By Bill Gelman
From SJ MAGAZINE, March 2003
Paul Houser never really paid much attention to the Lemon Law information dealers used to provide him with when he purchased a new car. But, then, the Marlton, NJ resident never thought he would be taking his brand new 2002 Ford Windstar back to the dealership three times in less than a six-month span for a malfunctioning airbag problem.
When the problem returned after the third repair, Houser knew he had a lemon and contacted the Haddonfield-based law firm of Kimmel & Silverman to seek legal remedy.
"It's frustrating when you have to take the car in so many times," he said. Now, he is shopping for a new car once again, as he settled with the manufacturer.
Houser will receive all the money he put into the car, including his tax, tags, and down payment minus a small mileage offset. Best of all, Houser didn't pay any legal fees.
He used a law that many consumers never think of, the New Jersey Lemon Law, which offers a remedy to drivers with defective vehicles. If a car has a defect within the first 18,000 miles or 24 months, whichever comes first, and the car still isn't fixed after three repair attempts, or the car is in the shop 20 days in the first year, the car is defined as a lemon.
Kimmel & Silverman offers 100% cost-free legal help. Under the New Jersey Lemon Law, if the client prevails, the manufacturer must also pay all attorney fees and legal costs. If the firm accepts a case and the client doesn't prevail, there is no charge.
When Craig Kimmel and Robert Silverman started a general practice in 1990, a client approached the firm about a problem they were having with their Chrysler.
"He had a car with a lot of problems, and he was really taken advantage of by the manufacturer," Silverman said. "They could never fix his vehicle and would do nothing for him. By the time we beat them, we realized that we could help consumers as well as support our families. From that point forward, we started to represent consumers in these cases and now that is all we do."
Kimmel & Silverman went on to establish the first automotive consumer rights advocacy firm in the Northeast, and have since provided free Lemon Law and breach of warranty help to more than 23,000 consumers, including over 9,000 from the state of New Jersey. They became the first Lemon Law Firm to be honored by the American Bar Association when they received meritorious recognition in the 2002 Louis M. Brown Legal Access Competition.
Silverman said lemons are pretty proportionate between the big three car manufacturers: Chrysler, General Motors and Ford. Through all of his years practicing Lemon Law he has seen numerous defects, including brake rotor problems in the Chrysler Grand Cherokees, where the brakes would warp and the steering wheel would shake when the driver hit the brakes. He also noted that General Motors is now having a problem with a number of their models where the headlights flicker on and of real fast, so that other vehicles think the driver is flashing them, and it causes a difficulty to see at night.
After seeing a Kimmel & Silverman billboard on his way home from Pittsburgh, Houser realized he might be driving a lemon, and contacted the firm. Even though he liked the car, the constant trips back and forth to the dealership needed to end. If the firm takes on the case, the client receives a packet of information, which confirms that the representation is cost free, and includes a self-addressed stamped envelope to send in the necessary documents.
According to Silverman, at least 50 percent of the Lemon Law cases settle in the first two to four months through pre-litigation settlement programs with the manufacturer. If the case does have to be litigated, the firm pays all filing costs and hires an expert mechanic to inspect the vehicle. If they can't settle immediately, Silverman said it doesn't stop the firm from proceeding.
"Once it goes into litigation, cases can settle quickly, within another two or three months of they can go on for a year or more if the fight is hard," Silverman said. "We never give up or surrender. We fight until the end, until the consumer says 'I am happy with the results'"
It's important to note that even if the case doesn't fall under the provisions established by the Lemon Law, there are federal warranty statutes that can still help the consumer. If a driver has constant problems and the car is covered by an original or extended manufacturer's warranty, they may be entitled to a monetary award under the law known as the Magnuson–Moss Warranty Act.
Silverman also warns consumers not to be put off if they didn't immediately report the problem. "The consumers believes that if you don't file the claim in the first two years or 18,000 miles, whichever comes first, you don't have a claim," he said. "That is absolutely wrong. The New Jersey Lemon Law says that all you need to do to be covered is have the first complaint of the defect within the earlier two years or 18,000 miles"
Through word of mouth and advertising, Kimmel & Silverman has transformed the Lemon Law from an unknown legal remedy to a tool which helps consumers in the South Jersey area and beyond with their warranty problems.
"It's always better if everybody knows about their legal rights, and we continue to strive to spread awareness," Silverman said. Consumers seeking legal advice about the New Jersey Lemon Law or breach of warranty acts can contact Kimmel & Silverman at www.lemonlaw.com, or can contact other organizations or attorneys that deal with Lemon Law issues.