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Vince Megna

Attorney Vince Megna is known as the "lemon law king."

Lemon law lawyer Vince Megna Thursday sued the state claiming that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s website is so misleading and riddled with errors that it’s impossible for consumers to file a lawsuit under the state’s new lemon law.

Last year, the Republican-controlled state Legislature approved changes to the lemon law that, among other provisions, cut the time for suing a carmaker from six to three years after purchase and eliminated mandatory double damages for failure to make timely refunds or replacement of a damaged vehicle. It also requires consumers to submit DOT forms in order to force carmakers to make good on their warranties.

The law took effect on March 1.

Megna’s lawsuit, filed in Dane County Circuit Court, lists the Department of Transportation, DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen as defendants. A DOT spokeswoman said the department had no comment on the lawsuit.

The new lemon law, inspired by a $618,000 judgment Megna won in 2012 against Mercedes-Benz USA, was backed by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association and the Wisconsin Automobile and Truck Dealers Association.

Under the law, specified forms are supposed to be available for consumers seeking repair of damages, a refund or a replacement vehicle. But Megna claims none of the forms have been drafted in a manner that complies with the law.

He claims that the only form that resides on the website — one  for consumers electing a refund or a replacement vehicle — is so “replete with errors” that it doesn’t comply with the law.

“Any consumer using this form in making a Wisconsin lemon law claim would suffer irreparable injury with no adequate remedy at law, because the claim would be defective and the manufacturer would have no obligation to provide any lemon law relief,” the lawsuit contends. “Further, the consumer is prohibited by the lemon law statute of using any claim notice other than the claim form prescribed by the DOT, resulting in the consumer’s total inability to receive lemon law relief under any circumstances.”

A form required for a consumer to report defects does not exist on the website.

“As a result, no Wisconsin consumer can make any lemon law claim” under the new law, the lawsuit claims.

Consumers who purchased vehicles before March 1 still can make claims under the old lemon law, but those consumers “would likely be confused and mislead” by the website and send out the claims under the new law, resulting in inferior remedies, Megna claims.

Megna is demanding:

• An order that the DOT refrain from posting mandatory forms until they can be drafted in a way that complies with the new law and removal of the forms that don’t comply with the law.

• That the DOT post a notice to consumers who purchased vehicles before March 1 that their claims fall under the old lemon law.

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• That the DOT fix legal and informational errors on the website.

• An order preventing the attorney general from enforcing the lemon law until valid forms are posted.

• Reinstatement of the old lemon law until the state can post forms that comply with the law.

As evidence that the DOT is having problems interpreting the law, Megna includes an email string between himself and DOT Assistant General Counsel John Sobotik, who on April 25 wrote Megna seeking his advice before posting the required forms.

In the email, Sobotik, referring to a requirement that a consumer provide a form for any warranty repair, wrote: “In my personal opinion, this provision may virtually gut the law. What consumer is going to know he/she has to provide a silly WisDOT form to a manufacturer in order for the lemon law to apply to repairs they have done?”

Megna, citing a high probability that he would be involved in litigation over the law, declined to offer his advice.

Responding back to Megna’s email, Sobotik offered criticism of the Legislative Reference Bureau, the Legislature’s bill-drafting service.

“I was out Friday night with other state lawyers who told me that the LRB  these days is not drafting legislation with legislators, but instead are asked simply to transcribe the junk interest group drafts that are handed to them for verbatim transcription,” he wrote on May 5. “There is little care, apparently, about whether the statutes will make sense or mesh.”

Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.