After landing his first job at a small law firm, Patrick Cousins bought a shiny, new, red Chevrolet IROC convertible. It broke down so much, though, that the car ended up in the shop more than 30 times. The car made Cousins late for work so often that his boss sat him down one day and told him to do something about it or else.
Cousins got the job and spent the next seven years defending automakers in lemon law cases. Now, his own firm, based in West Palm Beach, specializes in personal injury and entertainment law — one of his best-known clients, in fact, is the musician Prince. Cousins remains a major player in lemon law, however, but now he works for the consumer. His firm has handled more than 500 lemon law claims over the last 10 years. He says the state’s lemon law actually favors consumers as long as they take the vehicle in for repairs quickly after problems crop up and keep all their records and receipts.
The law gives consumers two years to report defects that “substantially impair” the vehicle. If a car is in the shop for more than 30 days during that time, for example, it could qualify as a lemon, and the auto manufacturer can be ordered to buy it back. Cousins says the law was recently amended to allow consumers who hire a lawyer to have their legal fees reimbursed.
Cousins’ showiest lemon law case involved a 2004 Porsche Carrera GT, a car worth more than half a million dollars. Saul Fox, CEO of investment firm Fox Paine & Co., lives in California but purchased the car in Florida because he couldn’t find one at a dealership closer to home. The car, which can go from 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds and 0-100 in less than 7, seemed fine for the first 1,000 miles — until Fox brought it in for some routine maintenance. It was then that the mechanics found an oil leak they couldn’t fix. Fox hired Cousins, and Porsche eventually paid Fox $567,000 and took the car back.
“I found that Florida has a wonderful arbitration system under its lemon law,” Fox says. “If you’re going to buy an expensive car, you should buy it in Florida because you have a very fair and efficient system for the manufacturer, the dealer and the consumer.”
These days, Fox’s cars include a Mercedes-Benz, a Jeep, a Kia and a 10-year-old Porsche 911 Turbo that he says still runs great. After what happened with the Carrera GT, he chose not to buy another top-of-the-line sports car with his $567,000. “I like the money in the bank,” he says.
Links: Got a lemon? Learn how to file a Florida lemon law claim. Go to the Links page.