» Subscribe Today!
More of what you want to know.
The Daily News

Forgot your password?
TDN Services
Research millions of people and properties [+]
Monitor any person, property or company [+]

Skip Navigation LinksHome >
VOL. 117 | NO. 61 | Thursday, March 27, 2003

Print | Front Page | Email this story | Comments ()
Amended lemon law less sour for consumers

Amended lemon law less sour for consumers


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 the consumer.

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, Turner said.

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 Tennessee.

Consumers will get a bill serving everyones interests, Owen said.

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, Hutchinson said.

But, along with the language of the law itself, that, too, is changing, Snider said.

PROPERTY SALES 63 441 6,018
MORTGAGES 72 450 6,721
BANKRUPTCIES 0 1,045 4,093