Understanding West Virginia Lemon Law
Approximately 150,000 cars sold in America on average every year are classified as lemons: cars with repeated, unfixable problems. Manufacturers including Dodge, Toyota, Ford, and many others build their fair share of lemons every year. Many of those vehicles are sold in West Virginia.
“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. West Virginia consumers can take advantage of these laws. 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 West Virginia lemon law covers vehicles purchased or registered and titled in West Virginia. This includes cars, pickup trucks or vans registered as Class A vehicles. The law further covers the self-propelled chassis of motor homes registered as Class A or B vehicles. Class A vehicle registration applies to passenger-type cars and trucks with a gross weight no more than 8,000 pounds. Class B vehicle registration applies to trucks with a gross weight of more than 8,000 pounds, including truck tractors and road tractors.
West Virginia’s lemon law covers purchasers of new vehicles used for personal, family or household purposes. The lemon law further covers anyone to whom the vehicle is transferred within the duration of the vehicle’s express warranty, and anyone else entitled to enforce the warranty’s obligations.
The West Virginia lemon law covers vehicle nonconformities. The lemon law defines a “nonconformity” as a defect or condition that substantially impairs the use or market value of the vehicle. The lemon law does not cover any defect or condition resulting from abuse, neglect, or unauthorized modification or alteration.
West Virginia’s lemon law requires manufacturers to repair any nonconformity reported to them within the duration of the warranty or within the first 12 months of purchase, whichever is the longer period. If the manufacturer is unable to bring the vehicle into conformity with its warranty after a reasonable number of repair attempts, the manufacturer must repurchase or replace the vehicle.
The West Virginia lemon law defines a “reasonable number of repair attempts” as three or more attempts for the same nonconformity without success. That number falls to one attempt for any nonconformity likely to cause death or serious injury if the vehicle is driven. The definition also covers any time the vehicle is out of service for 30 calendar days or longer to repair any nonconformity.
If all repair attempts fail, the West Virginia lemon law compels manufacturers to either repurchase or replace the vehicle. When repurchasing a vehicle, the manufacturer must pay the full purchase price as delivered, plus applicable finance charges, sales taxes and governmental charges. The manufacturer must also pay any costs incurred to repair the nonconformity as well as damages for loss of use, annoyance, or inconvenience resulting from the nonconformity.
The West Virginia lemon law requires manufacturers to provide a comparable new vehicle.
Before taking advantage of the West Virginia lemon law’s provisions for repurchase or replacement, a consumer must resort to a third party dispute resolution process, i.e. arbitration. A manufacturer’s arbitration program must be certified by the West Virginia Attorney General as complying with applicable laws and regulations. The consumer must have received timely notification in writing of the availability of arbitration with a description of its operation and effect.
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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.
Arbitration hearings usually last only one day, and take place in a much less formal setting than a court. Consumers should bring 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.
There are, however, downsides to the arbitration process. Firstly, while attorneys are not required in the process, the manufacturer will almost certainly send an attorney or someone advised by an attorney to represent them at the hearing. Any consumer looking to pursue the arbitration process in West Virginia is advised to speak with a law firm beforehand.
Secondly, one of the reasons arbitration is faster is because both sides have less 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.
Lastly, even though consumers have the option of rejecting the arbitrator’s decision, the manufacturer is allowed to introduce the arbitrator’s decision in trial. This could bias the jury against the consumer. In light of the foregoing, vehicle owners with valid lemon law claims should seek the advice and counsel of qualified attorneys with experience handling lemon law claims.
By filing a claim under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, West Virginia 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. Lemonlawusa.org encourages vehicle owners with a lemon to obtain legal counsel. You can bet the car manufacturers have legal counsel at the ready to help defend against lemon law claims both in arbitration and in court.