A person representing themselves in court is a common trope in American popular culture, though that person often fails in the face of concerted, qualified opposition. That depiction is accurate according to legal experts, including attorney Allen Stewart of Allen Stewart P.C. Stewart says any consumer who tries representing themselves in court against their vehicle’s manufacturer will almost always fail.
“The likelihood of them winning is remote,” Stewart said. “The likelihood of them doing every procedural thing that is required of them under the law is infinitesimally small. They have to hope and pray they get a compassionate judge.”
Lemon law attorneys have detailed, intimate knowledge of national and state lemon laws, as well as the legal customs and procedures followed when pursuing a lemon law claim. The attorneys of Allen Stewart P.C. have combined decades of experience with lemon law cases and have a history of legal victories for their clients. They know all the problems and potential pitfalls that come along with taking a claim through the legal system.
Stewart said he’s almost never seen a consumer representing themselves success in court.
“I have never seen the circumstance of a self-represented plaintiff show up in front of the judge and at the end of the proceeding the judge not tell them ‘sir or ma’am, the best thing for your case is you getting a lawyer,’” he said.
He says one of the best cases for hiring a lemon law attorney is knowing the automotive manufacturers will absolutely have attorneys of their own.
“Even the simplest things in the law can be complicated because if you miss the timeline, you could lose it all,” Stewart said. “If you file the wrong paperwork, it could set you back time and money, and you might lose the case. To think the other side knows all of this, because they’ve hired a lawyer, should be terrifying to a consumer without adequate legal counsel.”
Hiring a lemon law attorney is the best step you can take in seeking justice after you discover your vehicle is a lemon. Attempting to represent yourself, however, is a recipe for failure.
“Large corporations are used to always getting their way with consumers,” Stewart said. “Always. They really only listen to consumers who are upset about their products, really listen to them when they have a lawyer; when they are asking for money.”
Stewart said manufacturers often feign concern with consumers threatening legal action, offering pittances to make them go away. When the consumer hires an attorney, however, manufacturers start taking them seriously.
“If the consumer is not seeking money, and just wants to gripe or complain or write a letter, companies will act like they are all ears,” he said. “But if the consumer wants just compensation for their defective car, for the poor service they’ve received, for their car being in the dealer’s repair shop for thirty days and unusable, the company rarely responds adequately until the consumer hires an attorney.”
Automotive manufacturers often include provisions in their contracts requiring consumers go through arbitration before they can proceed with a legal claim. While you don’t necessarily need a lawyer for arbitration, you can be certain your vehicle’s manufacturer will have an attorney present.
Arbitration for lemon law claims involves a presumably third party, the arbitrator, who decides whether or not a consumer’s vehicle fits the definition of a lemon and what award the consume deserves. Despite manufacturer claims to the contrary, arbitration rarely works out in the consumers favor. While some states offer government-run arbitration for consumers, others merely require private arbitrators get state certification. Many private arbitrators are funded by auto manufacturers themselves.
These third-party arbitrators often side with the manufacturer and depending on the state in which the arbitration took place the consumer may not be able to recover their attorney’s fees.
Stewart said attorneys act as advocates for the consumer, cutting through corporate double speak to find the truth in the matter.
“A consumer with a lawyer has someone who knows when they’re being bamboozled,” he said. “Someone who knows when what that company just said isn’t the law, or the truth, or equitable. The consumer with the lawyer has an advocate that has seen many other people in like circumstances and knows what the appropriate standard of care and compensation should be.”
Lemon law attorney Andrew Ross of Allen Stewart P.C. said automotive manufacturers often use arbitration as a delaying tactic, hoping to frustrate consumers into giving up on their claim.
“I think it’s always a good idea to consult with a lawyer,” Ross said. “You don’t know, if you didn’t talk to an attorney, if you even have to go through arbitration. You may not realize that arbitrations can simply frustrate people.”
Ross said consumers who handle their own lemon law claims in court are expected to follow “the black letter of the law” and follow all procedures properly without fail.
“If you’re missing some of those things, or if you don’t follow certain rules, your claim can be completely tossed out. You run the risk of having your case thrown out or getting a judgement that prevents you from trying to present your case again. There’s a lot of potential pitfalls,” he said.
Ross said attorneys know things about the lemon law claims process that many consumers don’t; knowledge that makes lemon law attorneys invaluable when pursuing a claim.
“I would think that the likelihood of you recovering more on your own than what you could recover with an attorney is very, very low,” Ross said.
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975 helps knock down the barrier between the average person and legal representation in breach of warranty law. The Act, also known as the “Consumer Product Warranty and Federal Trade Commission Improvement Act,” is the bedrock upon which American lemon laws reside. Most notably for consumers it allows them to sue companies who fail to uphold their warranties and lets them recoup their attorney’s fees if they prevail in court.
The Act, signed into law by U.S. President Gerald Ford, arose in response to widespread warranty misuse. It extended warranty protections and requirement to parties beyond manufacturers and end consumers, as the modern economy introduced several middlemen into the equation.
The Magnuson-Moss Act codified federal oversight regarding warranty law, cutting across fractious state lines to establish a unified standard. It requires companies use plain and easily understood language in their warranties, and to conspicuously display those warranties where consumers can easily see them.
It forbids companies from several practices including requiring branded parts for repairs, imposing limits on warranty coverage or excluding or limiting consequential damages for any breach of warranty unless that exclusion or limitation appears conspicuously in the warranty.
Arguably the most noteworthy provision in the Act requires company to pay the consumer’s attorneys fees if that consumer files a successful breach of warranty claim. Some state lemon laws provide this provision as well, while others do not. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act applies to claims filed anywhere in the United States. Lemon law attorneys take cases knowing they can collect their fees as part of the judgement as long as they succeed in court. This means the consumer pays nothing out of pocket.
History clearly shows consumers who represent themselves in court stand to lose their entire claim. Hiring a lemon law attorney is the biggest single step you can take to make sure your claim ends in your favor. The attorneys of Allen Stewart P.C. have the knowledge and experience needed to protect your claim and get you the compensation you deserve, all while you don’t pay a cent out of pocket. Call our office today and speak with a breach of warranty expert. Don’t let a defective vehicle keep you off the road for good.