Title 31
Motor and Other Vehicles

Chapter 5.2
Consumer Enforcement of Motor Vehicle Warranties

R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-5.2-7.1

§ 31-5.2-7.1. Procedure.

(a) In addition to any settlement procedure provided for in § 31-5.2-7, the department of the attorney general shall provide an independent arbitration procedure for the settlement of disputes between consumers or lessees and manufacturers concerning motor vehicles which do not conform to all applicable express or implied warranties. There shall be established the motor vehicle arbitration board which shall consist of five (5) members. The board shall consist of the attorney general or his or her designee, who shall serve as director, a member of the general public appointed by the attorney general, the director of the department of revenue or his or her designee, the president of the Rhode Island Automobile Dealers’ Association or his or her designee, and the administrator of the division of motor vehicles or his or her designee, only one of whom shall be directly involved in the manufacture, distribution, sale, lease, or service of any automobile product. Members shall be persons interested in consumer disputes, and shall serve without compensation.

(b) An owner or lessee of any motor vehicle purchased or leased which fails to conform to the applicable express or implied warranties may either initiate a request with the department of attorney general for arbitration by the motor vehicle arbitration board or take part in the settlement procedure set forth in § 31-5.2-7 if in existence. The consumer or lessee shall set forth, on a complaint form prescribed by the department of attorney general, any information he or she deems relevant to the resolution of the dispute and shall file the complaint with a nonrefundable filing fee of twenty dollars ($20.00). The attorney general shall decide if the complaint is eligible under chapter 5.2 of this title. Upon acceptance of the complaint, the attorney general shall notify the manufacturer of the filing of a request for arbitration and shall obtain from the manufacturer, in writing on a form prescribed by the attorney general, any information the manufacturer deems relevant to the resolution of the dispute. The manufacturer shall return the form, along with a non-refundable fifty dollar ($50.00) filing fee, within twenty (20) days of receipt. The department of attorney general shall then refer the matter to the motor vehicle arbitration board created pursuant to subsection (a) of this section.

(c) The motor vehicle arbitration board shall investigate, gather, and organize all information necessary for a fair and timely decision in each dispute. The board may issue subpoenas to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents, papers, and records relevant to the dispute.

(d) At all arbitration proceedings before the board the parties may present oral or written testimony, present witnesses and evidence relevant to the dispute, cross examine witnesses, and be represented by counsel.

(e) The motor vehicle arbitration board may forward a copy of all written testimony, including all documentary evidence, to an independent technical expert, who shall review the material and be able to advise and consult with the board. An expert shall sit as a non-voting member of the board whenever oral testimony is presented. The expert shall provide advice and counsel to the board as a part of its deliberation process and shall aid the board in preparing its findings and facts.

(f) The motor vehicle arbitration board shall grant the relief specified in § 31-5.2-3 of this chapter and any other relief available under the applicable warranties or the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Federal Trade Commission Improvement Act, 88 Stat. 2183 (1975), 15 U.S.C. section 2301 et seq., as in effect on October 1, 1982, to the consumer or lessee if a reasonable number of attempts, as provided in § 31-5.2-5(1) and (2) have been undertaken to correct one or more nonconformities that substantially impair the motor vehicle. The motor vehicle arbitration board shall dismiss the dispute if it finds, after considering all the evidence presented, that the consumer or lessee is not entitled to relief under this chapter.

(g)(1) The board shall, as expeditiously as possible, but not later than ninety (90) days from the date the director deems the dispute eligible for arbitration, render a fair decision based on the information gathered and disclose its findings and the reasons for it to the parties involved. The consumer or lessee shall accept or reject the decision within five (5) days of its filing.

(2) If the decision is favorable to the consumer or lessee, the manufacturer shall within thirty (30) days after the rendering of the decision, either comply with the terms of the decision if the consumer or lessee elects to accept the decision or appeal the finding to superior court. No appeal by a manufacturer shall be heard unless the petition for such appeal is filed with the clerk of the superior court within thirty (30) days of issuance of the finding of the motor vehicle arbitration board and is accompanied by a bond in a principal sum equal to the money award made by the state-certified arbitrator plus two thousand five-hundred dollars ($2,500) for anticipated attorneys’ fees, secured by cash or its equivalent, payable to the consumer. The liability of the surety of any bond filed pursuant to this section shall be limited to the indemnification of the consumer in the action. Such bond shall not limit or impair any right of recovery otherwise available pursuant to law, nor shall the amount of the bond be relevant in determining the amount of recovery to which the consumer shall be entitled. In the event that any motor vehicle arbitration board decision, resulting in an award of a refund or replacement, is upheld by the court, recovery by the consumer shall include continuing damages in the amount of twenty-five dollars ($25.00) per day for each day, subsequent to the day the motor vehicle was returned to the manufacturer pursuant to § 31-5.2-3, that said vehicle was out of use as a direct result of any nonconformity not issuing from owner negligence, accident, vandalism or any attempt to repair or substantially modify the vehicle by a person other than the manufacturer, its agent or authorized dealer; provided, however, that the manufacturer did not make a comparable vehicle available to the consumer free of charge. In addition to any other recovery, any prevailing consumer shall be awarded reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs. If the court finds that the manufacturer did not have any reasonable basis for its appeal or that the appeal was frivolous, the court shall double the amount of the total award made to the consumer. The motor vehicle arbitration board shall contact the consumer or lessee, within ten (10) working days after the date for performance, to determine whether performance has occurred.

(h) The motor vehicle arbitration board shall maintain the records of each dispute as deemed necessary, including an index of disputes by brand name and model. The motor vehicle arbitration board shall, at intervals of no more than six (6) months, compile and maintain statistics indicating the record of manufacturer compliance with arbitration decisions and the number of refunds or replacement awarded. The summary shall be a public record.

(i) The motor vehicle arbitration board automobile dispute settlement procedure shall be prominently posted in the place of business of each new car dealer or lessor licensed by the department of revenue to engage in the sale or lease of that manufacturer’s new motor vehicles. The display of this public notice shall be a condition of licensure under the general laws. The board shall determine the size, type face, form and wording of the sign required by this section, which shall include the telephone number and the address to which requests for the motor vehicle arbitration board arbitration services may be sent.

(j) The motor vehicle arbitration board shall adopt regulations, in accordance with the provisions of the general laws to carry out the purposes of this section. Written copies of the regulations and appropriate arbitration hearing procedures shall be provided to any person upon request.

History of Section.
P.L. 1990, ch. 250, § 1; P.L. 1992, ch. 324, § 12; P.L. 1995, ch. 236, § 1; P.L. 2000, ch. 109, § 61; P.L. 2005, ch. 106, § 1; P.L. 2005, ch. 123, § 1; P.L. 2008, ch. 98, § 7; P.L. 2008, ch. 145, § 7.