Wisconsin once boasted some of the most consumer-friendly laws in the nation, but changes in recent years have soured the state’s once-robust “Lemon Law.”
The most significant changes that have tipped the scales away from consumers involve a cap on compensation for attorneys and a reduction in the time allowed to make a claim. Consumers also no longer have a choice between a refund or replacement vehicle.
“We have the worst law in the country, and it used to be the best,” said Wauwatosa attorney Vince Megna, who built a national reputation as the king of the Lemon Law
Megna boasts that he’s sued General Motors more than 400 times without losing, but he said changes to Wisconsin law have made it less attractive and feasible for attorneys to take on cases.
In 2011, the Wisconsin legislature passed a bill to limit attorneys’ fees after Megna collected more than $150,000 in legal fees over a car dispute.
“Which might sound like a lot, but it’s not,” he said. “You’re fighting companies that will put hundreds and hundreds of thousands into defeating you on a $8,000 case.”
The new law caps attorney fees at three times the amount of damages. Megna said that means few lawyers can afford to take on the auto manufacturers, leaving consumers stuck with lemons.
“People need to get angry, we need to get angry about this,” he said.
Consumers like Leeann Beehler of Fox Point are very angry.
Her new Honda CRV was just a week old when she said she caught a strong odor of gas.
“The cabin fills with the fumes. It’s sudden and it’s very, very strong,” she explained.
Beehler said she took the CRV to a Honda dealer six times, and each time her vehicle was returned to her with technicians claiming there were no problems.
An online search turns up similar complaints.
On its invoice, the dealer noted that Honda was aware the issue affected “other new CRVs.” Beehler said she offered to let the dealer keep her car to duplicate the problem, but Honda declined.
“We can tell you that Honda is aware of the problem, but they do not have a fix,” Beehler said her Honda dealer told her.
The company offered to let her trade in the car for a new one, but she’d have to pay the difference.
She declined. Now her $30,000 CRV sits in her driveway, where it’s been since last spring. Afraid to drive it, Beehler said she and her husband went out and purchased another car.
She’s also hired a Chicago lawyer to file a federal class action lawsuit.
“Someone at Honda has made an economic decision to fight the fight rather than take care of a handful of consumers,” said Beehler’s attorney, Alex Loftus.
Contacted by WISN 12 News, a Honda spokesman said the company doesn’t comment on pending lawsuits. He encouraged any CRV owner experiencing a problem to take it to a dealer to get it resolved under the warranty, the same course of action that was of little help to Beehler.
Under Wisconsin’s Lemon Law, consumers used to get a choice as to whether they wanted refund or replacement. Now it’s the auto company’s choice. Megna said that’s another change that has hurt many lemon owners. The state has also reduced the time limit on Lemon Law claims. Consumers now get three years to file, down from the six years they were previously allotted.
WISN 12 News tried speaking to the lawmaker, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington), who shepherded the changes through the legislature. His office did not respond to repeated requests to talk about the impact those changes have had on consumers.
WEBVTT ATES WHYSHE HAS A CAR SHE CAN’T DRIVE.>> LEEANN BEEHLER SAYS HER NEWHONDA CRV WAS A WEEK OLD THEFIRST TIME SHE SMELLED IT.>> I THOUGHT I PARKED OVER APUDDLE OF GAS.>> THE SMELL OF GASOLINE FLOODEDTHE CAR’S INTERIOR.>> CABIN FILLS WITH FUMES,SUDDEN AND STRONG.>> BEEHLER SAYS THE SMELL WENTAWAY, BUT IN THE FOLLOWING WEEKSREPEATEDLY RETURNED.SHE TOOK IT TO A HONDA DEALERSIX TIMES.,>> THEY GAVE IT BACK TO US ANDSAID WE FIND NO PROBLEM WITHYOUR CAR.A QUICK GOOGLE SEARCH TURNSUP SIMILAR COMPLAINTS AND ON ITSINVOICE THE DEALER NOTED THATHONDA WAS AWARE IT AFFECTEDOTHER NEW CRVS.BEEHLER SAYS SHE OFFERED TO LETTHE DEALER KEEP HER CAR TOTRY TO DUPLICATE THE PROBLEM BUT, HONDA DECLINED.>> WE CAN TELL YOU HONDA ISAWARE OF THE PROBLEM, BUT DO NOTHAVE A FIX.>> BEEHLER SAYS THE COMPANYOFFERED TO LET HER TRADE IN THECAR FOR A NEW ONE, BUT SHE’DHAVE TO PAY THE DIFFERENCE.>> WE HAVE THE WORST LAW IN THECOUNTRY, AND IT USED TO BE THEBEST.>> WAUWATOSA ATTORNEY VINCEMEGNA BUILT A NATIONALREPUTATION AS THE KING OF THELEMON LAW.>> I SUED GENERAL MOTORS 400TIMES WITHOUT LOSING.>> BUT MEGNA SAYS RECENT CHANGESIN WISCONSIN LAW HAVE GUTTED THECONSUMER PROTECTIONS THAT MADETHAT POSSIBLE.IN 2011, THE LEGISLATURE PASSEDA BILL TO LIMIT ATTORNEYS’ FEES,AFTER MEGNA COLLECTED MORE THAN$150,000 IN LEGAL FEES OVER ACAR DISPUTE.>> WHICH MIGHT SEEM LIKE ALOT,BUT IT IS NOT.YOU ARE FIGHTING COMPANIES THATWILL PUT HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDSINTO DEFEATING YOU ON AN $8,000CASE.>> THE NEW LAW CAPS ATTORNEYFEES AT THREE TIMES THE AMOUNTOF DAMAGES.HE SAYS THAT MEANS FEW LAWYERSCAN AFFORD TO TAKE ON THE AUTOMANUFACTURERS LEAVING CONSUMERS, STUCK WITH LEMONS.>> PEOPLE NEED TO GET ANGRY.WE NEED TO GET ANGRY ABOUT THIS.>> LEEANN BEEHLER IS ANGRY.>> WE HAD TO BUY ANOTHER CAR.>> SHE ALSO HIRED A CHICAGOLAWYER TO FILE A FEDERALCLASS-ACTION LAWSUIT.>> SOMEONE AT HONDA HAS MADE ANECONOMIC DECISION TO FIGHT THEFIGHT RATHER THAN TAKE CARE OFCONSUMERS.>> MEANWHILE, BEEHLER’S $30,000CRV HAS BEEN SITTING IN HERDRIVEWAY SINCE LAST SPRING.SHE’S AFRAID TO DRIVE IT.>> IT IS NOT HEALTHY, BURNS YOUREYES, NOSE, THEN YOU WORRY ABOUTIS MY CAR GOING TO BLOW UP.>> SO WE CONTACTED HONDA,PATRICK, AND IT’S SPOKESMAN SAYSTHE COMPANY DOESN’T COMMENT ONPENDING LAWSUITS.HE ENCOURAGES ANY CRV OWNEREXPERIENCING A PROBLEM TO TAKEIT TO A DEALER TO GET ITRESULT UNDER THE WARRANTY, BUTOBVIOUSLY THAT DID NOT HELPLEEANN BEEHLER MUCH.>> AND THERE HAVE BEEN OTHERCHANGES THAT AFFECT CAR BUYERSSTUCK WITH LEMONS?>> YES UNDER WISCONSIN’S LEMON, LAW, CONSUMERS USED TO GET TOCHOOSE IF THEY WANTED A REFUNDOR REPLACEMENT.NOW IT’S THE AUTO COMPANY’SCHOICE WHICH MEGNA SAYS HAS HURTMANY LEMON OWNERS.PATRICK: YOU TRIED TALKING TTHE LAWMAKER BEHIND THE CHANGES?>> ASSEMBLY SPEAKER ROBIN VOS ISFROM BURLINGTON.HE SHEPARDED THE CHANGES THROUGH
This article was not written by Michigan Lemon Law.
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