November 7, 2002
Honorable Jerry Kilgore
Attorney General of Virginia
900 East Main Street
Richmond, VA 23219
Dear Attorney General Kilgore:
The Center for Auto Safety has just completed a study of the lemon law in every state and the District of Columbia and has ranked each state based on the results. Virginia finished 11th out of 51. With over 100,000 lemons bought back each year, a strong lemon law is vital to consumer protection. States with strong lemon laws force the auto companies to take back their lemons. States with weak lemon laws force consumers to eat their lemons.
The ranking was based on 10 different categories corresponding to fundamental elements of a strong lemon law, with each category worth a maximum of 10 points for a total of 100 points. The categories are:
1. number of repair attempts or days out of service before an automobile was considered a lemon,
2. whether law had a safety lemon provision and how protective it was,
3. the length of the presumption period or coverage of the lemon law,
4. whether law had a garden variety lemon provision to cover multiple different problems,
5. the offset for use of the car when determining a refund price,
6. if the consumer is eligible for a civil penalty or double or treble damages,
7. types of vehicles covered,
8. is there a state run arbitration program,
9. is the consumer compensated for their attorney fees, and
10. whether refund reimburses consumer for all costs of purchasing and owning lemon
Points were deducted for provisions that negated major rights under the lemon law including whether consumer (1) was liable for manufacturer's attorney fees, (2) lost rights under other laws, (3) had to file lemon lawsuit within short time, and (4) had to resort to manufacturer's unfair arbitration program before filing lemon lawsuit.
The biggest weaknesses in Virginia's lemon law are that it (1) does not have a state-run arbitration program, (2) cuts off legal rights within 18 months before many lemons ripen, (3) lacks a garden variety lemon provision covering repairs for multiple different problems, and (4) provides for the award of attorney fee's to auto makers. Even though this is limited to actions brought in bad faith, the threat of having to pay an expensive corporate law firm may deter consumers from exercising their legal rights. Virginia could move into the top 10 states just by eliminating sharp cutoff on legal rights, adding a safety lemon provision or setting up a state run arbitration program which is optional for consumer use so that it does not require prior resort for consumers who have such a bad lemon they want to exercise their legal rights immediately to get out of it.
We urge you to review this survey and use your authority to help improve Virginia's lemon law.
Clarence M. Ditlow