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Since the first lemon law was passed in 1982, all fifty states have enacted some form of consumer protection for owners of defective automobiles. The laws vary greatly from state to state, but the premise is the same – people who buy new, defective vehicles are entitled to receive a replacement or a refund. This works well on paper, but in practice, the process can be rather time consuming and complicated. Some states have rather straightforward requirements for which vehicles qualify; others are far more complicated. Some states allow the owner to sue the manufacturer directly; others require that the owner submit to manufacturer or state sponsored arbitration procedures first.
Since lemon law claims are complicated and are not the sort of thing that most consumers handle more than once, there is some advantage to hiring an attorney to help. In many cases, hiring a lawyer isn’t necessary, as the system was designed to let the consumer handle the case without legal assistance. But there are many unexpected circumstances that can turn up in these cases, and most people could benefit from the help of an experienced attorney.
Here are some examples of how an attorney can help:
Speed up the process – Manufacturers are notorious for finding excuses not to pay on a claim. They may be more likely to be cooperative if the consumer has hired legal representation, especially if you have hired one with a proven record of success in lemon law cases.
Arbitration help – Arbitration programs tend to favor the manufacturer. They fund the programs, and many arbitrators are on their payroll, given them ample reason to rule against the consumer. While most states do not regard arbitration decisions as binding, many consumers who handle the cases themselves give up after losing an arbitration decision. The presence of an attorney can help.
Advice in a poor case – Some states require the consumer to pay the manufacturer’s legal costs in the event that the consumer should lose his or her case. These costs can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. If your case is a weak one, an experienced lawyer could save you this money by letting you know ahead of time that you shouldn’t pursue it in court.
In most states, consumers who win their cases are entitled to compensation for attorney’s fees. That being the case, there is a strong argument for at least discussing your defective automobile with a lawyer before you seek a refund or replacement for your defective vehicle.