State-Run Arbitration

State-Run Arbitration
State-run arbitration programs are fairer to consumers than the manufacturer arbitration programs. State-run programs have better trained personnel, are not biased by industry funding, publicly report on their decision, meet their deadlines and are more likely to give all available relief under the lemon law.  Most state-run programs use their own resources but a few like New York use the American Arbitration Association.  Funding should come from a small fee, usually $3, on new car sales which is a form of lemon insurance if a consumer gets stuck with a lemon.  

The best state lemon laws, like New Jersey, give consumers the choice to use the state-run programs and award attorney fees during the arbitration or go to court when a manufacturer refuses to voluntarily buy back a vehicle that is a lemon under the law.  Even a well-run state program will take 70 to 100 days before the consumer actually gets rid of the lemon.  An experienced lemon lawyer in a state with a good lemon law can get a consumer out of a lemon faster, with some lawyers able to turn a lemon around within 30 days.  New Jersey has the best state-run arbitration program by making it optional and providing for attorney fees if the consumers opts for the program.

New Jersey Statutes Annotated

56:12-37 Dispute resolution.

a. A consumer shall have the option of submitting any dispute arising under section 4 of this act to the division for resolution. The director may establish a filing fee, to be paid by the consumer, fixed at a level not to exceed the cost for the proper administration and enforcement of this act. This fee shall be recoverable as a cost under section 14 of this act. Upon application by the consumer and payment of any filing fee, the manufacturer shall submit to the State hearing procedure. The filing of the notice in subsection b. of section 5 of P.L.1988, c.123 (C.56:12-33) shall be a prerequisite to the filing of an application under this section.

b. The director shall review a consumer’s application for dispute resolution and accept eligible disputes for referral to the Office of Administrative Law for a summary hearing to be conducted in accordance with special rules adopted pursuant to the “Administrative Procedure Act,” P.L.1968, c.410 (C.52:14B-1 et seq.), by the Office of Administrative Law in consultation with the director. Immediately upon acceptance of a consumer’s application for dispute resolution, the director shall contact the parties and arrange for a hearing date with the Clerk of the Office of Administrative Law. The hearing date shall, to the greatest extent possible, be convenient to all parties, but shall be no later than 20 days from the date the consumer’s application is accepted, unless a later date is agreed upon by the consumer. The Office of Administrative Law shall render a decision, in writing, to the director within 20 days of the conclusion of the summary hearing. The decision shall provide a brief summary of the findings of fact, appropriate remedies pursuant to this act, and a specific date for completion of all awarded remedies. The director, upon a review of the proposed decision submitted by the administrative law judge, shall adopt, reject, or modify the decision no later than 15 days after receipt of the decision. Unless the director modifies or rejects the decision within the 15-day period, the decision of the administrative law judge shall be deemed adopted as the final decision of the director. If the manufacturer unreasonably fails to comply with the decision within the specified time period, the manufacturer shall be liable for penalties in the amount of $5,000.00 for each day the manufacturer unreasonably fails to comply, commencing on the day after the specified date for completion of all awarded remedies.

c. The Office of Administrative Law is authorized to issue subpoenas to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents, papers and records relevant to the dispute.

d. A manufacturer or consumer may appeal a final decision to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court. An appeal by a manufacturer shall not be heard unless the petition for the appeal is accompanied by a bond in a principal sum equal to the money award made by the administrative law judge plus $2,500.00 for anticipated attorney’s fees and other costs, secured by cash or its equivalent, payable to the consumer. The liability of the surety of any bond filed pursuant to this section shall be limited to the indemnification of the consumer in the action. The bond shall not limit or impair any right of recovery otherwise available pursuant to law, nor shall the amount of the bond be relevant in determining the amount of recovery to which the consumer shall be entitled. If a final decision resulting in a refund to the consumer is upheld by the court, recovery by the consumer shall include reimbursement for actual expenses incurred by the consumer for the rental of a motor vehicle equivalent to the consumer’s motor vehicle and limited to the period of time after which the consumer’s motor vehicle was offered to the manufacturer for return under this act, except in those cases in which the manufacturer made a comparable vehicle available to the consumer free of charge during that period. If the court finds that the manufacturer had no reasonable basis for its appeal or that the appeal was frivolous, the court shall award treble damages to the consumer. Failure of the Office of Administrative Law to render a written decision within 20 days of the conclusion of the summary hearing as required by subsection b. of this section shall not be a basis for appeal.

e. The Attorney General shall monitor the implementation and effectiveness of this act and report to the Legislature after three years of operation, at which time a recommendation shall be made either to continue under the procedures set forth in this act or to make such modifications as may be necessary to effectuate the purposes of this act.

56:12-39 Decision binding.

             A consumer shall not be required to participate in a manufacturer’s informal dispute settlement procedure or the division’s summary hearing procedure before filing an action in the Superior Court. However, a decision rendered in a proceeding brought pursuant to the division’s summary hearing procedure shall be binding on the consumer and the manufacturer, subject to the right of appeal as set forth in subsection d. of section 9 of this act, and shall preclude the institution of any other action in the  Superior Court under this act.  (Emphasis added.)

56:12-42 Attorney, expert fees; costs.

             In any action by a consumer against a manufacturer brought in Superior Court or in the division pursuant to the provisions of this act, a prevailing consumer shall be awarded reasonable attorney’s fees, fees for expert witnesses and costs. (Emphasis added.)

56:12-43 Use of funds.

             All fees, penalties and costs collected by the division pursuant to this act shall be appropriated for purposes of offsetting costs associated with the handling and resolution of consumer automotive complaints.