Janette Rinkenberger is a paralegal in the pre-litigation department of Brennan, Wiener & Associates, APC. She has successfully settled numerous Lemon car cases without the necessity of filing a lawsuit. Below she offers some pointers to readers who may need assistance, to get them headed in the right direction. Sidebar is the consumer rights and consumer protection newsletter published by Brennan, Wiener & Associates, which conducted this interview.
Sidebar: Is it possible for consumers to get their rights taken care of under the Lemon Law without having to file a lawsuit?
JR: Yes it is, and it doesn’t have to take forever. I see successful pre-litigation settlements happening every week at our office.
Sidebar: What does pre-litigation mean? Can a consumer get Brennan, Wiener & Associates to take a pre-litigation case on contingency? What is a pre-litigation settlement? What are the advantages to signing up on a pre-litigation basis?
JR: Pre-litigation means that you try to reach an agreement with the manufacturer or dealer without having to file a lawsuit. At Brennan, Wiener & Associates, we handle all of our pre-litigation cases on a contingency basis. A pre-litigation settlement is an agreement between you and the manufacturer or dealer in which you will be compensated for your damages in return for a release of all claims. Once a pre-litigation settlement has been reached, a document is drafted which spells out the terms of the agreement.
Some advantages of signing up pre-litigation are 1) that you might get a settlement much sooner; 2) you might be able to avoid the hassles of litigation; and 3) if you have a strong case and the other side refuses to come to an agreement with you, then we might be able to initiate a lawsuit and show that you tried to work out an agreement with the other side without having to litigate.
Sidebar: What do you recommend consumers do when they have repeated problems with their vehicles, but the manufacturers don’t seem to care or listen?
JR: Call our office and provide us with the basic information about your situation. Make sure you get all of your repair orders together. If you purchased a used car that is still under the manufacturer’s warranty, make sure you get a warranty repair history from the dealer’s service department. Continue making your monthly payments. If the car is not safe to drive, park it. Stay in communication with our office for any updates and to answer any questions. I will need the finance information in order to draft a demand letter. We review all of our cases free of charge and always advise the clients if we think we can help them.
Sidebar: What step should a consumer first take who wants to sign up with your law firm and try to get a pre-litigation settlement?
JR: Send all your documents to our office so that we can review them.
Sidebar: What can a consumer expect to get from a pre-litigation settlement?
JR: We would typically ask for reimbursement of the down payment, the total monthly payments you have made to date, loan pay-off, registration fees, rental expenses, and other incidental expenses that may apply in your case, as well as attorney fees. The other side may offer all or part of the above, in which case we would need to discuss with you how to proceed. We would typically negotiate with the other side in an attempt to reach an agreeable settlement. We cannot promise anything, as it is ultimately up to the manufacturer or dealer as to whether or not they will reimburse you, pre-litigation, for your losses. However, we do have many satisfied clients who wind up getting all, or close to all, of what they were entitled to.
Sidebar: What if the other side agrees to repurchase the Lemon vehicle? What happens next?
JR: At that point we would have to schedule a vehicle turn-in, usually done at the dealership where you purchased the vehicle. Before you turn in the vehicle, make sure it doesn’t have any damage beyond normal wear and tear. If it does, you need to have it repaired or the manufacturer will deduct the cost of repair from your settlement amount. It is also advised that you get your car washed and take your personal belongings out of the car ahead of time. Make sure you bring both sets of keys and the owner’s manual to the turn-in. At the turn in you will need to sign some documents transferring ownership over to the other party.