Consumers who no longer own their vehicles still may seek damages under Florida's lemon law and the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, a state appellate court has ruled.
The decision means that those laws apply to customers whose leases have expired or whose vehicles have been repossessed, according to the plaintiff's lawyer, Rebecca Covey of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
'It's significant because manufacturers until now have been able to persuade arbitration boards that when (consumers) lost their cars, they've lost their right to pursue lemon law remedies,' Covey said.
Said Kia spokesman Geno Effler: 'The issue is still under litigation and we can't comment, but we strongly believe we're in the right and we'll prevail.'
The plaintiff, Martin Luther King, bought a new 1997 Kia Sephia from King Motor Co. of Fort Lauderdale. King contended that the car had 'numerous problems' that weren't fixed. Kia and the dealership attributed the car's engine problems to a negligent oil filter installation by a quick-change shop and denied warranty coverage.
King had the car towed to the dealership, which refused to repair it unless King agreed to pay, the court said. While the inoperable car sat on the dealer's lot, the lender repossessed and resold it.
Broward County Circuit Judge Patricia Cocalis dismissed King's suit. She cited 11 decisions by Florida motor vehicle arbitration boards that consumers who no longer own or possess a vehicle aren't entitled to a refund or replacement because they can't furnish clear title and return the vehicle to the manufacturer.
But the Court of Appeal panel in West Palm Beach, Fla., held that damages may be available in such situations under both the lemon law and federal warranty law. Those laws allow claims for monetary damages for violations, it said.
Covey said the decision means King can try to recover all payments he made on the Sephia, plus reimbursement for substitute transportation, attorney fees and court costs.
The appellate court took no position on the merits of King's case and noted that Kia and the dealership may raise other defenses to his claims. It returned the case to the trial court.
You can e-mail Eric Freedman at [email protected]