The Lemon Law Process in Michigan
The nuts and bolts of the Michigan Lemon Law are covered here
Time FrameA Lemon Law case in Michigan can take anywhere from approximately 30 days to two years to complete. The amount of time your case takes depends on multiple factors, including, but not limited to:
1. The strength of your case
2. The year/make/model of your vehicle
3. The defense strategy of the manufacturer
4. The court in which your lawsuit is filed
5. The judge that is assigned to your case
6. The experience and talent of your lawyer
7. Your risk tolerance and receptiveness to settlement options
Notice of Final Repair OpportunityIn Michigan, prior to filing a lawsuit for Lemon Law remedies, the consumer (or attorney) must provide notice to the manufacturer and allow a final repair opportunity. The final repair is fully explained here: https://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/lemon-law-final-repair-attempt
Pre-Litigation NegotiationsMost cases will involve negotiations prior to the necessity of a lawsuit. Sometimes these negotiations lead to a settlement. Most of the time, they do not. If a pre-litigation settlement is not achieved, a lawsuit may be necessary.
The LawsuitLemon Law litigation begins when the plaintiff (the person who owns the lemon) files a “complaint” against the auto manufacturer with the court and sends a copy of the complaint (by service of a summons) to the defendant (the manufacturer and, frequently, the selling dealership). The complaint explains the various defects with the vehicle, as well as why the defendant should be found legally responsible for the defects.
The AnswerThe defendant (the manufacturer and/or the dealer) generally has 28 days to file an “answer” with the court. The answer explains the defendant’s side of the story. The answer will mostly deny the allegations in the complaint or “lack knowledge”.
Initial DisclosuresWithin 14 days of the filing of the answer, plaintiff is required to file “initial disclosures”. This is essentially a preliminary summary of the factual basis of the party's claims and defenses, legal theories, list of witnesses and exhibits. The disclosure also requires an estimate of damages. Defendants are required to file the same disclosures within 14 days of plaintiff’s filing.
Scheduling OrderAfter the answer is filed, the court will issue a “scheduling order”, usually within 60 days. The scheduling order notifies the parties regarding important dates during the litigation, including:
1. When additional claims must be added, if necessary
2. When witness lists and exhibit lists are due
3. The time frame for “discovery”. (See more about discovery below)
4. The time frame for “motions”. (See more about motions below)
5. The date for “case evaluation”. (See more about case evaluation below)
6. The date for settlement conferences
7. The pre-trial and trial dates
DiscoveryThe parties are permitted a period of “discovery” that lasts approximately six (6) months. Discovery allows parties to gather relevant information from each other or from the selling or servicing dealership. In some cases, discovery is not necessary or is limited. Discovery is the longest part of the Michigan Lemon Law case. Each party may ask the other party for information about the facts and issues of the case. Information is gathered formally through written questions (known as interrogatories), requests for documents, and requests for admission (which ask each side to admit or deny statements of fact). Discovery may also include depositions under oath of expected witnesses in the case. One or more experts might also be involved to testify about the defects in the vehicle, the value of the vehicle, and the loss suffered by the plaintiff or the existence and amount of the plaintiff’s damages.
Both the court and the manufacturer will focus heavily on repair records in order to determine the strength and outcome of your case. Therefore, throughout this process, it is extremely important that you continue to take your vehicle back to the manufacturer’s authorized dealer to be serviced for all problems. If you do not continue to bring your vehicle back to the manufacturer’s authorized dealers, it may adversely affect your case.
Selling Your VehicleYou cannot sell your vehicle during your Lemon Law case. Your vehicle is evidence in your case. If it is gone, your expert cannot inspect it. More importantly, the opposition’s expert can’t inspect it and they will likely file a motion to dismiss your case. If you sell, trade, dispose of, or lose possession of your vehicle, or allow it to be repossessed while your case is pending, your Lemon Law rights may be terminated.
MotionsBefore trial, any party to the lawsuit may file a motion to ask the court to rule on a specific issue in the case. Motions usually pertain to law or facts in the case, but sometimes they seek clarification or resolution of procedural disputes between or among the parties. Some motions, such as a “motion for summary disposition’, which is a request to the court to dismiss part or all of a plaintiff’s case or a defendant’s defense, dispose of issues without the necessity of trial. Lemon Law cases are not usually resolved on a summary disposition motion, because their resolution involves too many factual and/or legal issues. Other motions might ask the court to order one party or the other to produce documents or other evidence or to exclude evidence from trial.
Case EvaluationIf your case is filed in Circuit Court (most Michigan Lemon Law cases are), the court will order “case evaluation” prior to trial. Case evaluation is an in-person or Zoom hearing governed by Michigan Court Rule (MCR) 2.403, and occurs approximately nine (9) months after the lawsuit is filed. Clients are not required to attend.
In sum, all parties must submit a case evaluation summary and supporting documents prior to the hearing. The case evaluation summary “shall consist of a concise summary setting forth that party’s factual and legal position on issues presented by the action.”
All parties have the opportunity to argue their case in person or via Zoom. Oral presentation is limited to 15 minutes. Statements by the attorneys and the briefs or summaries are not admissible in any court or evidentiary proceeding.
After oral argument the case evaluation panel (consisting of three lawyers hired by the court), will make an evaluation “award” and notify the parties in writing, of the decision. The award is a specific amount that the evaluators deem the case to be worth. The evaluators are not permitted to award a repurchase or trade of the vehicle.
Each party then must file a written acceptance or rejection of the panel's evaluation with the ADR clerk within 28 days. There may be no disclosure of a party's acceptance or rejection of the panel's evaluation until the expiration of the 28-day period, at which time the ADR clerk will send a notice indicating each party's acceptance or rejection of the panel's evaluation.
Effect of Acceptance/Rejection of Evaluation
If all parties accept the evaluation amount, the case will be settled, and the manufacturer/dealer would be required to pay the amount of the award. Any party may reject the award. If so, the case will NOT be settled and will proceed to trial as dictated by the court’s scheduling order. Any party that rejects the award must beat that figure by 10% at trial. For example, if the award is $10,000, that means that consumer would have to get a verdict better than $11,000 if he/she rejects the award. If the manufacturer/dealer rejects a $10,000 award, they would have to get a verdict below $9,000. Any party that does not beat an award that they rejected “must pay the opposing party's actual costs” through trial. In other words, there is a severe sanction if a party rejects the case evaluation award and then either loses at trial or does not better the award by 10%.
TrialMost Michigan Lemon Law cases do NOT go to trial. The vast majority of cases settle. However, if trial is necessary the consumer will offer evidence to prove that his or her vehicle qualifies as a ‘lemon’ under Michigan law, or that the manufacturer breached its warranty obligations to the consumer. The manufacturer/dealer tries to prove the opposite – that the vehicle is not a lemon and that the manufacturer and dealer complied with warranty obligations. The claims or defenses will be presented to a jury and/or judge. Prior to trial, each party must provide a list of witnesses and exhibits that they plan on utilizing to prove their case. If it is a jury trial, each party may also have to provide proposed jury instructions and a “verdict form” so the jury can more easily decide the winner. In a jury trial, attorneys for all parties have the opportunity to question potential jurors during a selection process called voir dire. Once the jury has been selected, each party presents an outline of the case in an opening statement.
Evidence is then presented to the court/jury. Each party may call witnesses or introduce documents and exhibits in support of its arguments. The plaintiff (the consumer) presents evidence first, then the defendant. The consumer’s evidence normally consists of repair invoices for the lemon vehicle in question. Both parties may also be permitted to present additional evidence, called rebuttal evidence, to challenge the evidence presented by the other party.
Once all the evidence has been presented, each party gives a closing argument. After closing arguments, the court instructs the jury on the law to be applied to the evidence. The jury then deliberates and reaches a decision or verdict. (In a bench trial, there is no jury. The judge hears all evidence and determines a verdict).
AppealFollowing trial, a party that is dissatisfied with the result may seek an appeal. Appeals are costly and the party appealing has a very difficult burden to surmount. During an appeal, they ask another court to review the trial court proceeding. Both sides present their arguments in briefs, which are submitted to the appellate court along with the record of evidence from the trial court. An appeal can extend the litigation process by a year or more.
The appellate court usually reviews a case for legal error only. Except under unusual circumstances, the appellate court will not review factual evidence or disturb a jury’s findings of fact. The appellate court announces its decision in a document called an opinion. The appellate court will affirm the verdict if it finds no error. If an error is found, however, the appellate court may reverse the verdict or order the trial court to conduct a new trial.
ConclusionIf you believe you may qualify for the Michigan Lemon Law please contact me immediately at (248) 246-6353 to discuss your legal options. it’s a free service because attorney fees are included in Michigan Lemon Law settlements and verdicts.