Monday, April 29, 2002

GM, attorney general disagree over lemon law

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS, Ohio — General Motors Corp. and the state attorney general's office are disputing the extent of the punishment the automaker should receive for violating the state's “lemon law.”

        The law protects consumers from being stuck with a defective new car.

        GM acknowledges that for a year beginning in 1999, it did not comply with a provision of the law requiring manufacturers to place a label on the titles of all new cars returned to manufacturers as lemons.

        The state is suing GM and asking for fines and restitution, but the company said it brought the problem to the state's attention and is being punished as if it willfully violated the law.

        GM failed to “brand” 500 titles on lemons resold from September 1999 through January 2001, said Stephanie Beougher, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office.

        She said the owners of all but 70 of those vehicles were located and the titles were branded. The state ordered the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles to hold the remaining unbranded titles to prevent a sale without proper notification.

        All but 20 of the owners who bought former lemons with unbranded titles received a letter outlining the history of the vehicles, and GM bought them back, Beougher said.

        The state said there were 1,500 vehicles in Ohio from all manufacturers that required branded titles from late 1999 through 2000. There were 11.1 million titles issued during those two years.

        GM said it brought the problem related to title branding to the attention of the attorney general's office and spent the next 15 months cooperating to fix the problem.

        “Ignorance of the law is not a defense,” Beougher said.

        She said the attorney general's office tried to negotiate what it believes is a fair fine for the violation, but GM would not agree to that amount. She declined to discuss specifics of the negotiations.

        The lawsuit, filed in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, asks for restitution to consumers and fines of as much as $25,000 for each of the 500 titles not properly branded.

        Beougher said her office has done a spot check on other titles and believes other vehicle manufacturers are complying with the requirement.


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