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Waukesha law firm wins clients $155,000 in years-old lemon law case

June 16, 2014

Almost two years after they bought a Ford Escape, Gerald and Susan Barth filed a lawsuit against the Ford Motor Company in June 2011, citing Wisconsin's lemon law.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the couple two weeks ago after nearly three years of litigation, awarding them almost $155,000 in damages and legal expenses, according to a decision filed with the court of appeals on June 4.

The couple was represented by Robert Dowling, an attorney at the Waukesha law firm Jastroch & LaBarge, which has a strong history with lemon law cases.

"(The firm) has been successful in the overwhelming majority of cases that have gone to suit," Dowling said. And, he added, that doesn't include all the cases settled out of court.

The lawsuit specifically mentioned a recurring transmission problem that the Lochen Ford dealership — where the Barth's bought the Esccape — failed to repair in a timely manner.

According to the court's decision, the Barths returned to the dealership on four separate occasions, the first visit coming only two days after purchasing the car, to complain about a transmission problem.

Ford repaired the vehicle multiple times, and rebuilt the transmission, but the problem persisted.

The Barths believed that under state law this meant their car was a "lemon" and filed their suit.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation website, a "lemon" is a new vehicle, no more than one year old and still under warranty, that has a serious defect the dealer can't fix, or one or many defects that prevent the car from working for a total of 30 consecutive or non-consecutive days.

In order to receive relief under Wisconsin's lemon law, a consumer must give a car manufacturer a reasonable attempt to repair a vehicle with a defect by notifying the dealer of the problem and making the vehicle "available for repair."

Ford contended that the Barths didn't adequately make their vehicle available for repair by simply mentioning the problem during their first visit.

Dowling said the Barths' case was unique because Ford tried to argue that making a vehicle "available for repair" should require the car's owner to explicitly demand an inspection or test drive, which is not the legal standard in current case law.

"This is the first time I've ever seen that happen," he said.

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