The Wisconsin Court of Appeals has upheld a $109,192 award against Ford Motor Co. in a lemon law dispute over a car that cost less than $17,000 new.
The three-judge panel rejected Ford's argument that the owners, Alan and Patricia Herzberg, should have required to certify that the 1998 Mercury Mystique was in 'good condition' when they surrendered the car and title.
Ford paid the judgement.
The automaker argued that it could demand certification under the Uniform Commercial Code.
But the plaintiffs' lawyer, William Pocan of Waukesha, said, 'The whole reason for lemon laws is the the UCC is not sufficient to protect consumers.' Pocan called it one of the first appellate-level decisions on the issue in the nation.
In its decision, the appeals court said the Mystique proved to be a lemon, and the Herzbergs offered to return the car and transfer title to Ford in exchange for a refund seven months after they bought it new.
However, Ford asked them to sign additional documents certifying the car's condition. They refused saying the Wisconsin lemon law doesn't require them to do so.
A major concern, according to Pocan, is the possibility of a lawsuit if Ford resold the car and the new owners discovered problems after the Herzbergs certified it as being in good condition.
They sued Ford in Waukesha County Circuit Court, where Judge James Kieffer awarded them $34,416, twice the purchase price, tax and finance charges, and minus a usage allowance. With attorney fees, interest and court costs, the judgement reached $109,192.
On appeal, Ford asserted that it could use provisions in the UCC and traditional contract law to demand information about the condition of the vehicle.
But the appeals court disagreed. 'The lemon law is a stand-alone statute' that does not depend on the UCC and isn't modified by it,' Judge Neal Nettesheim said. 'The lemon law did not require the Hertzbergs to comply with Ford's condition that they provide information regarding the condition of the vehicle.'
Ford spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes declined to discuss details but said, 'It's important to Ford to ensure that its customers are satisfied to reach a fair agreement.'