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The ABC’s of Florida’s Lemon Law

Consumers in Florida often times get confused as to whether they have any Lemon Law rights. Chapter 681, Florida Statutes, titled Motor Vehicle Sales Warranties (“Florida’s Lemon Law”), sets forth remedies to consumers that purchase or lease new vehicles with “nonconformities” that have not been corrected by the vehicles manufacturer, or its authorized service agent, usually the dealership, within a reasonable number of attempts.

What is a Nonconformity

Pursuant to the Lemon Law, a “nonconformity” 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. § 681.102(15), Fla. Stat.

Vehicles Subject to Florida’s Lemon Law

In order to be able to seek relief under Florida’s Lemon Law the following items must be satisfied:

  • The subject vehicle must be sold or leased in Florida;
  • The purchase of the subject vehicle must not have been for resale, and must fall into one of the three categories set forth below:
    • the vehicle is used for personal, family or household purposes;
    • the vehicle was acquired from the first owner for the same purposes during the first owner’s first twenty-four (24) months of ownership; or
    • the owner or lessee is a person who is entitled to enforce the warranty.

If the above two items are satisfied, Florida’s Lemon Law then provides for two presumptions for when a vehicle has not been repaired “within a reasonable number of attempts.” Here is where a lot of consumers get confused.

Failure to Attempt Nonconformity After Three Attempts

Pursuant to § 681.104(1)(a), Fla. Stat., if a consumer has taken the vehicle to an authorized service agent for repair of the same nonconformity on at least three (3) occasions, and the nonconformity has not been repaired, then the consumer 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 then has ten (10) days from receipt of the notification to direct the consumer to a reasonably accessible repair facility. After the vehicle is delivered to the repair facility, the manufacturer has no more than ten (10) days to fix the nonconformity and has forty-five (45) days for a recreation vehicle. Recreational vehicles are defined as a motor vehicle primarily designed to provide temporary living quarters for recreational, camping, or travel use, but does not include a van conversion. § 681.102(20), Fla. Stat. If the manufacturer fails to correct the nonconformity, the vehicle is presumed to be a lemon.

Vehicle is Out of Service More Than a Total of 15 Days

If a consumer’s vehicle is out of service for repair of one or more nonconformities for a cumulative total of fifteen (15) or more days, the vehicle owner or lessee must send written notification of this fact to the manufacturer by registered or express mail. § 681.104, Fla. Stat. After receipt of the notification, the manufacturer or authorized service agent, usually the dealership, 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 thirty (30) days, sixty (60) days for a recreational vehicle, the vehicle is presumed to be a lemon.

Prosecuting Your Lemon Law Claim

Congratulations, if you are reading this far down it is very likely you purchased a lemon. You purchased a new vehicle, and the nonconformity has not been fixed, you have submitted the requisite notice to the manufacturer and they have still failed to correct the nonconformity. There are still additional steps that must be taken in order to protect your rights.

Depending upon the manufacturer, if they have an informal dispute settlement program certified by the state of Florida then the consumer must proceed with this process next. If the manufacturer’s informal dispute settlement program does not obtain a resolution within forty (40) days of the date the dispute is filed, or if the consumer is not satisfied with the decision, the consumer 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 then the consumer can directly apply to have the dispute settled through arbitration.

Available Remedies in Arbitration

In a matter where the Florida New Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board determined that a consumer’s vehicle is a lemon, the manufacturer must either replace the vehicle or refund the full purchase price, either remedy is available at the consumer’s discretion. Whether the consumer seeks a new vehicle or a refund, the consumer is also entitled to collateral charges and incidental charges.

Appeals Process

If a party does not like they decision rendered by the Florida New Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board then the claim can be appealed to circuit court provided the petition to appeal is filed within thirty days of the decision. If a decision of the Florida New Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board in favor of a consumer is upheld by the circuit court, then the consumer can recover the amount awarded by the Arbitration Board, attorney’s fees, court costs, and a $25 fee per day for each day beyond the manufacturer’s receipt of the Arbitration Board’s decision.

What Happens to a Lemon Vehicle

Section 681.114, Fla. State., titled Resale of Returned Vehicles, provides that vehicles taken back by a manufacturer must have their vehicle titles marked to show that they had been repurchased under the Lemon Law. Additionally, this must be disclosed to persons purchasing these vehicles after they have been repurchased by the manufacturer.

A vehicle that has been taken back by the manufacturer can still be sold to a consumer. However, the nonconformity must be clearly and conspicuously disclosed to the prospective purchaser. Additionally, the manufacturer warrants to correct such nonconformity for a term of 1 year or 12,000 miles, whichever occurs first. § 681.104(2), Fla. Stat.

What Happens When a Dealership Tries to Avoid the Lemon Law by Contract

Florida’s Lemon Law is abundantly clear in that any agreement entered into by a consumer that waives, limits, or disclaims the rights set forth in this chapter, or that requires a consumer not to disclose the terms of such agreement as a condition thereof, is void as contrary to public policy. § 681.115, Fla. Stat. All too often dealerships are trying to contract themselves out of the obligations set forth under Florida’s Lemon Law. Florida law will not allow them to try to shield themselves behind a contract.

Sweeney Law, P.A. Regularly Prosecutes Lemon Law Claims

Brendan A. Sweeney, Esq., of Sweeney Law, P.A., The Florida Debt Warrior, regularly handles Florida Lemon Law claims on behalf of consumers. If you think your new vehicle is a lemon then please contact Sweeney Law, P.A. at 954.440.3993 immediately to protect your rights.

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