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A recreational vehicle sales boom is spurring a growing number of lucrative federal warranty lawsuits against motor home makers as plaintiffs’ lawyers test the boundaries of the federal law governing consumer-product warranties. Whether filed initially in state or federal court, most lawsuits include both the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and claims involving state statutes, such as lemon laws or consumer sales practices laws. In states where vehicle lemon laws don’t apply to either the entire product or the living-quarters portion of the recreational vehicle (R.V.), Magnuson-Moss is consumers’ chief recourse, lawyers say. Plaintiffs’ lawyers are reporting an upswing in cases in Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia. Numerous Magnuson-Moss cases involving R.V.s have also been filed this year in California, Florida and Illinois. Virginia solo practitioner Elmer Woodard said that cases are up because lawyers have figured out that Magnuson-Moss applies to R.V.s. Woodard said four R.V. cases have landed on his desk within the past year. An attorney would be lucky to earn between $3,000 and $4,000 for a lemon law automobile case, but when manufacturers file motions disputing the warranty and the lawsuit’s validity in R.V. cases, the legal fees start mounting, Woodard said. “[It] turns a relatively simple lemon case into a gigantic hemorrhage of money from the manufacturer,” Woodard said. Aggressive action One of Woodard’s ongoing cases against the maker of the chassis, Freightliner LLC, and motor home maker Four Winds International Corp. includes Virginia lemon law, Magnuson-Moss and breach of warranty claims against both companies, plus claims of fraud and grossly negligent damage to property against Four Winds. Reynolds v. Freightliner, No. 07-01 (W.D. Va.). Four Winds’ attorney, John Owen of Harman, Claytor, Corrigan & Wellman in Richmond, Va., said consumer claims against motor home manufacturing are rising in tandem with product sales and as attorneys see other lawyers’ successful use of Magnuson-Moss claims. “Good consumer lawyers are recognizing the claims that are carrying the day in various courts around the country and pursuing those claims aggressively,” Owen said. “If one lawyer has success, you will see that issue gain momentum in other jurisdictions around the country.” Recreational vehicle shipments have spiked about 52% from 2001 to 2006, with 390,500 units shipped last year, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association in Reston, Va. Freightliner’s attorney, Martin Conn of Moran Kiker Brown in Richmond, said the defendants never sent the allegedly defective chassis to a company-authorized dealer for repair. “We feel strongly that we don’t belong [in this case],” Conn said. Many plaintiffs’ lawyers view the Magnuson-Moss law as a boon for consumer litigation, but the law’s full-refund provision doesn’t apply when the product has a limited warranty, said products liability defense lawyer John Sear of Bowman and Brooke in Minneapolis. Plaintiffs’ lawyers try to rely on some contrary and “imprecise” rulings from courts around the country to assert such claims, but they often must resort to state breach of warranty claims and defenses, Sear said. Despite these challenges, plaintiffs’ lawyers are drawn to motor home cases by the potential to recover sizable attorney fees, Sear said. “This makes this area attractive to plaintiffs’ lawyers at first blush, but when they have to prove the merits and satisfy requirements, it turns out to be more than they bargained for,” Sear said. One of Sear’s current cases includes Minnesota lemon law claims against his client Workhorse Custom Chassis. Also, there are state consumer fraud claims, a breach of warranty claim under Minnesota’s Uniform Commercial Code, and Magnuson-Moss claims against Workhorse and the motor home manufacturer. Sipe v. Fleetwood Motor Homes of Pennsylvania Inc., No. 07-01460 (D. Minn.). Plaintiffs’ attorney Todd Gadtke of Hauer Fargione Love Landy & McEllistrem in Minneapolis, who is representing Sipe and working on two Minnesota state cases against motor home companies, said Magnuson-Moss needs to be revised to expressly include limited warranties. “It’s amazing what has happened in terms of poking holes in these cases,” he said. “It’s pretty bad for consumers.” R.V. manufactures are “digging their heels in” and settling late in the litigation, but the number of cases is increasing because consumers are intolerant of defects in such an expensive product, said plaintiffs’ lawyer Ron Burdge of the Burdge Law Office in Dayton, Ohio. Burdge handles motor home cases in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. “The difference between a Kia and a $1 million R.V. is how much they fight,” Burdge said. “You spend much more time winning an R.V. case than you do winning a four-door car case.”

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