Understanding Mississippi Lemon Law
Car manufacturers sell on average 150,000 cars per year in the United States classified as lemons: cars with repeated, unfixable problems. Lemons can come from any manufacturer: Toyota, Nissan, Ford and almost every other manufacturer has built lemon vehicles over the years. Many of those vehicles are sold in Mississippi.
“Lemon laws” enacted across the United States help protect consumers who purchase defective vehicles and provide a legal procedure to compensate them for their losses. Additionally, a powerful federal law known as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act provides protection for consumers who purchase cars that are having problems and have an unexpired manufacturer’s warranty.
The Mississippi lemon law covers vehicles sold and operated in Mississippi used to transport persons or property.
The lemon law covers used vehicles, but not leased vehicles unless acquired through a lease-purchase. The lemon law further doesn’t cover off-road vehicles, motorcycles, or mopeds.
Mississippi’s lemon law protects consumers purchasing vehicles used primarily for personal, family or household purposes. The lemon law further protects anyone to whom the vehicle is transferred within the warranty term, and anyone else entitled to enforce the warranty’s obligations.
The Mississippi lemon law covers what it calls “nonconformities.” The lemon law defines a nonconformity as any defect or condition that impairs the use, market value, or safety of the vehicle to the consumer. The lemon law does not cover nonconformities as a result of abuse, neglect, or unauthorized vehicle modifications.
Mississippi’s lemon law compels manufacturers to repair any nonconformity consumers report to them within the warranty period or within one year of the vehicle’s delivery to the consumer, whichever is earlier. The manufacturer must make the repairs even after the expiration of the warranty or the one year period.
The Mississippi lemon law requires manufacturers to repurchase or replace a nonconforming vehicle if they are unable to repair the defect. The consumer must first allow the manufacturer a reasonable number of attempts to repair the nonconformity.
The lemon law defines a “reasonable number of attempts” as three attempts to fix the same problem without success. After this, if the nonconformity remains, or if the vehicle is out of service for more than 15 working days, the manufacturer must repurchase or replace the vehicle.
Manufacturers repurchasing a nonconforming vehicle must repay the full vehicle purchase price. That includes any taxes, registration, title and licensing fees, and any charges for accessories installed by the manufacturer. They must also repay all reasonably incurred collateral charges, including towing and replacement car rental costs. The manufacturer may withhold a reasonable allowance for the consumer’s vehicle use.
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The Mississippi lemon law requires a manufacturer replacing a nonconforming vehicle to provide a comparable vehicle acceptable to the consumer. The lemon law defines “comparable” as identical or a reasonably equivalent vehicle. The consumer must pay a reasonable allowance for use of a replacement vehicle.
Mississippi’s lemon law requires consumers to resort first to a manufacturer’s informal dispute settlement procedure, i.e. arbitration, before seeking repurchase or replacement.
In an arbitration, a neutral third party (an arbitrator) decides whether a reasonable number of repair attempts have been made and what award, if any, should be granted to the consumer. If the consumer accepts the arbitrator’s decision, the manufacturer agrees to comply with it. A manufacturer’s arbitration process must comply with the Code of Federal Regulations.
There are downsides to the arbitration process. Firstly, attorneys are not required for either side in arbitration. However, the manufacturer will certainly either send an attorney or someone advised by an attorney. Consumers can bring legal representation, though legal fees may not be awarded by the arbitrator unless the manufacturer has chosen to include them as an award in their arbitration application. Any consumer looking to pursue the arbitration process in Mississippi is advised to speak with a law firm beforehand.
Arbitration programs allegedly assist both consumer and manufacturer in collecting evidence to be presented from each side, so that it may be shared with both sides prior to the hearing. Unfortunately, in arbitration both sides have fewer rights to discovery: the legal process by which litigants can obtain evidence. In a lemon law case this puts consumers at a disadvantage, as they need discovery to gather evidence to prove their cases, and much of the evidence is held by the manufacturer and dealership.
Before the arbitration begins, the owner should collect all documents relating to the vehicle and the repair process, including the letters exchanged with the manufacturer. They should also arrange for witnesses to appear at the hearing, including friends who have witnessed the vehicle’s problems. The vehicle in question should also be ready for inspection and test drive at the hearing.
Mississippi consumers with warrantied vehicle problems would be well served to contact a law firm for a consultation on what their next step should be, whether it be going through with arbitration or proceeding to trial. In court, consumers are guaranteed the ability to gather evidence under the state’s civil discovery rules, and to be represented by a qualified lawyer who can guide them through the often complex legal process.
By pursuing a claim under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, Mississippi consumers can hire lawyers who will represent them without the vehicle owner having to pay any attorneys’ fees directly out of their pocket. This is because the federal Act provides that the vehicle manufacturer shall pay the claimants’ reasonable attorneys’ fees if the claimant prevails against the manufacturer.