$518,000 Judgment for Alleged Semi-Truck Defect Illustrates Reach of the Wisconsin Lemon Law

January 6, 2011

A federal jury in Madison, Wisconsin recently awarded $293,000 in damages plus $225,000 in legal fees under Wisconsin’s “Lemon Law” to a small father/son trucking business, Jewell Trucking, that allegedly failed because of a defective Western Star semi-truck. Jewel Trucking used the truck to haul sand, gravel and salt. Six weeks after purchasing the truck, it allegedly lost power. Jewell Trucking took the truck to authorized dealers all over the state, but the truck could not be fixed. Jewell Trucking asked Freightliner, the owner of Western Star, to refund its money under the Lemon Law, but received no response. Jewell Trucking then brought a lawsuit that was heard by a federal court jury that granted this large verdict.

Wisconsin’s Lemon Law, Wis. Stat. § 218.0171, only applies to new vehicles that are alleged to be defective. If a new motor vehicle is purchased or leased by a consumer and it turns out to be a “lemon,” then the manufacturer is required to either replace it for free or refund the purchase price. A vehicle is considered a “lemon” if:

  1. It is a new vehicle, which is no more than one year old;
  2. It is still under warranty; and
  3. It has a serious defect that cannot be fixed in four tries, or it has one or more defects that prevents it from being used for 30 days.

The Wisconsin Lemon Law applies to new cars, trucks, motorcycles, motor homes and semi-trucks. It does not apply to mopeds, semi trailers, trailers or non-motorized recreational vehicles; however, consumers who own all-terrain vehicles and some other similar type products may be covered by the similar federal law known as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.

Axley Brynelson’s Distribution and Franchise team has a breadth of experience in dealing with Wisconsin Lemon Law cases and unauthorized repair cases under Wisconsin’s Motor Vehicle Repair Rule, Wis. Admin. Code Ch. ATCP 132. As illustrated by this case, it is very important to have knowledgeable counsel that can advise you as to the merits of the case and the potential damages that can be awarded.