Important Lemon Law Provisions Upheld

Attorney General Spitzer today hailed a court decision that upheld the Attorney General's interpretation of key provisions of the Lemon Law intended to end the frustrating cycle of repairs sometimes faced by consumers across the state.

Albany County State Supreme Court Justice Joseph R. Cannizzaro issued a decision rejecting a challenge waged by auto manufacturers to a change in Lemon Law policy implemented by Spitzer's office in 2003. The new policy allows arbitrators to rule in favor of the consumer if the consumer proves that a defect in a new vehicle was not repaired after four attempts. Prior to this change, consumers were required to prove that the condition continued to exist at the time of the arbitration hearing.

"The purpose of the Lemon Law is to end the cycle of repairs and provide consumers redress for vehicles with defects that cannot be fixed after a reasonable number of attempts," Spitzer said. "Requiring a consumer to endure further repair attempts after the manufacturer has failed four times to repair the vehicle would defeat the purpose of the law."

Spitzer's decision to amend the Lemon Law program was based upon court rulings in New York and in other states with comparable Lemon Laws.

Justice Cannizzaro ruled that the manufacturers' position that the defect must continue at the time of the hearing "would induce consumers to stop trying to repair their vehicles after the fourth unsuccessful repair attempt and either drive defective vehicles or let them sit idle . . . This is something few consumers can afford to do."

According to Spitzer, given the widespread and well-documented frustration experienced by purchasers of defective cars, a primary purpose of this important consumer protection law was to define a "lemon" and to provide an effective and timely remedy for consumers.

"One of the most important missions of my office is to advance and protect the rights of consumers," Spitzer said. "The New and Used Car Lemon Law arbitration program has been one the most significant consumer protection laws in New York and has provided over $195 million in relief to consumers since it started."

In fact, since the program started 17 years ago, when settlements are included, consumers whose applications were accepted for arbitration have prevailed in 67 percent of new car cases and 62.4 percent of used car cases.

In 2003, consumers prevailed in 65.4 percent of all new car cases and obtained cash awards or replacement vehicles for a total value of $10.6 million. Last year, used car owners prevailed in 67.7 percent of cases and obtained cash awards totaling $1,059,000.

The Lemon Law provides a legal remedy for consumers who buy or lease new and used cars that turn out to be "lemons" -- cars that don't conform to the terms of the statutory warranty and the manufacturer (in the case of a new car) or auto dealer (in the case of a used car) cannot repair it after a reasonable number of attempts.

Information about the New Car Lemon Law and the Used Car Lemon Law are available on the Attorney General's website at www.ag.ny.gov.

Individuals considering filing an application for a Lemon Law hearing can obtain instructions at www.ag.ny.gov/complaints/pdfs/cns008_arbitration_form.pdf or by calling the Attorney General's consumer help line at (800) 771-7755.

The case was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Jane Azia, Matthew Barbaro, Stephen Mindell and Herbert Israel of the Consumers Frauds and Protection Bureau.

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