In 1958 Pennsylvania adopted the Automobile Lemon Law which requires a manufacturer to “repair or correct” a new car that has any “non-conformity which substantially impairs the use, value, or safety” of a new car within the manufacturer’s warranty or the first 12,000 miles, whichever occurs first, at no cost to the purchaser.
If the manufacturer fails to make the necessary repairs or corrections “after a reasonable number of attempts, the manufacturer shall at the option of the purchaser, replace the motor vehicle” with a comparable model or refund the purchase price.
The Act expressly provides for attorneys’ fees if an owner is dissatisfied with the manufacturer’s performance under the Act and commences a civil suit to enforce his or her rights. Before a civil action can be commenced however, the owner must first submit to the “Informal Dispute Settlement Procedure” (“IDSP”).
A law firm in Ambler, Kimmel & Silverman, has specialized in this field and has represented a number of owners. Several of the disputes were successfully resolved at the IDSP level, but none of the settlements from these proceedings resulted in an award of attorneys’ fees to the owners.
The law firm commenced an action in Philadelphia, Volkswagen Group of America v. Kimmel & Silverman, seeking reimbursement of counsel fees in IDSP proceedings. The Court ruled that since the Act specifically provides for counsel fees in the section dealing with civil actions, its silence as to counsel fees in the section requiring submission to IDSP is significant. Citing similar actions in other states where the fees were disallowed, the Court concluded that the omission by the legislature was intentional and disallowed the reimbursement of counsel fees in the IDSP proceedings.
The decision of the Philadelphia Court has wide implications since Act affects a broad range of people, and it has been appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. It bears watching.
– Ken Butera