Understanding Montana Lemon Law
Montana’s lemon law, also known as the New Motor Vehicle Warranty Act, provides relief to consumers who purchase or lease vehicles in the state.
Consumers must use the vehicles for personal, family, or household purposes. The law further protects anyone to whom the vehicle is transferred during the warranty term and anyone else entitled by the warranty’s terms to enforce its obligations.
The Montana lemon law defines a “motor vehicle” as a vehicle propelled by its own power designed primarily to transport persons or property upon public highways. Trucks with gross vehicle weights over 15,000 pounds are excluded from the law’s protections. The nonresidential portions of motorhomes are covered under the law.
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The Montana lemon law compels manufacturers to repair any defect or condition impairing the use or value of the vehicle to the consumer. Manufacturers must repair the vehicle if the consumer reports the defect or condition to the manufacturer within two years following the vehicle’s delivery to the consumer or 18,000 miles of operation, whichever is earlier.
If the manufacturer can’t repair the problem, the law requires them to repurchase or replace the vehicle. Before the manufacturer does so, however, the vehicle in question must be subjected to a “reasonable number of repair attempts.” The Montana lemon law defines that as four or more times for the same problem without success, or if the vehicle is in the shop for 30 days or more without successfully repairing the problem.
The Montana lemon law requires manufacturers repurchasing a nonconforming vehicle to pay the full purchase price. The manufacturer must also pay reasonable collateral damages, meaning all applicable taxes and fees. They must also pay reasonable incidental damages, including expenses incurred as a result of the original vehicle’s nonconformity. The manufacturer may withhold a reasonable allowance for use of the vehicle, calculated from the number of miles the vehicle traveled prior to the manufacturer’s acceptance of the vehicle.
Manufacturers replacing a nonconforming vehicle must provide a vehicle of the same model, style and value unless lack of availability makes that impossible. In that case, Montana’s lemon law requires the manufacturer to provide a comparable vehicle.
The consumer must go through a manufacturer’s “informal dispute settlement procedure,” i.e. arbitration, before pursuing repurchase, replacement or other legal remedies. The procedure must be certified by the Montana Department of Justice and comply with Federal Trade Commission laws.
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.
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. Any consumer looking to pursue the arbitration process in Montana 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.
By pursuing a claim under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, Montana 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 hire a lemon law attorney.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.
Ross said those who prevail in court against their vehicle’s manufacturer or settle beforehand can use money awarded for anything they like, including buying a new vehicle or paying off their previously problematic vehicle.
If you financed your car, you must continue making your periodic payments even after discovering it is a lemon. Regardless if the car is in the shop at the time or otherwise inoperable, missing your payments can adversely affect your lemon law claim. However, once you either win in court or settle outside it, you can use those funds to pay off the rest of their auto loan and free themselves from an onerous debt. After that clients can seek financing for a new vehicle – hopefully one without defects.
Clients who have already paid off their vehicle by the time their lemon law claim ends – or bought it outright – can use their settlement or judgement funds as a down payment on a new vehicle. Once you have a check in your hands that money is yours to do with whatever you like.
The Montana lemon law does not cover used vehicles. The lemon laws in most states only cover vehicles still under their original manufacturer’s warranty, and most used vehicles are resold long after that original warranty has expired. Depending on your specific situation however you may have a fraud claim; contact a qualified lemon law attorney to discuss the details of your situation.
Whether you win in court or settle earlier, the money you receive can be used for whatever you want. However, statutes of limitations can prevent you from filing a claim if you wait too long. Contact the attorneys of Allen Stewart, P.C. today and get the ball rolling on your case.
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