ConsumerWatch: California Contractor Wins Lemon Law Battle Against Ford

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Daniel Joyce's Ford F-250 (CBS)

Daniel Joyce’s Ford F-250 (CBS)

PETALUMA (CBS 5) – A licensed contractor from Petaluma has won a four-year legal battle against Ford Motor Company that legal experts say should mean more protections for small business owners who rely on pick-ups and similar small trucks to make their living.

Daniel Joyce started having problems with his Ford F-250 shortly after purchasing it brand-new in 2006, for about $35,000.

“It has about five things wrong with it,” Joyce said. “It’s had leaks. It’s had the turbo replaced. it’s had some kind of engine problem. It’s had problems with the seat belts.”

When the contractor, who specializes in excavation work, tried to get Ford to replace his work vehicle under the state’s “Lemon Law,” he got a runaround.

“They said I was dreaming,” Joyce said.

Ford argued, among other things, Joyce’s truck wasn’t covered under the Lemon Law. While the state’s Lemon Law does cover cars and small trucks purchased for personal use, Ford contended the law does not cover vehicles used primarily for business, if they weigh 10,000 pounds or more fully loaded. Joyce’s truck weighs 6,787 pounds empty.

So, Joyce sued Ford. The case went to trial, but the verdict was overturned on a technicality. A second trial ended with the same result. Joyce’s attorney, Mark Romano, then appealed the case to California’s Appellate Court.

Earlier this week, the court issued a ruling that sided with Joyce and Romano. It said it’s the vehicles actual weight that counts, not what it weighs fully loaded. Legal experts called the decision precedent setting, and said Ford’s argument, which has been used by other truck makers as well in Lemon cases, was shot down.

Mark Anderson, a consumer attorney in San Francisco, who watched the case closely, called Ford’s interpretation of the Lemon Law was “strained.”

“It was a litigation strategy. If you asked them, they’d say ‘well, that’s the way we interpret the law, and we think we were right on that,’” Anderson said.

Ford could not respond to ConsumerWatch’s request for comment.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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