In General Motors LLC v. Bowie, — So.3d —-, 2011 WL 1485306 (Fla.App. 2011) , the Florida Court of Appeal was called to determine whether a consumer, in pre-litigation settlement discussions regarding a lemon-law vehicle, could hold out for her attorneys’ fees against a manufacturer’s offer of full rescission prior to litigation.The Court of Appeal found no, explaining:
Florida‘s “Lemon Law”—Does it authorize an award of attorney’s fees incurred during arbitration of the refund option? That is the question in this appeal. An auto manufacturer appeals a judgment awarding the vehicle owner such fees. It argues that the “Lemon Law” does not provide for such an award. We agree and reverse.¶The owner purchased a car, but sought relief under Florida’s Lemon Law after experiencing trouble with it. The owner initially filed a claim with the Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc. (BBB). The manufacturer responded by offering to repurchase the car and provide a full refund. Because the owner wanted to recover attorney’s fees, she rejected the settlement offer and the BBB decision.The owner then proceeded to arbitration through the Florida New Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board. In a letter to the owner’s counsel, the manufacturer reiterated its offer to repurchase the car and make a net refund of $11,000. Once again, the owner rejected the offer because it did not include attorney’s fees.¶The owner then filed a complaint in circuit court, pursuant to section 681.112, Florida Statutes (2006), seeking recovery for pecuniary loss, litigation costs, reasonable attorney’s fees, and appropriate equitable relief. The owner moved for partial summary judgment on the entitlement to recover attorney’s fees incurred in the arbitration. At the hearing, the owner’s attorney advised: “We are only seeking attorney’s fees and litigation costs … for the arbitration itself and the fees for seeking fees in this case.” The trial court granted the motion; the owner then moved to determine the amount of attorney’s fees.¶The manufacturer subsequently filed its own motion for summary judgment on the issue based on a newly issued opinion, General Motors Corp. v. Sanchez, 16 So.3d 883 (Fla. 3d DCA 2009). The court denied the motion, and entered a final judgment against the manufacturer in the amount of $19,350, which included $5,000 for fees incurred in the arbitration and $14,350 for fees incurred in the lawsuit. The trial court also awarded expert witness fees and taxable costs. . . . ¶Third District Court of Appeal has similarly held that “damages” in section 681.112(1) do not envision attorney’s fees incurred in Lemon Law arbitration. Gen. Motors Corp. v. Sanchez, 16 So.3d 883, 884–85 (Fla. 3d DCA 2009). As Judge Schwartz wrote, “[it is] well established in Florida, which fully endorses the so-called American Rule on the question, that each party, including the successful one, in litigation must ordinarily bear the burden of his own attorneys’ fees. Of the narrow exceptions to this doctrine, the only one which even conceivably applies arises when fees are authorized by statute.” Id. at 884 (citations omitted). We concur with the Third District that “simply put, the term ‘damages’ does not include attorneys’ fees.” ¶Here, the owner filed suit solely for the recovery of attorney’s fees incurred in pursuing the refund option in arbitration. If the owner had sought recovery for some “damage” other than attorney’s fees and prevailed, then the fee provision of section 681.112 would have been triggered. But, “damages” under section 681.112 do not include attorney’s fees incurred in pursuing the refund option through arbitration.