Wisconsin DOT seeks advice from lemon law opponent

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A top attorney for the state Department of Transportation sought advice on interpreting a new motor vehicle lemon law from a lawyer who tried to stop the changes in the Legislature, arguing they made it difficult for consumers to successfully sue car dealers and manufacturers.

Milwaukee attorney Vince Megna, a self-proclaimed “Lemon Law King,” declined this week to help the DOT attorney answer questions about the law’s intent. Megna said he’s likely to sue under the “God awful” law and wanted to avoid a potential conflict.

“Any involvement could lead to cries by the manufacturers and/or defense attorneys that I participated in helping to direct the very provisions that I am now challenging,” Megna wrote in an email sent Sunday to the DOT attorney. He provided a copy to The Associated Press.

DOT assistant general counsel John Sobotik confirmed he had reached out to Megna and others with questions about the law. He referred additional questions to another DOT official, John Fandrich, who did not immediately respond to questions emailed Tuesday.

Megna said in a telephone interview that he was surprised a DOT attorney sought his opinion, given his opposition to the law. The DOT did not take a position on the law, but it is responsible for administering key portions, including making forms available for lemon law claims.

“I got the feeling nobody knew what this law was all about,” Megna said, adding that he believes a form posted on the DOT website this week is inaccurate.

Sobotik emailed Megna multiple questions on April 25, including a request for Megna’s read on a provision requiring vehicle owners to use a specific DOT form to report a lemon to manufacturers.

“In my personal opinion, this provision may virtually gut the law,” Sobotik wrote to Megna. “What consumer is going to know he/she has to provide a silly WisDOT form to a manufacturer in order for the Lemon Law to apply to repairs they have done?”

The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the new law last year with broad bipartisan support and the backing of car dealers and manufacturers, including General Motors, trial attorneys and the state chamber of commerce.

The revised lemon law applies to new vehicles on which the manufacturer fails to repair a warranty-covered defect even after four tries in one year, or fails to provide a timely refund or replacement. Previously, car owners had six years to sue the carmaker, with mandatory double damages. Now they have three years, and they can only get actual damages.

Megna spoke out against the changes on a variety of grounds, including the three-year cutoff to bring lawsuits. He has filed more than 3,000 lemon law cases over the past 25 years and won a $618,000 judgment in a 2012 lemon law case against Mercedes-Benz USA LLC. Megna has irritated Republicans by posting a series of satirical videos targeting Gov. Scott Walker and others, including the lemon law bill sponsor, Rep. Bill Kramer, R-Waukesha.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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