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Ford Ordered To Pay Double Damages In First Use of Appeal Provision

DUNCAN MANSFIELDJuly 7, 1987

BOSTON (AP) _ Ford Motor Co. has been ordered to pay a couple double damages and attorney’s fees in the first use of a provision of Massachusetts’ automobile ″lemon law″ that discourages frivolous arbitration appeals.

A Superior Court judge ruled June 29 that Ford’s appeal of an arbitration decision in favor of Allan and Laurel LeBlanc of Waltham was without merit and ordered the automaker to pay the LeBlancs double damages and attorney’s fees, about $33,000.

Merry Duffy, spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Consumer Affairs, said it was the first case the office knew about in which the double-damage award against frivolous appeals had come into play under the state’s Lemon Law Arbitration Program for defective new cars begun last year.

″This is a landmark case for the enforcement of the lemon law, serving notice to manufacturers that frivolous suits will not be tolerated,″ state Consumer Affairs Secretary Paula W. Gold said in a statement Tuesday.

The LeBlancs went to arbitration seeking replacement or refund for a 1985 Ford Country Squire station wagon with persistent water leaks, and an arbitrator ruled in their favor.

Ford appealed on grounds that it was denied the opportunity to inspect the vehicle prior to arbitration. It also disputed the arbitrator’s finding that the vehicle’s water leaks impaired its market value or safety.

Superior Court Judge John Paul Sullivan ruled against Ford.

″We are totally thrilled,″ Ms. LeBlanc said Tuesday in a telephone interview. ″There were times when I felt like giving up, but we just kept going.″

Michael Cutler, a Boston attorney representing Ford, said he had been advised that the carmaker would ask the judge to reconsider his ruling. Meanwhile, Ford and the LeBlancs have begun discussing a settlement, he said.

Under the state-run arbitration program, a consumer can request a free hearing within 18 months of taking delivery of a defective new motor vehicle.

Since the program began in April 1986, about $1.7 million in refunds have been awarded. Of the 235 cases in favor of consumers, 30 have been appealed.

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