Class-action suit in Calif. accuses GM of ignoring federal, state 'lemon laws'


LOS ANGELES -- A class-action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of three Southern Californians against General Motors Corp., charging the company with ignoring state and federal "lemon laws" designed to protect consumers.

Attorney Norman F. Taylor, who specializes in lemon-law cases, said the Los Angeles Superior Court suit could involve up to 60,000 GM car owners in California and damages as high as $1 billion.

Steve and Jane Hernandez of Palmdale and Verna Webster of suburban Granada Hills are the original plaintiffs in the suit, which accuses GM of willfully violating lemon laws,refusing to honor its warranties as advertised and fighting "tooth and nail" against consumers who seek relief under the laws.

"As a result of these unfair and deceptive acts and practices, plaintiffs and other past, present and future owners and lessors of GM vehicles have suffered or will suffer harm, including unnecessary repair costs, litigation fees and expenses," the suit charges.

GM spokesman Bill Ott, reading from a statement, said yesterday that the company has not yet seen the suit but denies the charges.

"It would make no economic sense whatsoever for any company to willfully deceive or misrepresent its customers," the statement said.

Mr. Ott confirmed that the automaker had had a "number of discussions" with Mr. Taylor in recent weeks about the charges.

"The allegations we think he's going to make about our handling of customer complaints are totally without merit and we will defend this lawsuit vigorously," Mr. Ott said.

Mr. Taylor said the two sides have been talking since April about possibly resolving "a lot of the cases in this office." Talks broke down Tuesday, he said.

"We had narrowed it down to one point and agreed to take that a step at a time, then it fell apart," he said.

The suit filed yesterday covers a much broader array of issues than the previous negotiations, he said.

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