Tesla Fights Back in Wisconsin Model S Electric Car Lemon Law Filing

Just like every other automaker out there, Tesla Motors has to occasionally defend itself against unhappy owners claiming it hasn’t done everything possible to rectify a particular fault, problem or complaint with a car. Like recall notices and misinformed reviews, it’s part of life in the automotive industry.

As with any large company, complaints against Tesla are usually successfully dealt with by its internal customer care team. So when a claim against Tesla goes public, the world tends to sit up and take notice, especially when the lawyer representing the claimant is Wisconsin’s self-proclaimed King of Lemon Laws Vince Megna.

Vince Megna is chasing Tesla on behalf of a client who he says purchased a duff Model S

Vince Megna is chasing Tesla on behalf of a client who he says purchased a duff Model S

So when Tesla chose to make a public statement to defend itself against the bizzare bravado of the YouTubing lemon law lawyer, we had to chuckle.

The claim

Filed earlier this week at the Milwaukee County Courthouse, Megna’s latest case alleges that his client, a Mr. Robert Montgomery of Franklin, Wisconsin, took delivery of a faulty Tesla Model S electric car worth more than $94,777.  Since then, Megna claims, his client’s car has failed to start reliably, has been into the shop for more than 30 days in the past year, and has suffered from a litany of low-voltage electrical problems, including blown fuses and retracting door handles which fail to operate.

Furthermore, Megna claims three attempts by the car’s owner to request a refund from Tesla under the state’s lemon laws — laws designed to consumers are protected from goods which consistently fail to meet standards of reliability, quality and performance — have remained unanswered.

His client, the Lemon Law King asserts, is entitled to a full and immediate refund. And in his usual way, Magna’s delivery of the claim to the courthouse is chronicled on YouTube with a reality-TV style video short that sees Magna ride in the aforementioned Model S along with a cardboard cutout George Clooney — a previous Tesla customer who once claimed that his Tesla Roadster stranded him at the side of the road.

If you’ve never seen the Lemon Law King in action before — you’ll recognise his delivery as being identical to previous exploits, one of which famously resulted in the largest lemon law claim in history, filed against Mercedes-Benz. If you haven’t seen his exploits before, you may find the video below, complete with an appearance of  his legal secretary wearing a “WTF?” t-shirt, and duct tape on her mouth, a little… bizarre.

The rebuttal

Earlier this week, when we approached Tesla for an official statement, we were told that Tesla “does not comment on pending litigation.”

Tesla says it has many, many satisfied customers.

Tesla says it has many, many satisfied customers.

Yet yesterday, we were pinged by Tesla’s press corp with details of its official press release concerning the case, disputing the claims and questioning both actions of the attorney and his client.

Entitled “When Life Gives You Lemons…,” Tesla’s nine-paragraph rebuttal addresses all the claims directly in a straightforward way, adding perhaps just a little sass to make it more appropriate for the aforementioned YouTubing attorney.

Above and beyond

Firstly, Tesla states that it believes in lemon laws, and reiterates its devotion to going “above and beyond in customer service,” something it says extends to buying a car back from an unsatisfied owner.  This, it says, is because it never wants someone to be unhappy with their ownership experience.

Tesla goes on to question Megna’s motivation, saying that Tesla’s own in-house service record details an ongoing service relationship between the claimant and his local service centre. Moreover, it says, engineers were liaising with the claimant to address his complaints right up until the unexpected filing of court papers. Even now, Tesla maintains, its service teams are still working hard to resolve his stated concerns which it says have “elusive origins.”

Happy customers

As well as citing its own exemplary record in customer service satisfaction, which includes the 99/100 never-before-seen top marks Consumer Reports gave for owner satisfaction last year and other important accolades, Tesla says there are also what it calls ‘factual inaccuracies’ in the lawyer’s claim.  Tesla says that the customer has to its knowledge only made one demand for a buy-back under lemon law — which was made back in November 2013 as a prerequisite for issuing court proceedings.

Yet when the service team discussed the car with the claimant, a buy-back was never mentioned, Tesla says.

Elusive origins

In its official blog post, Tesla goes on to detail some of the work carried out to the claimant’s car to try and reproduce — and therefore diagnose — the problem. The first, Tesla says was related to malfunctioning door handles. Even though it failed to reproduce the issue in the shop, Tesla said its engineers replaced all the door handles without question. While Tesla was unable to reproduce the problem before or after replacing the door handles, the claimant maintains it still happens.

Tesla said after it fitted an anti-tamper fuse under the hood, the problems mysteriously vanished.

Tesla said after it fitted an anti-tamper fuse under the hood, the problems mysteriously vanished.

Then there’s the sticky matter of fuses.

Tesla says it has replaced several parts in the car to try and address possible causes of the blown fuses. The fuse in question, it says, resides under the car’s bonnet behind the ‘frunk’ area. After extensive investigation, Tesla noticed that the frunk lid had been opened immediately before each of the fuse failures, pointing to possible tampering.

After applying a non-tamper fuse to the fuse switch, Tesla says the problem hasn’t returned.

Another claim

But perhaps the most damming piece of evidence cited by Tesla isn’t the alleged inaccuracies in the claim.: it’s the news that last year, Megna filed a lemon law suit against Volvo on behalf of the very same client.

We’ve reproduced Tesla’s post below for you to read in its entirety, but we’re keen to know what you think. Is someone trying to capitalise on Tesla’s rise to fame? Is Tesla in the right or the wrong? And what will happen next?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.

We were taken by surprise by a lemon law claim recently filed against Tesla by a Wisconsin lawyer, describing himself as the “Lemon Law King”, who says that we ignored his client’s three demands for a buy-back after alleged problems with a Model S.

First, let us state that we believe in lemon laws – they exist to protect customers against cars that repeatedly suffer defects. That’s a worthy thing to address. We also make a point of going above and beyond in customer service, which extends to buying back cars on fair terms from any customer who ultimately remains unsatisfied with their vehicle. We never want someone to be unhappy in their ownership of a Model S.

In this case, however, there are good reasons to be skeptical of the lawyer’s motivations. The service record shows that the Tesla service team did everything reasonably possible to help his client and they were continuing their efforts to service his vehicle right up until the point the suit was filed with no warning. Indeed, our service team, which has been in contact with the customer numerous times since November, is still trying to resolve his stated concerns, many of which have elusive origins.

This lawyer’s claim strikes us as unusual on several counts. For a start, it contradicts the general customer experience as measured by outside surveys. The annual Consumer Reports survey, for instance, gave Model S top marks for owner satisfaction, with a score of 99/100, the highest rating of any car ever. That doesn’t mean a single customer can’t have a bad overall experience, but it makes it highly unlikely. The claim also doesn’t jibe with the other accolades afforded to the car, including Consumer Reports’ “Best Overall” designation for its Top Picks 2014 awards, and the 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year award.

More tellingly, however, there are factual inaccuracies in the lawyer’s story. The customer did not make three demands for a buy-back. The only time any such claim was made was in a legal form letter sent to Tesla in November 2013 as a prerequisite for pursuing the claim in Wisconsin. Our service team was in close contact with the customer both before and after we received the letter, and the possibility of a buy-back was never mentioned during those discussions.

To give you a sense of our service relationship with this customer, it’s worth considering our efforts to resolve two of his main complaints. One related to malfunctioning door handles. Even though our service team wasn’t able to replicate the issue with the door handles as described, we replaced all the handles anyway. Despite the fix, the customer said the problem persisted. We were never able to reproduce the alleged malfunction but offered to inspect the car again and are still trying to do so.

Another issue was that the car’s fuse blew on numerous occasions. Each time, our engineers explored all possible explanations and were never able to find anything wrong with the car. Still, just to be sure, we replaced several parts that could have been related to the alleged problem – all at no expense to the customer. When the fuse kept blowing despite the new parts, and faced with no diagnosis showing anything wrong with the car, the engineers were moved to consider the possibility that the fuse had been tampered with. After investigating, they determined that the car’s front trunk had been opened immediately before the fuse failure on each of these occasions. (The fuse is accessed through the front trunk.) Ultimately, Tesla service applied non-tamper tape to the fuse switch. From that point on, the fuse performed flawlessly.

It’s also of interest to note that this particular lawyer filed a lemon law suit against Volvo in February last year – on behalf of the very same client.

We are continuing our efforts to work with the customer and are happy to address any legitimate concerns he has about his Model S. Customer service remains of utmost importance to Tesla, and no Model S owner should be unhappy with their car. However, we would also like the public to be aware of the potential for lemon laws to be exploited by opportunistic lawyers.


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