Judge says expert testimony not needed in lemon law case

Car buyers in Pennsylvania may pursue remedies under the state's lemon law if their vehicle develops a problem during the first year of ownership or 12,000 miles that dealers are unable to repair. The issue must affect the vehicle's value or operation, and dealers are given three opportunities to remedy the problem. Automobile manufacturers often mount vigorous defenses in these cases and may deny that a problem exists when a consumer's claims are not backed up by expert testimony. However, an appeals judge in Massachusetts recently said that a stack of repair bills was evidence enough.

The case involves a consumer who purchased a Ford F-150 pickup truck in 2010 that developed problems after covering just 1,461 miles. Ford's attorneys argued successfully in Superior Court that the case should be dismissed because the consumer did not provide proof from a recognized automotive expert that the pickup truck's issues significantly impaired its safety or market value. They also argued that a supercharger fitted to the vehicle was an unauthorized repair that absolved them of any further liability.

An appeals judge disagreed and reversed the Superior Court decision. The judge told Ford attorneys that repair invoices revealing that the pickup truck did not start or run were enough to convince a reasonable juror that the vehicle's malfunctions affected its value or operation. The judge also pointed out that Ford continued to pay for warranty work to be performed on the vehicle after learning about the allegedly unauthorized supercharger.

This case reveals that lemon law litigation can be protracted and complex. Attorneys with consumer protection experience in Pennsylvania may consult with experts to assess repair bills and vehicle problems. They could then use this evidence to urge automobile manufacturers to avoid lengthy court battles by settling these matters at the negotiating table.

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