Judge raises damages in lemon law suit

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Eric Freedman

Automotive News | 1:00 am, April 16, 2007

A federal jury decided Bruce Tammi should collect $26,600 in damages because the 2003 Porsche 911 Turbo coupe he leased and then bought is a lemon.

But under Wisconsin’s lemon law, the jury didn’t provide the right amount of compensation — not by a long shot, according to U.S. District Judge Charles Clevert Jr., who presided over the trial.

The upshot: Clevert ordered Porsche Cars North America Inc. to pay Tammi about 10 times the amount of the verdict — $266,160 — and let him keep the car.

"We don’t agree with the court’s finding and are currently evaluating our appellate options," Porsche spokesman Tony Fouladpour told Automotive News.

The dispute focused on the Turbo that Tammi took to three authorized dealerships for unsuccessful repairs six times in the first year of his 36-month lease. Each time he complained that the rear spoiler didn’t retract automatically as it was supposed to.

Porsche rejected Tammi’s request to take back the car and refund his lease payments.

Ultimately, after making $57,458 in lease payments, he chose to buy the car for $75,622, according to the decision. The lemon law suit sought to recoup his economic damages.

Porsche unsuccessfully argued that the lemon law didn’t apply because the intermittent rear spoiler malfunction didn’t substantially impair the car’s use, operation or safety and was, at most, a mere inconvenience or annoyance.

At trial, the jury awarded $26,600 compensation.

But Clevert agreed with Tammi that the law entitles him to more. The judge calculated the $266,160 figure by doubling the lease payments and the end-of-lease purchase price, but he refused to add insurance costs or the cost of accessories Tammi bought a month or more after the lease began.

Tammi, a Milwaukee lawyer who handled his own case, described himself as a "car enthusiast who has owned new Porsches since 1984."

In an interview, Tammi said the company "could have settled the case for peanuts early on" but was "hard-nosed throughout the whole thing."

The judge rejected Porsche’s demand that Tammi now surrender the car because the company had violated the lemon law and rebuffed Tammi’s earlier offer to return it.

Said Clevert: "Tammi’s receipt of double damages plus his retention of the car together do not seem unreasonably harsh in light of the purposes of the lemon law statute. If they appear too harsh for Porsche, Porsche should direct its concerns to the state legislature."