In 1975, Congress enacted the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, which is often referred to as the federal “Lemon Law.” This law provides that if a warrantor of a consumer product fails to comply with the obligations of its warranty, i.e. repair defects in materials or workmanship, after being afforded a reasonable opportunity to do so, that the consumer may bring suit not only for damages, but also for attorneys’ fees, and costs. This is extremely important, because it allows law firms to represent consumers without charging them for their time and expenses. In essence, this “fee-shifting” provision levels the playing field so that an individual consumer may hire an attorney who is experienced in handling “lemon law” and “breach of warranty” claims to take on some of the world’s largest corporations. Moreover, this provision allows consumer attorneys to do the work that state agencies are often too burdened to handle by making “private attorney generals” responsible for enforcing the law.
Congress knew that without this attorneys’ fee provision that most consumers would not be able to afford to hire an attorney to get rid of their “lemon” car, truck, boat, motorcycle, refrigerator, and other consumer products. In fact, in lobbying for the inclusion of this “fee-shifting” provision, Senator Warren Magnuson noted, “Because enforcement of the warranty through the courts is prohibitively expensive, there exists no currently available remedy for consumers to enforce warranty obligations. If warrantors who did not perform as promised suffered direct economic detriment, they would have strong incentives to perform. Therefore, there is a need to insure warrantor performance by monetarily penalizing the warrantor for non-performance and awarding the penalty to the consumer as compensation for his loss. One way to effectively meet this need is by providing for reasonable attorneys’ fees and court costs to successful consumer litigants, thus, making consumer resort to the court feasible.” Senate Report – No. 93-151, 93rd Congress, First Session, at pp. 7-8 (1973) (emphasis added).
Following the enactment of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act into law in 1975, states throughout the country drafted their own lemon laws with similar “fee-shifting” provisions. While every state lemon law is a little bit different, virtually every state has recognized that in order for the law to be enforceable there must be some provision that allows the consumer to recover their attorneys’ fees and costs from the automobile manufacturer.
Not only have Congress and state legislatures recognized the importance of “fee-shifting” provisions, but courts that interpret these laws have recognized the same. As noted by one court, fee-shifting provisions were “intended to encourage consumers to pursue their legal remedies by providing them with access to legal assistance.” State Farm Fire and Casualty v. Miller Electric Co., 596 N.E.2d 169,171 (Ill. App. 1992). In State Farm, the court recognized that “without such assistance, consumers would frequently be unable to vindicate their warranty rights accorded by law.” Another court, the United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, also recognized the importance of fee-shifting provisions and declared that “statutory fee-shifting provisions reflect the intent of Congress to encourage private enforcement of the statutory substantive rights, be they economic or non-economic, through the judicial process.” Skelton v. General Motors Corporation, 860 F.2d 250, 254 (7th Cir. 1988).
The federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty and state Lemon Laws allow private citizens to redress wrongs that have the ability to impact all of us. The “fee-shifting” provisions of these laws give them teeth and make them enforceable, which benefits all of us. As a result, automobile manufacturers, and the manufacturers of other consumer products, can be held accountable when their products do not operate like they should.
If you believe that your car, truck, motorcycle, SUV, or other consumer product is a lemon, contact the experienced Lemon Law attorneys at Krohn and Moss, Ltd. Consumer Law Center ® who have helped over 35,000 consumers nationwide since first opening their doors in 1995. The attorneys at Krohn and Moss, Ltd. Consumer Law Center ® will provide you with a FREE CASE REVIEW in order to determine whether you qualify for the federal Lemon Law or your state’s Lemon Law. You may also use their free and quick Lemon Law case evaluator. Finally, you may call Krohn and Moss, Ltd. Consumer Law Center ® toll free at 1-800-875-3666 or visit their website at http://www.yourlemonlawrights.com.