Tesla, lawyer trade grenades in lemon-law suit

When life hands you lemon-law suits in Teslatown -- hey, forget lemonade; come out swinging.

Tesla, whose survival depends upon people believing it can master a tricky technology, mounted a quick, spiky response to what Milwaukee lawyer Vince Megna said was the first lemon-law suit against the company.

The suit last week alleged the Tesla S owned by Megna's Milwaukee client was in the shop 66 days during its first five months -- enough to trigger Wisconsin's lemon law and authorize a refund. The suit says Tesla ignored three such requests, and challenges Tesla policies on arbitration.

Megna, the self-proclaimed "King of Lemon Laws," struck first blood in the publicity war with a quirky YouTube video in which he walks around the white Model S making acidic deadpan asides such as: "An all-electric vehicle, and the battery won't hold a charge."

Driving to court to file the suit, he sees a cardboard cutout of George Clooney -- a prominent Tesla critic -- by the road, purportedly stranded by a Tesla.

Megna sticks Clooney in the back seat and, with Clooney's head sticking out the window, they head downtown.

Tesla was quick to fire back. An unsigned, but official, blog on the Tesla Web site alleged "factual inaccuracies" in Megna's story and "good reasons to be skeptical of the lawyer's motivations" -- among them a previous lemon-law suit filed in 2013 by the same lawyer on behalf of the same client.

The blog said only one refund request was made, and said engineers investigating a fuse problem "were moved to consider the possibility that the fuse had been tampered with." It stated: "Ultimately, Tesla service applied nontamper tape to the fuse switch. From that point on, the fuse performed flawlessly."

Megna was outraged, calling the tampering idea "reprehensible." He confirmed the previous lemon-law suit, but added: "To have two lemons is nothing that should be attention-grabbing."

It's a lemon battle that's likely to get a lot more sour before it's over.

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