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Berrie v. Toyota Motor Sales

Decided: August 12, 1993.

ALEXANDRA P. BERRIE, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
TOYOTA MOTOR SALES, USA, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On appeal from Department of Law and Public Safety, Division of Consumer Affair.

Brody and Humphreys. The opinion of the court was delivered by Burrell Ives Humphreys, A.j.s.c. (temporarily assigned).

Humphreys

The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs found after a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge that a 1991 Toyota Corolla was a "lemon". See N.J.S.A. 56:12-29 to -49. (the so called "Lemon Law" statute).

Toyota appeals contending that the wrong standard was applied and that the decision was "logically incoherent" and "contrary to the weight of the evidence." We disagree and affirm.

On April 4, 1991, plaintiff leased and took delivery of a 1991 Toyota Corolla. On November 19, 1991, her vehicle stalled and could not be restarted. It was towed to the dealer. Similar problems occurred in December 1991 and January 1992.

The stalling occurred when the car was parked in her driveway facing downward at an angle of approximately thirty degrees and the car had less than a half tank of gas.

Toyota's field technical administrator testified that if the fuel level of the tank is low enough and the grade is steep enough, then the problem may arise. He testified that this problem would not impair safety but did impair the car's use.

The Administrative Law Judge concluded that the manufacturer's fuel system had:

a design defect which substantially impairs the use, safety and value of the vehicle to this consumer. Although respondent seeks to trivialize the importance of the problem by stating it operates within factory standards or represents it as normal, the evidence clearly shows that the failure to start not only interferes with the owner's enjoyment and use of her new car, but will affect its safety and value. Furthermore, the proofs amply demonstrate that the petitioner's response to the problem is not unduly demanding. Any reasonable person would be likely to act similarly. The problem is not one that every buyer must tolerate within the intendment of the Lemon Law.

The Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs adopted as her final decision the findings and Conclusions of the Administrative Law Judge.

Toyota contends that to prove that a car is a lemon the consumer must establish a violation of a warranty. Toyota argues that the "manifest intention of the statute as a whole is to enforce the warranties, and these warranties, be they express or implied, do not reach every condition, defective or otherwise, ...


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