Wednesday, a Cecil County judge awarded the plaintiff in a settled “lemon law” case more than $12,000.00 in attorney’s fees. The case involves a complaint filed by the plaintiff which stated that her 2005 Hyundai was “useless” vehicle and had been taken into the dealership where she purchased it more than four times in a one year period for problems with a dashboard light. She claimed that Hyundai was in violation of Maryland’s Automotive Enforcement Warranty Act and Consumer Protection Act, as well as the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act.
Apparently, on the morning of trial, Hyundai offered the plaintiff a new vehicle and she accepted. Plaintiff, in asking for attorney’s fees, alleged that she was the “prevailing party” and therefore eligible to receive attorneys’ fees. Hyundai, of course, disagreed, claiming that the settlement was not an admission of liability.
I don’t appreciate the nuances of consumer protection law but I am certainly pleased that Hyundai’s offer to settle for what was apparently full value on the courthouse steps led this Cecil County court to find that she was the “prevailing party.” We often have the same problem in personal injury cases when the insurance company makes the personal injury lawyers jump through hoop after hoop only to settle the case for the policy limits just before trial. A lot of time and money can be saved for everyone by offering fair value from the beginning.