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High court hears tale of sour Chrysler car

Chrysler Corp. put the squeeze on the state's "Lemon Law" in arguments Wednesday before Florida's Supreme Court, in a case dating back to the purchase of a Dodge Daytona by a Tampa man nine years ago.

The Florida law was designed to quickly resolve disputes, and prevent consumers from getting stuck with defective vehicles.

But that's the opposite of what happened to Spiro Pitsirelos when he drove the new car off a Fort Pierce dealer's lot in 1988. He immediately discovered the windows wouldn't roll up all the way.

What has taken so long with the case is that Chrysler chose to appeal an arbitration panel's finding in favor of Pitsirelos, first to two lower courts and now the state Supreme Court.

If Chrysler loses again, the carmaker will have to pay a judgment of $400,000 and take back the $15,700 car.

The outcome of the case before Florida's high court, which will be decided later, could affect thousands of car buyers.

Until the Pitsirelos case is resolved, the amount Chrysler would have to pay increases by $25 every day under a continuing-damage provision of the lemon law.

That fee is one reason why the case has been appealed.

In Wednesday's arguments, Chrysler attorney Gregory Anderson told justices that the daily fee's purpose is to discourage manufacturers from exercising their constitutional right to go to court.

"It is punitive in nature," Anderson said.

Pitsirelos' attorney, Russell Bohn, argued the fee is related to the cost of renting a car, and in no way hampers access to the courts.

Since the lemon law took effect in 1983, nearly 8,000 cases have gone to arbitration, with almost 70 percent resolved in favor of consumers. Settlements and judgments have totaled about $120-million.

_ Times news researcher Carolyn Hardnett contributed to this report.

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