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How the Latest California Supreme Court Rulings Impact Consumer Lemon Law Protections

As consumers, we have the right to trust that the products we purchase are free from defects or hazards. We reasonably expect that the goods we buy have undergone and passed all required safety tests to ensure that they will operate as intended and as advertised by the manufacturer. Unfortunately, errors made during the design, manufacture, or assembly of a product do happen, resulting in defective or even dangerous products that may render the item unusable or cause harm to the user. When we make the decision to purchase or lease a new vehicle, we expect it to reliably transport us from one location to another. Defecting cars and trucks can cause massive headaches and incur significant costs, especially when the defect eludes repair and forces the vehicle to remain in the shop for multiple days or weeks. In some cases, the defect can pose a substantial safety risk, increasing the possibility of a collision or injury. Fortunately, California’s lemon laws offer several protections for consumers struggling with defective new or used vehicles that are still covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. Let’s take a closer look at how these laws shield California customers from becoming trapped with defective and unreliable vehicles and how some recent rulings issued by the California Supreme Court clarify and affect these lemon law protections.

Understanding California’s Lemon Laws

First, it’s helpful to understand what California’s lemon laws are and the protections they provide for consumers struggling with defective products, including cars and trucks. In the 1970s and 1980s, California passed several laws protecting consumers from defective or malfunctioning products. Under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, consumers who find themselves in possession of defective cars or trucks are entitled to recover a refund or replacement vehicle from the manufacturer. However, they must meet several eligibility requirements to qualify for these legal remedies. The following factors determine whether you may qualify for lemon law protection in California.

Vehicles Must Be Under the Manufacturer’s Warranty

The vehicle you purchase that ends up being defective must come with a valid warranty from the manufacturer. This means that many used vehicles can qualify for lemon law protection as long as the manufacturer’s warranty is still in effect. However, if the warranty expires while you are struggling to repair the defect, you may still qualify for lemon law protection.

Issues Impacting a Vehicle’s Use, Value, or Safety

To proceed with a valid lemon law claim, the defect at the center of the issue must impair the car or truck’s use, value, or safety. For example, an impairment of use means that the vehicle is not capable of performing a function for which you purchased it (i.e., transporting you from home to work every day). If the defect causes your vehicle to lose value, meaning its worth is less than that of a similar vehicle without the defect, this is considered an impairment of value. Safety-related defects are often the most significant, as these may render the vehicle too hazardous to use because the problem puts you or others at risk of injury or death.

A Reasonable Number of Repair Attempts Have Failed

Lemon law protects consumers who struggle with vehicles that are resistant to multiple attempts to repair the problem successfully. For instance, if you have taken your car to the dealership for the same issue on multiple occasions (typically four or more), you may have cause to pursue a lemon law claim against the manufacturer. Of course, a severe problem that poses a substantial safety risk (like an engine repeatedly catching fire) may entitle you to recover a refund vehicle or refund after only one unsuccessful repair attempt has been made.

Recent California Supreme Court Rulings Impacting Lemon Law

In recent months, the California Supreme Court has issued a few rulings that clarify or reshape lemon law protections for consumers. One such case, Kirzhner v. Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC, resulted in the Supreme Court expanding the possible damages a consumer could recover under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. Ultimately, the court concluded that “the registration renewal and non-operation fees are recoverable as incidental damages if they were incurred as a result of the manufacturer’s failure to promptly provide a replacement vehicle or restitution once its obligation arises.” Essentially, once the manufacturer recognizes its duty to provide restitution to the affected consumer, any fees the consumer must pay during the manufacturer’s delay may be considered incidental damages and thus recoverable.

In another matter involving lemon law that came before the California Supreme Court, the court held that manufacturers are shielded from liability if the vehicle was not purchased in California. In Cummins, Inc. v. Superior Court, the court ruled that “the Legislature did not intend for the refund-or-replace provisions of the Act to extend to consumers who did not purchase the motor vehicle of issue in California.” According to the court’s ruling, lemon law protections apply only to cars and trucks purchased in California, preventing nonresidents from taking legal action in cases involving a vehicle purchased out of state. However, before you assume that you have forfeited your right to seek legal protection for a defective vehicle, it’s best to discuss the specifics of your situation with an experienced and knowledgeable California lemon law attorney. Every lemon law case is different, meaning that there may be a few options for you to explore in order to get the lemon off your hands for good. If you’re ready to explore your options for obtaining a refund or replacement vehicle, reach out to a trusted and friendly lemon law expert as soon as possible to get started.

If your new or used vehicle that’s still under the manufacturer’s warranty is struggling with recurring issues, you may have a lemon on your hands. Call Lemon Law Partners, LLP, today at (510) 944-0336 to schedule a free case evaluation with a dedicated and knowledgeable Berkeley lemon law attorney.

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