Florida's Motor Vehicle “Lemon Law”
Chapter 681, Florida Statutes, provides remedies for consumers who purchase or lease new or demonstrator motor vehicles with “nonconformities” that have not been corrected by the manufacturer, or its authorized service agent (typically a dealership), “within a reasonable number of repair attempts.” A “nonconformity” under the Lemon Law is defined as a defect or condition that substantially impairs the use, value or safety of the vehicle, and can include problems such as faulty paint, leaks and electrical or mechanical problems.
In order to qualify under the Lemon Law, the vehicle in question must have been sold (or leased) in Florida. The purchase must not have been for resale purposes and must fall into one of the following categories: (1) the vehicle is used for personal, family or household purposes; (2) the vehicle was acquired from the first owner for the same purposes during the first owner’s first 24 months of ownership; or (3) the owner or lessee is a person who is entitled to enforce the warranty.
The statute creates two presumptions for when a vehicle has not been repaired “within a reasonable number of attempts.” Under the first presumption, if a consumer has taken the vehicle to an authorized service agent for repair of the same nonconformity on at least three occasions, and the nonconformity has not been repaired, then the vehicle owner or lessee must notify the manufacturer of the nonconformity in writing, by registered or express mail, in order to give the manufacturer a final opportunity to repair the defect. The manufacturer has 10 days from receipt of the notification to direct the vehicle owner or lessee to a reasonably accessible repair facility. After the vehicle is delivered to the repair facility, the manufacturer has no more than 10 days to fix the nonconformity (45 days for a recreation vehicle). If the manufacturer fails to correct the nonconformity, the vehicle is presumed to be a lemon.
Under the second presumption, if a consumer’s vehicle is out of service for repair of one or more nonconformities for a cumulative total of 15 or more days, the vehicle owner or lessee must send written notification of this fact to the manufacturer by registered or express mail. After receipt of the notification, the manufacturer or authorized service agent (usually the dealer) must have at least one opportunity to inspect and to repair the vehicle. Once the vehicle is out of service by reason of repair of one or more nonconformities for a cumulative total of 30 days (60 days for a recreation vehicle), the vehicle is presumed to be a lemon.
When providing the statutory written notification to the manufacturer, consumers should use the Motor Vehicle Defect Notification form found in the “Consumer Guide to the Florida Lemon Law” booklet. State law requires the selling/leasing dealer to provide this booklet to the consumer at the time the vehicle was acquired, or you can call the Lemon Law Hotline at (800) 321-5366 to request the guide. The form also can be found online at the Attorney General’s website, www.myfloridalegal.com/lemonlaw.
In order to qualify for relief under the Lemon Law, there are certain steps that must be taken by the vehicle owner or lessee.
If the manufacturer has in effect a state-certified informal dispute settlement program, and the owner or lessee has been informed in writing how and where to file a claim with the program, then the owner or lessee must first seek relief through the certified informal dispute settlement program. This information is typically found in the vehicle’s warranty booklet or owner’s manual. If the manufacturer’s certified informal dispute settlement program does not decide the dispute within 40 days of the date the dispute is filed, or if the owner or lessee is not satisfied with the decision, the vehicle owner or lessee can then apply to the Florida Attorney General’s Office to have the dispute arbitrated by the Florida New Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board. If the manufacturer does not have a state-certified informal dispute settlement program, the vehicle owner or lessee can apply directly to the Florida Attorney General’s Office to have the dispute arbitrated by the Florida New Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board.
Vehicle owners or lessees can obtain a Request for Arbitration form from the Attorney General’s Office by calling the Lemon Law Hotline at (800) 321-5366, or (850) 414-3500. The form and additional information about the Lemon Law is also available online via the website of the Attorney General’s Office at www.myfloridalegal.com/lemonlaw.
Once the request is approved for arbitration by the Florida New Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board, the board will hear the dispute generally within 40 days. The consumer may ask for a continuance of the hearing, but this will waive the 40-day period. The consumer does not need to have a lawyer for this hearing but may do so if desired. If the board decides the case in favor of the vehicle owner or lessee, the manufacturer must comply with the decision within 40 days of its receipt.
Requests for arbitration MUST be filed with the manufacturer’s certified program (if applicable), or with the Attorney General’s Office if there is no certified program, within 60 days after the expiration of the Lemon Law Rights Period, which is two years after the date of delivery of the motor vehicle. Failure to timely file will result in rejection of the request.
Remedies awarded to consumers through a manufacturer’s certified program will vary, and consumers should contact the particular program directly if they have questions. In cases heard by the Florida New Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board, if a consumer’s vehicle is found to be a lemon, the manufacturer must either replace the vehicle or refund the full purchase price, depending upon the wishes of the vehicle owner/lessee. Both the refund and the replacement vehicle remedies include payment by the manufacturer of collateral charges (reasonable expenses wholly incurred as a result of the acquisition of the vehicle) and incidental charges (reasonable expenses directly caused by the substantial defects) incurred by the owner/lessee. An offset for use of the vehicle is charged to the owner/lessee based upon a formula contained in the statute.
In a refund remedy, the consumer will be paid only for nonfinanced collateral charges; financed collateral charges are paid off by the manufacturer through payoff of the loan. As applicable, the amount of any net trade-in allowance, cash down payment and periodic loan or lease payments will be included in a refund remedy. If the purchase was financed, the manufacturer must also pay the lien holder according to its interest (which is the balance due or payoff of the loan). If the vehicle was leased, the manufacturer must pay the lessor an amount specified by the statute. The lessor cannot charge the lessee an early termination penalty.
Before filing a civil action in court under the Lemon Law, consumers must attempt to seek relief through arbitration under Chapter 681, Florida Statutes.
Appeals and fees
Adverse decisions of the Arbitration Board can be appealed to the circuit court. A petition to appeal must be filed within 30 days of the receipt of the decision. If a decision of the board in favor of the owner or lessee is upheld by the circuit court, the owner or lessee can recover against the manufacturer the amount awarded by the board, plus attorneys’ fees, court costs and $25 per day for each day beyond the 40-day period following the manufacturer’s receipt of the board’s decision.
NOTE: If the motor vehicle is a recreational vehicle (RV), towable RVs are not covered by the Lemon Law, and the Lemon Law also does not cover the “living facilities” of motorized RVs (those portions of the RV designed, used or maintained primarily as living quarters). In addition, disputes must be submitted to the RV Mediation/Arbitration Program (not the Florida New Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board), which is administered by DeMars and Associates (800-279-5343). The dispute will be submitted to mediation first, during which the parties can, with the help of a neutral mediator, agree to attempt to resolve both living facility complaints and mechanical complaints. If no resolution is reached during mediation, the dispute will be referred to arbitration. The arbitrator will not be the same person who served as the mediator. The arbitrator will be limited to consideration of matters that are covered by the Lemon Law, unless both parties agree in writing to expand the scope of the arbitration hearing to include claims involving the living facilities. The time limits for compliance with and appeal of arbitration awards are the same as those for decisions of the Florida New Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board.
The Lemon Law also provides that an owner or lessee can file an action in court to recover damages caused by a violation of the Lemon Law. If the owner or lessee wins such an action, recovery will include the amount of any pecuniary losses, litigation costs, reasonable attorney’s fees and other relief the judge decides is fair and just. However, a separate suit to collect only attorneys’ fees the consumer has incurred in the hearing before the board is not allowed.
Vehicles taken back by a manufacturer must have their vehicle titles marked to show that they had been repurchased under the Lemon Law. This fact must be disclosed to persons purchasing these vehicles after they have been repurchased by the manufacturer.
The statutory procedure for getting relief under the Lemon Law is technical, and there are strict time limits and other requirements. The time frames and dispute resolution programs differ if the motor vehicle is a recreational vehicle.
Vehicle owners or lessees should either be able to follow detailed guidelines, or seek the assistance of an attorney. Detailed information is available in the “Consumer Guide to the Florida Lemon Law” booklet referenced above, on the Attorney General’s website at at www.myfloridalegal.com/lemonlaw , or by calling the Lemon Law Hotline at (800) 321-5366 or (850) 414-3500 (if out of state) for assistance.
If you believe you need legal advice, call your attorney. If you do not have an attorney, call The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service at (800) 342-8011 or the local lawyer referral service or legal aid office listed online or in your telephone book.