December 30, 2001
By Pete McAleer
Pam Nanni says she took her Dodge pickup truck back to the dealership for repairs 13 times the year it was purchased.
Each time she was told it was an alignment problem.
"They kept replacing the same part," Nanni said. "It was a $2,000 part and they couldn't fix it."
The truck was designed to pull a 30-foot camper. On the family trip to Florida, it was the camper that did the pulling.
"My husband couldn't control the steering wheel," Nanni said. "Small cars would drive by and the wind would throw us into the next lane."
Halfway between their Vineland home and their Florida destination, the Nannis took their car to a dealer to be fixed. They waited in the dealership parking lot with their 2-year-old child.
"They replaced that same stupid part again and sent us on our way," Nanni said. "It was worse than when we brought it in."
The Nannis drove their new truck at 30 mph back to a different dealer in Vineland. The new dealer's diagnosis? Alignment problem.
"That's when we decided to sue," Nanni said.
Nanni found the Law Firm of Kimmel & Silverman. The firm is difficult to miss if you've driven major highways in New Jersey or Pennsylvania. Their "Got a lemon?" billboards are a part of the landscape. In the past 10 years, the firm has recovered more than $100 million for their Lemon Law clients. Nanni decided it was worth a try.
"All I knew of the Lemon Law was if they tried to fix your car three times, you could try to recover money on your vehicle," Nanni said. "I didn't know the attorney's fees were free until I called Kimmel."
Nanni also did not know she was entitled to recover all the payments she had made on her vehicle. Her case was settled out of court a few months ago. The car manufacturer agreed to reimburse the Nannis for each payment, deducting a $2,000 usage fee for the 18 months the vehicle was used.
"I could've sued to get that back also, but it would have (taken) a long time," Nanni said.
Under the New Jersey Lemon Law, if a vehicle is purchased, leased or registered in the state and has a problem that affects its safety, use or value, then the manufacturer has three repair attempts or 20 days to fix the car. If the car is not repaired properly, the consumer can either keep working with the manufacturer or pursue the Lemon Law.
Under the Lemon Law, the consumer has three options: enter a manufacturers' arbitration program, appeal to the state office of administrative law or file a lawsuit. Not surprisingly, Kimmel says, the last option is the consumer's best opportunity for fair treatment.
According to Kimmel, one of every eight cars in New Jersey has "lemon-related issues." Despite a Lemon Law that is among the best in the country - the New Jersey Lemon Law allows consumers to sue for as much as two years and 18,000 miles - Kimmel says he does not see the number of lemons declining in the future.
"Dealerships are busy," Kimmel said. "They have 18 minutes to look at a car. If they can't find a problem right away, they move on to the next car."
Kimmel broke into the expanding Lemon Law field 12 years ago after successfully proving his own car qualified. His attorneys take no payment unless they win, in which case the attorney fees are paid by the manufacturer. Although the majority of Lemon Law cases get resolved once a lawsuit is filed, some take as long as eight months.
"Manufacturers drag their feet to try to discourage people from pursuing their rights," Kimmel said.
While time is on the side of the manufacturer, the law is on the side of the consumer.
"The Lemon Law is strong enough that the biggest risk is whether the consumer is willing to wait and go to court," Kimmel said. "It's virtually impossible for a consumer to lose a good case. Even if the car is not protected by the Lemon Law there's probably a breach in the warranty. There's always something we can do for people."