As now amended, the House bill reflects the consumer
protection Turner wanted. A joint House-Senate committee will begin work
within a few days to reconcile the amended House bill with the Senate bill,
which passed earlier this legislative session.
The result will be a law Turner is confident Gov. Phil
Bredesen and consumers will be pleased with.
It will be a win for all involved, he said. Dealers in
Memphis will find their sales positions strengthened, and consumers will get
the assurance they deserve.
Tennessee Automotive Association spokeswoman Elizabeth Owen
agreed. Nashville, Tenn.-based TAA represents car and truck dealers, financial
institutions and other automotive industry-related companies doing business in
Consumers will get a bill serving everyones interests,
There was some confusion with the language (in the original
law), she said. Everyone agreed we needed to be fair.
The changes in the law will come too late to help Horn Lake,
Miss., resident Brian Drost.
Last year, Drost bought a new Cadillac Escalade in Memphis.
When he discovered a scratch on the first vehicle the dealership delivered,
Drost accepted a second one in exchange. But front-end trouble with the SUV
beset him from the beginning.
After nearly six months in and out of the dealers shop for
repair, he sought help from General Motors in Detroit, Mich. Finding those
talks unproductive, Drost agreed to an arbitration hearing requested by GM and
coordinated by the Better Business Bureau.
At that hearing, Drost learned that, as an out-of-state
purchaser, he wasnt entitled to lemon law protection.
All I wanted was for them to take care of the issues, he
said. But in effect they told me it was my problem. All I remember hearing was
OK, so sue.
And thats what he planned to do. Although a manufacturer
must abide by arbitration settlements, a consumer is not required to, said
Randy Hutchinson, president of the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South.
After the hearing, Drost hired a lawyer. Notified of a
pending lawsuit, GM bought back his Escalade.
Hes satisfied with the outcome, Drost said. Still, he
wonders why the process took so long.
I mean, I wasnt trying to hang anyone, Drost said.
Such disagreements occur, Hutchinson said. When they do,
arbitration is the preferable means of settling them. Even in cases that go to
court, judges often ask for arbitrated settlements.
Even the best merchants and consumers will have
misunderstandings, Hutchinson said. It just happens. When they cant solve
the problems themselves, people in our position try to keep parties talking, to
move them toward common ground.
In Drosts case, the law worked in the manufacturers favor,
But, along with the language of the law itself, that, too,
is changing, Snider said.