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Mercedes-Benz must pay $482,000 for ‘LEMON’

A judge has ordered Mercedes-Benz USA LLC to pay $482,000 in damages and legal fees to a Wisconsin customer who was sold a defective car and not given a refund on time.

Vince Megna, a Milwaukee lawyer who represents the customer, said he believes the judgment is the largest involving a single car under a state “lemon law,” which protect consumers who are sold junk cars. The judge is expected to sign the final order as early as Friday.

Mercedes-Benz spokeswoman Donna Boland said the company, a unit of the German car maker Daimler AG, is disappointed the judge overturned an earlier verdict in favor of the company. The spat over the 2005 Mercedes-Benz E 320 has already dragged on more than four years, and the company’s lawyer on Friday asked the court to put the judgment on hold pending an appeal.

While states have a variety of lemon laws, Wisconsin’s is one of the strongest. It allows customers who buy cars that don’t run or can’t be repaired to demand a replacement or refund. Manufacturers have 30 days to respond and can be ordered to pay double the purchase price plus legal fees for violating the law.

Bob Silverman, a prominent lemon law attorney in Ambler, Pa. who was not involved in the case, agreed it was one of the largest judgments for a car he’s seen and was an important victory for consumers.

“This one result is very important to the entire auto industry,” Silverman said. “It teaches them a lesson they ought to comply with the law promptly or they are going to have to pay in the end.”

‘A complete nightmare’
Despite the pending judgment, customer Marco Marquez, a 37-year-old businessman from Waukesha, called the case “a complete nightmare” and said he was still waiting for his money back. Once a big fan of Mercedes-Benz who has owned several of its cars, he now says he’ll never buy another.

It all started when Marquez, who owns Mexican restaurants in Waukesha and Janesville, purchased the E 320 for $56,000 from a Milwaukee dealership in 2005.

Almost immediately, the car often would not start. The battery was replaced multiple times, but the problem continued. After several repair attempts, the dealership said the problem could not be fixed.

Marquez hired Megna, who sent the company a refund demand in October 2005. After a few weeks, an employee tried to talk Marquez into taking a replacement instead. He declined and again asked for a refund. At one point, the employee said he should fire his lawyer and deal with them on his own.

The company finally agreed to the refund, but failed to provide one within 30 days. On the 31st day, Megna filed the lawsuit on behalf of Marquez seeking double damages and attorneys’ fees.

Mercedes-Benz has acknowledged the car was defective, but for years has accused Marquez of acting in bad faith.

The company says an employee asked Marquez for information about his auto loan on the 30th day so the refund could be granted, but Marquez failed to follow through. Megna said Mercedes-Benz had the information it needed for the refund but was stalling.

Ruling overturned
A judge ruled in Marquez’s favor in 2007, awarding $202,000 in damages and legal fees. But an appeals court in 2008 overturned that decision and ordered additional proceedings, saying a jury should decide whether Marquez intentionally prevented the company from giving the refund on time.

A jury sided with the company last year, agreeing Marquez acted in bad faith. But in a rare move, Waukesha County Circuit Judge Michael Bohren overturned the verdict, saying it was not backed up by evidence. He ruled in Marquez’s favor, citing a clear “lack of urgency” by Mercedes-Benz to refund his money.

A series of rulings by Bohren have calculated the damages for Marquez at roughly $168,000 (double the purchase price plus interest), plus $314,000 in costs and legal fees for Megna and other lawyers.

In the meantime, Marquez has continued to drive the vehicle in question, which now has 56,000 miles. He said it was back in the shop for repairs twice last year but has been “working fine” lately. Still, he can barely contain his anger at the company he once admired.

“Frustrated is really an understatement,” he said. “You put that much faith in a car company and you give your hard-earned money to that company and then you are basically let down. You drop $50,000 for a car that doesn’t work.”

Japan developing cyber weapon: report

TOKYO: Japan has been developing a virus that could track down the source of a cyber attack and neutralise its programme, the daily Yomiuri Shimbun reported Sunday.

The weapon is the culmination of a 179 million yen ($2.3 million) three-year project entrusted by the government to technology maker Fujitsu Ltd to develop a virus and equipment to monitor and analyse attacks, the daily said.

The United States and China are reported to have put so-called cyber weapons into practical use, Yomiuri said.
Japan will have to make legal amendments to use a cyber weapon as it could violate the country’s law against the manufacture of a computer virus, the daily said.
In November a computer system run by about 200 Japanese local governments was struck.
In October, Japan’s parliament came under cyber attack, apparently from the same emails linked to a China-based server that have already hit several lawmakers’ computers.

It was also reported that Japanese computers at embassies and consulates in nine countries were infected with viruses in the summer.

Currently, the virus is being tested in a “closed environment” to examine its applicable patterns. (AFP)

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NASA probes new space shuttle fuel tank problem

in.reuters.com

NASA probes new space shuttle fuel tank problem

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – july 17 – NASA will hold off launching any more space shuttles until it understands why strips of insulating foam peeled off the fuel tank used by shuttle Endeavour, the U.S. space agency shuttle program manager said on Thursday.

Endeavour arrived safely in orbit after Wednesday’s liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida though video and images of the launch showed about a dozen pieces of debris flying off the fuel tank during the 8.5-minute climb to orbit.

Some smashed into the ship’s heat shield, though NASA does not believe they caused any serious damage.

“We’re not worried about this one, but we need to understand what’s going on for the next flight,” shuttle program manager John Shannon said at a news conference.

“This is new,” Shannon said. “I don’t know if we have a material issue or a process issue but we’ll get to the bottom of it and clear it before the August flight.”

He told Reuters in an interview that no new shuttle launches would take place until the foam loss problem was understood.

NASA has seven more shuttle launches planned to complete construction of the International Space Station. Its next flight is targeted for launch on Aug. 18.

The U.S. space agency has been concerned about foam shedding from the tank since losing shuttle Columbia in 2003. A debris impact during Columbia’s launch breached the ship’s heat shield, which caused the shuttle to break apart as it flew through the atmosphere for landing. Seven astronauts died in the accident.

NASA redesigned the tanks to stem foam loss and implemented new procedures and equipment to check for damage after launch.

The images of Endeavour’s launch showed patches of metal where thin strips of foam had peeled away from a part of the tank that previously had not been a problem, Shannon said.

“We have a bit of a mystery,” Shannon said at the news conference. “It’s from an area we don’t typically expect to see foam to be lost.”

The foam loss occurred relatively late during Endeavour’s climb to orbit so that there was not much atmospheric force to slam debris into the ship and cause damage. If the foam had fallen off earlier during ascent, it could have been another story.

“A LOT OF WORK TO DO”

“It did not hurt us, apparently, on this flight, because it came off so late. But we’ll need to understand that before the next flight,” Shannon said.

A variety of tests are planned to determine if the problem on Endeavour’s tank was an isolated incident or if there is a more generic issue.

Shannon told Reuters he believed it was possible to get to the bottom of the foam loss problem before the Aug. 18 launch of shuttle Discovery,

“I have pretty high confidence we’ll get there but we have a lot of work to do,” he said in a telephone interview.

He said he suspected a problem when Endeavour’s tank was prepared for flight left the foam improperly bonded but said engineers may never able to determine the exact cause of the foam loss beyond all doubt.

Perhaps, he said. “the best we can do is prove that we’re not suspect on future tanks.”

The Endeavour astronauts, meanwhile, used the shuttle’s robot arm to scan their ship’s wings and nose cap with a sophisticated imaging system mounted at the end of a 50-foot (15-metre) boom. The pictures will be analyzed by engineers on the ground over the next several days.

Another inspection was scheduled for Friday before the shuttle docks at the International Space Station. Commander Mark Polansky will backflip Endeavour so astronauts aboard the station can photograph its heat-resistant belly tiles. Those images also will be relayed to the ground for analysis.

The shuttle, which is carrying the last piece of Japan’s Kibo laboratory, is scheduled to spend 11 days at the outpost. Endeavour also is carrying supplies, spare parts and a new station crewmember, U.S. astronaut Timothy Kopra, who will replace Japan’s Koichi Wakata as one of the live-aboard flight engineers.

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