Possible Lemon Law Revisions Upset Consumer Advocates

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Consumer advocates and car manufacturers are lined up on opposite sides of the latest effort to rewrite Wisconsin’s 30-year-old lemon law.

Oconomowoc tow truck company owner Jim Sidders says the current law helped him keep his company solvent by allowing him to replace three different defective trucks he bought from GMC. During an Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing, Sidders said the proposed changes to the law would remove the mandatory double damages clause that requires the manufacturers to replace a defective car in 30 days or pay the consumer double the purchase price.

He says that’s the only leverage consumers have to force companies to replace the lemons they sell.

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“The only reason GMC settled on the second truck just before we went to court is because they knew they would have to pay double if they lost the case. I ask you to leave the lemon law alone – it protects customers like me. That is the reason the law was started to begin with: to protect the little guy like me from the big automakers.”

But supporters of the changes say little guys and their lawyers are abusing the law and winning inappropriately large settlements that affect the bottom line of auto companies. Jim Buchen of the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association says the proposed changes would send a positive signal to large companies like the one he represents.

“We have a regulation in our state that is far more extreme than virtually any other state. It sends a signal that Wisconsin is trying to reform its regulatory environment and make it a little more reasonable, a little more fair, and more just system.”

The bill has strong support from Republicans who control the legislature. But Democrats will likely try to amend it before it goes to the floor for a full vote.

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