After losing two appeals, General Motors will pay a $20,000 judgment to a Maryland man whose 1997 Chevrolet Astro was repaired unsuccessfully more than a half-dozen times.
Although the customer failed to send GM a certified letter about the defects, as the state's lemon law requires, GM failed to disclose that requirement adequately, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled.
The plaintiff's lawyer, Michael Tanczyn of Towson, said he was pleased by the outcome but wished the court - Maryland's highest - had gone further to rule that a certified letter is not necessary if the manufacturer has actual notice of an unresolved problem.
In this case, a GM zone representative knew of the problem before the lawsuit and had referred Tanczyn's client to a different dealership to try to fix it.
Joseph Schmitz Jr. bought the new minivan from JBA Chevrolet in Glen Burnie, Md., and brought it back six times between October 1996 and July 1997, complaining that it pulled to the right when braking. A zone representative then referred him to another dealership, which worked on it unsuccessfully for two weeks, the court said.
After complaining to the Better Business Bureau, Schmitz received a call from GM saying there was nothing wrong and calling it an 'operational characteristic' of the Astro.
He won $20,000 in damages, plus attorney fees, at a bench trial in district court, and the award was affirmed in Carroll County Circuit Court.
The unanimous appeals court rejected the defense argument that GM was not liable because Schmitz did not notify the company by certified mail.
Although the state lemon law calls for such written notice, automakers must conspicuously disclose that requirement in writing at the time of sale, the court said.
GM didn't; the procedure was mentioned only in small print on Page 27 of the 30-page warranty booklet.
GM spokeswoman Kelly Cusinato said the company is paying the judgment but isn't 'at this time, changing our warranty - or, more specifically, the way it is written - as a result of this specific case. This does not mean we will not reconsider this decision at a later date.'