Recourse for When That Sweet Ride Turns Sour

By Don Oldenburg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 26, 2006

Swing by Vince Megna's neighborhood this week, and you may see his brand-new 2006 Corvette Coupe looking pretty in the driveway. Check out the "velocity yellow" exterior and ebony leather interior. The 400-hp LS2 6.0-liter V8 engine tops out at 186 mph and runs a zero to 60 in 4.2 seconds. Zoom zoom! Underneath, this baby packs a six-speed paddle-shift transmission with automatic modes. And inside it sports a Bose premium seven-speaker system, XM radio, MP3 playback, DVD navigation with color display touch screen and voice recognition.

All that's just car talk for one sweet machine. But, then, what would you expect the King of Lemon Laws to be driving? Some kind of jalopy? Don't think so.

See, there's a reason Megna's license plate reads "LEMN LAW."

Arguably he's America's foremost lemon-law lawyer. He's the author of the 2004 book "Bring On Goliath: Lemon Law Justice in America" (Ken Press; $24.95), which evaluates the lemon laws of all 50 states and the District and advises consumers how to use them. And he and his Waukesha, Wis., law firm, Jastroch & LaBarge, have taken the wheel in more than 1,500 lemon-law cases over the past 16 years and lost only nine. In cases where Megna made the final argument, he has turned lemons into lemonade all but twice. And when it's his own family cars gone bad, he's six for six.

That just-delivered '06 'Vette is his latest trophy in a continuing mission on behalf of consumers who have bought new autos that turn out to be defective and irreparable clunkers.

"I really do love Corvettes," says Megna, who soured on his 2004 blue Corvette after 17 months of charge-system problems that made the ignition a chug-o-thon and driving it a breakdown risk.

After only 900 miles on the odometer, that dang warning started lighting up the dash when Megna started the car. His Chevy dealer changed the alternator. Same thing happened a month later. Then again and again until it got to be regular.

"They didn't know what it was," says Megna. "They never did figure it out."

But General Motors knew who Vince Megna was. GM, he says, has lost some 650 lemon-law cases to Megna's firm -- and won zero.

By the time Megna squeezed Wisconsin's consumer-friendly lemon law on his own behalf in November, giving the automaker 30 days to offer a new car or his money back, or head over to the courthouse with him and risk paying double damages plus attorney fees, GM had already asked him what he wanted.

"So I'm getting an '06," says Megna, delighted. "They didn't give me a hard time at all. GM would do better if they treated other people like this -- although GM isn't the worst."

Megna doesn't want to get into a lemon-squirting match over which carmakers are the worst. But he says his law firm has taken just about every one of them to court in lemon cases -- Ford 300 to 400 times, Chrysler 75 to 100 times, Volkswagen maybe 50 times, Toyota only about 10 times. Except for Toyota, which he says doesn't get many lemon-law claims, the figures don't necessarily correlate to product quality or the likelihood of lemons rolling off the production line (as many as 1 million of the 17 million new cars sold annually by some estimates). Instead, they have more to do with the unwillingness of some carmakers' legal eagles to settle a claim rather than fight it.


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