Florida's Motor Vehicle “Lemon Law”
Chapter 681, Florida Statutes provides remedies for persons who purchase or lease in Florida, new or demonstrator motor vehicles which have defects that cannot be corrected after a reasonable number of repair attempts, or which cause the vehicle to be out of service for a specified number of days because of repair. The vehicle must have been used for personal, family or household purposes; or acquired from the first owner for the same purposes during the first owner’s first 24 months of ownership; or the owner or lessee must be a person who is entitled to enforce the warranty. This law applies to any defect or condition that substantially impairs the use, value or safety of the vehicle that is reported to the manufacturer, or to the manufacturer’s dealer or other authorized service agent, during the first 24 months of ownership. Such defects can include, but are not limited to, faulty paint, leaks and mechanical problems.
If the manufacturer is not successful in repairing the same defect after three attempts, then the vehicle owner or lessee must notify the manufacturer of the defect in writing by registered or express mail 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 defect (45 days for a recreation vehicle).
If the vehicle is out of service for repair of various defects 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.
The manufacturer must either replace the defective motor vehicle or refund the full purchase price, depending upon the wishes of the vehicle owner/lessee, if the vehicle cannot be conformed to the warranty provided by law within a reasonable number of attempts. It is presumed there have been a reasonable number of attempts if either: 1) the same defect continues to exist after the final attempt by the manufacturer; or 2) the vehicle is out of service for repair of one or more defects for 30 or more cumulative days (60 days for a recreation vehicle) and the manufacturer or service agent had at least one opportunity to inspect or repair the vehicle after receiving the notice from the owner or lessee.
The replacement vehicle remedy includes payment by the manufacturer of collateral (reasonable expenses wholly incurred as a result of the acquisition of the vehicle) and incidental charges (reasonable expenses directly caused by the substantial defects) paid 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.
The refund remedy includes payment of collateral charges, if these were not included in loan financing or lease payments, and incidental charges. Depending upon the type of financial arrangements made to purchase or lease the vehicle, the amount of any net trade-in allowance, cash down payment, and periodic loan or lease payments also may be refunded. An offset for use of the vehicle is charged to the owner/lessee based upon a formula contained in the statute. If the purchase was financed, the manufacturer must pay the lien holder according to its interest (balance due or pay-off of the loan). If leased, the manufacturer must pay the lessor an amount specified by the statute. The lessor cannot charge the lessee an early termination penalty.
In order to force compliance with the 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 attempt the certified informal dispute settlement program. This information should be 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, or the manufacturer does not have a certified informal dispute settlement program, the vehicle owner or lessee must apply to the Florida Attorney General’s Office to have the dispute arbitrated by the Florida New Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board, before filing a civil action in court under the Lemon Law.
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 web site 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.
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 RV’s are not covered by the Lemon Law and the Lemon Law does not cover the “living facilities” of motorized RV’s (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 only collect 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 also 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. Vehicle owners or lessees can also call the Lemon Law Hotline at (800) 321-5366 or (850) 414-3500 (if out of state) for assistance. In addition, at the time of purchase or lease of a new or demonstrator vehicle, each vehicle owner or lessee must be given a “Consumer Guide to the Florida Lemon Law” booklet by the selling/leasing dealer.
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 in the yellow pages of your telephone book.