Oklahoma House Gives Final Passage to Lemon Law

May 19, 2009

Angie Gallant wore a broad smile Monday as the Oklahoma House provided a successful conclusion to the Broken Arrow woman’s five-year campaign and passed a bill to strengthen consumer protections for Oklahomans who buy defective cars and trucks.

“It feels great,” Gallant said after watching the House overwhelmingly approve the measure first proposed in 2005. “We feel pretty good.

“It took a lot longer than I though it would. But one person can make a difference.”

The House voted 91-0 for Oklahoma’s Lemon Law and sent it to Gov. Brad Henry to be signed into law. It was approved by the Senate last week.

The bill creates new guidelines for how vehicle manufacturers must work with consumers who buy defective vehicles that put the consumer on a more equal footing when negotiating with a manufacturer.

It is a direct result of Gallant’s personal experience with existing Lemon Law guidelines after her Chevrolet Malibu started having problems just three weeks after she bought it in 2004, the same year her husband, Army Reserve Capt. Jeff Gallant, was mobilized and away from home.

Since then, Gallant and her daughter, Genevieve, 7, have made dozens of visits to the state Capitol to convince lawmakers that state law did not provide adequate protection for consumers who bought lemon vehicles.

“This is the greatest civics lesson that I have observed in the five years I’ve been here,” said Rep. Rex Duncan, R-Sand Springs, the measure’s principal author. “One person can make a difference.”

Following final passage, Duncan and several other lawmakers met Gallant and her daughter in the gallery with hugs and congratulations. She credited Duncan and Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, for shepherding the bill through the legislative process.

“It was all a team effort,” Gallant said.

Gallant’s journey began when her family purchased the Malibu in January 2004 shortly before Jeff Gallant was called to active duty. Three weeks later, the car wouldn’t start.

Over the next six weeks, Angie Gallant repeatedly took the car to the dealer where it underwent extensive repairs, including a new starter relay and other components. But the problem was never solved.

In March, Gallant asked GM for a new car of the same make and model. The manufacturer refused. She made the same request the next month, and GM refused again.

Ten months later, GM finally agreed to replace the car but charged a $1,530 usage fee for miles driven on the defective one.

The Center for Auto Safety, a consumer advocacy group, ranked Oklahoma 42nd in the nation in 2002 in the level of protection the Lemon Law gives consumers.

Current law allows a “reasonable usage fee” for a consumer who buys a lemon but does not provide a formula for how it is calculated. The new Lemon Law creates a formula similar to what is already done in other states.

It also clarifies that reasonable use fees do not apply when a consumer gets a replacement car.

The bill requires the manufacturer to have the title of the lemon buyback vehicle “branded” that it was a Lemon Law buyback before the car can be resold.

It also prohibits the resale of lemon vehicles that were repurchased because of a complete failure of the braking or steering system likely to cause death or serious injury if the car were driven.

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