Florida New Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board Hearing Procedures
Arbitration hearings before the New Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board, which is administered by the Office of the Attorney General, are informal; however, there are rules and procedures which are followed. When a consumers Request for Arbitration is approved for a hearing, the consumer and the manufacturer will be provided with a pamphlet that contains the applicable rules. IT IS VERY IMPORTANT that you read all of the information received from the Office of the Attorney General and provide any additional information requested.
Some rules or procedures which may be of general interest are as follows:
1. A manufacturer does have the right to perform a prehearing inspection of the consumers vehicle. This is an inspection which is arranged after the consumer has been approved for arbitration, but before the date of the hearing. It is only an inspection. The primary purpose of the inspection is to promote settlement between the parties. The manufacturer is NOT permitted to perform any additional repairs, but may test drive the vehicle or attach diagnostic equipment to it. The manufacturers inspection is supposed to be held at a mutually agreeable time and location, and the consumer must be present during the entire inspection, unless the consumer waives the right to be present in writing. The manufacturer must give the consumer any information gathered as a result of the inspection within a certain time before the arbitration hearing.
2. An attorney from the attorney generals office, Lemon Law Arbitration Program, serves as "board administrator" and legal advisor to the arbitration board. The attorney does not represent either party at the hearing, but is available to answer questions and provide information about the boards procedures both before and after the hearing. The name, address and telephone number of the attorney assigned to each case is provided in the Notice of Arbitration that is sent to consumers and manufacturers when a claim is approved for arbitration.
3. Arbitration hearings usually are scheduled by the attorney generals office within 40 days after approval of the consumer's Request for Arbitration. Hearings are conducted by three-member panels of the arbitration board and may last, on average, from two to four hours. Arbitration hearings are conducted in English. Consumers and manufacturers should each come to the hearing prepared to present their side of the dispute and should have with them copies of all documents they have submitted to the board and to each other before the hearing.
4. Arbitration hearings are conducted to encourage a full and complete disclosure of the facts and to give each party a full and equal opportunity to present evidence. All testimony is taken under oath, and each party may present testimony of witnesses who have information that will assist the arbitration board in making a decision. Each party may ask questions of the other party and their witnesses (this is called "cross examination.") The arbitration board will listen to the testimony, review any relevant documents that have been submitted, and will decide whether the consumer is entitled to a refund or replacement under the Florida Lemon Law. The board may exclude testimony or documents if these are determined to be irrelevant to the dispute, or repetitive of other testimony or documents. The board may inspect or test drive the vehicle during the hearing if the board thinks it appropriate to do so. If the board decides the consumer is entitled to a refund or replacement, additional testimony will be taken about the amounts due the consumer and the board will calculate the amounts due. If the board decides the consumer is not entitled to a refund or replacement, the claim will be dismissed. A written decision will be prepared by the board attorney and sent to each party by certified mail.
5. The manufacturer may attempt to resolve a dispute with a consumer before the hearing. This is called a settlement. The parties are free to negotiate and agree to any settlement that is satisfactory to them. It is suggested that the manufacturer be requested to put the terms of a settlement offer in writing and that a definite time for completion of the settlement be included. If an offer is made by the manufacturer and the consumer would like to know how the offer compares with what the arbitration board might award during a hearing, the consumer may contact the board administrator assigned to their case and request this information. The Consumer must contact the board administrator to advise of the settlement negotiations so that any scheduled hearing may be postponed, pending the outcome of the settlement negotiations. Settlement agreements are NOT confidential and the parties will be requested to verify the settlement terms to the Office of the Attorney General.
Arbitration hearings are held in public buildings and are open to the public. Consumers who have never participated in an arbitration process, or who are unsure or nervous about the process, should observe a hearing before attending their own. Information about pending hearings in the consumers area can be obtained by calling the office of the board administrator assigned to their case.
A consumer must currently own or possess the vehicle which is the subject of the dispute to be eligible for an arbitration hearing.
A Lemon Law proceeding does not in any way alter a consumer's responsibility to his or her lessor, bank or financing company. Consumers should continue making payments on their vehicle while they are awaiting the outcome of any Lemon Law proceeding. If the arbitration board awards a refund, or if the parties agree to a full refund as a part of a pre-hearing settlement, then, the lease or loan will be paid off by the manufacturer according to the provisions of the Lemon Law or the agreement between the parties.
It is understood that consumers are often very frustrated as a result of the repair process and other disappointments encountered when a new vehicle ends up in a Lemon Law proceeding. It is important to keep records, keep a cool head, and if in an arbitration hearing, explain to the arbitration board, as clearly as possible, your side of the dispute.