Drivers Question State's Lemon Law

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The Troubleshooters investigate Connecticut's Lemon Law and what it takes to prove an automaker owes you cash or a replacement vehicle.

    Nobody expects a lemon when they buy a new car.  That's where the Connecticut's Lemon Law comes in handy for consumers.  So far it's returned tens of millions of dollars to consumers, according to the state. 

    David Allard of Plainfield said he could not take out his new Camaro when it rained.

    "It was a design flaw in the water management system," Allard said.

    Allard filed a Lemon Law complaint and received a favorable decision.  The auto manufacturer then reimbursed Allard.  He bought another vehicle with the money.

    "The process itself was very good," Allard said.  "The state does provide help for you.  The automotive expert that is on staff with the Department of Consumer Protection provided a lot of assistance in helping us move forward."

    But not everyone is as lucky.

    Andrew Ossolinksi of New Hartford said his 2010 Ford Escape started experiencing major transmission problems not long after he purchased it.

    "We initially bought it with twelve miles on it and by six or seven thousand miles the transmission was really shaking the vehicle," Ossolinski said.

    The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration also received complaints about transmission issues with the 2009 and 2010 model year Escapes.

    "One particular time it felt like the whole transmission kind of fell out of the vehicle," Ossolinski said.

    Ossolinski claimed his vehicle's defect should have been covered under the warranty.  He said he had the Escape in the shop for nearly 40 straight days.

    For a vehicle to qualify for a Connecticut Lemon Law hearing, its defect must be covered by the manufacturer's warranty.  The same defect must occur four times within the first two years or 24,000 miles or the vehicle must be out of service for repairs more than 30 days during that same mileage and time frame.

    Ossolinski filed a Lemon Law complaint and argued his case in front of an arbitrator hired by the state.  However, he received an adverse decision.

    "A reasonable person would have expected that the vehicle would have worked beautifully and in this case it just didn't," Ossolinski said.

    According to the arbitrator's final decision, Ossolinski "did not present substantial evidence that the claimed defect caused a substantial impairment to the vehicle's use, value, or safety."

    "The whole system is designed to place an enormous amount of authority in the hands of the arbitrator so we can get swift and sure decision making," said Dept. of Consumer Protection commissioner William Rubenstein.  "Sometimes consumers lose, but most often consumers win."

    Ossolinski disagrees with his case's outcome.  However, the state boasts a near 75% favorable decision rate for consumers.

    229 Lemon Law cases made it to arbitrators in the past five years.  171 resulted in either a refund or replacement vehicle. 

    The Lemon Law is supported by new car dealers, according to Jim Fleming of the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association.

    "Their goal is to make their customers happy and if they get a car, a lemon from a manufacturer, that isn't right after they try to fix it four times, then they want to see their customer satisfied," Fleming said.

    But Ossolinski is not giving up.

    His attorney, Robert Henry, argues the arbitrator found the vehicle was defective and he said the state should take a closer look at who they retain as arbitrators as well as their training.

    "Because he didn't give the proper remedy, the Ossolinksis were forced to pursue this case in court," Henry said.

    Ossolinski has filed a lawsuit against Ford demanding a refund of the purchase price plus damages.

    Ford responded to the lawsuit and claims it has no responsibility for what happened to the vehicle.  The automaker said, among other things, the Ossolinskis failed to properly maintain the vehicle, exposed the vehicle to abuse and failed to take reasonable care of it.

    But Ossolinski and his attorney are optimistic.

    "We're confident that when a jury looks at this case, they're gonna do the right thing," Henry said.

    The Department of Consumer protection said the number of Lemon Law cases being filed in Connecticut is decreasing as auto manufacturers are making better vehicles, thanks, in part, to the Lemon Law.