Milwaukee lawyer Vince Megna calls himself the King of the Lemon Laws, those arcane rules that allow carbuyers to demand full refunds on new vehicles if they suffer repeated failures after leaving the dealership. This week, Megna collected on the largest U.S. lemon law victory ever -- a $618,000 judgment against Mercedes-Benz over a 2005 E-Class sedan -- while wearing a pendant with a Mercedes emblem that would make Flavor Flav envious.
Since the early 1980s, every state has passed some version of a law that says new-car owners can get a rebate or replacement vehicle if their rides have safety-related defects, major equipement failures or spend more than 30 days out of service for repairs. While estimates suggest thousands of people a year take advantage of such laws, no one keeps track of how many cars are taken back by automakers or how many consumers file claims -- and many of those cars are often repaired and resold. Automakers and dealers also often require disputes to go before arbitrators before they consider any such request for a refund.
Megna claims to have represented more than 1,500 cases, including more than 700 victories against General Motors alone. In October 2005, Waukesha businessman Marco Marquez hired Megna to handle a lemon law claim on his $56,000 2005 Mercedes-Benz E320 sedan, which he'd bought that April and had serviced for failures to start several times afterwards. Over the next month, Megna, the dealership and Mercedes battled back and forth about the claim; at one point, a Mercedes representative asked Marquez to drop his suit and fire Megna so that they could "fix this amongst men."
When Mercedes missed a 30-day deadline to give Marquez the refund he'd asked for, Megna filed suit. Mercedes claimed it had tried to pay a refund on the last day, but that Marquez had intentionally kept his bank from granting the proper approvals. After bouncing through Wisconsin's courts for six years, the state Supreme Court ruled in May that Marquez had done all he was required to do, rejecting Mercedes' defense. By then, the penalties had grown to $618,000.
About two weeks ago, after Mercedes had yet to pay the judgment, Megna threw another punch at Mercedes -- filing to seize vehicles and income from all six Mercedes dealers in Wisconsin as payment for the judgment, wearing the Mercedes logo and recording the process on video as a publicity move-slash-civics lesson. As Megna told one befuddled sales manager in the video worried about being sued personally, "Glen, I would never do that to you. I don't know you well enough. I know Mercedes, so that's why we sue them a lot."
Mercedes hand-delivered the check to Megna on Monday; he estimates Mercedes also owes other attorneys $235,000 for the case. It's the largest lemon law verdict since Megna collected a $358,000 judgment in 2006 against DaimlerChrysler over a defective Dodge Viper. As for Marquez's E320 -- he's still driving it, but now he can afford a replacement.