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How Long Do You Have To File A Lemon Law Claim?

One of the most common questions I get is: “How long do you have for lemon law?”

The statute of limitations for lemon law cases is four years from when the action accrued. What that means is that once all the things that need to happen for you to have a lemon law case have happened, that’s when the four year timeframe starts. For most lemon law cases you’ll have four years from when you purchased the defective car or RV to file your case.

Keep in mind, the longer you wait the weaker your case gets. Continuing to drive your car or take your RV out for trips (despite being sick and tired of the constant repairs) will work against you because the manufacturer will argue the problems must not have been that bad if you waited four years to file a lawsuit and continued using the car or RV that entire time. Plus, why would you make yourself pay for a lemon when you could get your money back instead?

If you think there’s even the slightest chance your car or RV is a lemon, contact our Orange County lemon law attorney today. We can guide you through the process of proving your car or RV is a lemon, all at no cost to you! That’s right- if you have a valid lemon law case, the manufacturer is on the hook for your attorney’s fees and costs, not you! After all, it wouldn’t be fair for you to be stuck with a lemon and have to pay thousands of dollars for an attorney, right?

Has it been more than four years since you purchased your lemon? Our experienced Orange County lemon law attorney may still be able to help you if you’ve had multiple repair attempts during the original manufacturer’s warranty period. Set up your free consultation by calling (714) 804-5546 or toll free at (888) 959-3500.

Registration Renewals Are Reimburseable Again For The First Time Since 2017

The California Supreme Court recently reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal on an issue that affects nearly all California consumers with lemon law claims.

            This issue began in June 2012 when plaintiff Kirzhner leased a Mercedes-Benz for his personal use. During the warranty period the vehicle exhibited a number of defects including inoperative steering column adjustment, inoperative power seats, malfunctioning navigation system, illuminating coolant level warning light, and smoke emanating from the vehicle’s cigarette lighter. Frustrated by defendant Mercedes-Benz’s inability to repair these issues, plaintiff filed suit. While the case was in litigation, defendant made a 998 offer stating they would: “…make restitution in an amount equal to the actual price paid or payable by the plaintiff, including any charges for transportation and manufacturer-installed options, but excluding non-manufacturer items installed by a dealer or the plaintiff, and including any collateral charges such as sales or use tax, license fees, registration fees, and other official fees, plus any incidental damages to which the buyer is entitled under [Civil Code] Section 1794, including, but not limited to, reasonable repair, towing, and rental costs actually incurred by [plaintiff], less a reasonable mileage offset in accordance with Civil Code Section 1793.2(d)(2)(C), all to be determined by court motion if the parties cannot agree.” Plaintiff accepted the 998 offer, and the court entered judgment accordingly. The parties were subsequently unable to agree on the amount due pursuant to the 998 so plaintiff filed a motion requesting the court to make the determination. In making it’s determination, the trial court excluded the $680.00 in registration renewal fees and certificate of nonoperation fees, which plaintiff then appealed claiming the court erred in interpreting Civil Code Section 1793.2(d)(2)(B).

            Prior to 2017, there was little to no guidance in the case law regarding incidental damages applicable to cases involving the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, also known as the California lemon law. This worked to the benefit of consumers and their attorneys alike, leaving a broad reading of the code to control industry standards. Incidental damages according to the letter of the law were to include “but not [be] limited to, reasonable repair, towing, and rental car costs actually incurred by the buyer.” (Civil Code Section 1793.2, subd. (d)(2)(B).) The lack of limiting language allowed California lemon law attorneys for decades to successfully argue consumers should be entitled to items such as registration renewals, insurance premiums, and storage costs associated with their lemons.

            However, the Court of Appeal’s decision in Allen Kirzhner v. Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC (2017) 18 Cal. App. 5th 453,would bring the broad interpretation of incidental damages within the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act to a screeching halt. In 2017, the Court of Appeal found that the trial court properly denied plaintiff recovery of approximately $680.00 in vehicle registration renewal and certificate of nonoperation fees which he incurred in the years after he first leased the car. Their analysis dealt a crushing blow to incidental damages under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. The Court distinguished “reasonable repair, towing, and rental car costs actually incurred by the buyer” from registration renewal fees by characterizing such fees as “a standard cost of owning any vehicle.” This appeal unfortunately gave manufacturers ammunition to use against consumers in refusing to reimburse registration renewal fees and other previously accepted incidental damages like insurance premiums, which similar to registration renewals, are also mandated by state law.

            While the California Supreme Court stopped short of allowing registration renewals in all instances to be recoverable as incidental damages, their opinion provides a roadmap as to how and when registration renewals can be reimbursed. Whereas the Court of Appeal had significantly limited what could be considered an incidental damage by disallowing damages that could be considered “a standard cost of owning any vehicle”, the California Supreme Court instead fashioned a new mold to which any incidental damages would need to fit into in order to be reimbursed. Registration renewal and nonoperation fees are now recoverable as incidental damages if (1) they were incurred in the care and custody of the vehicle and (2) if they were incurred as a result of or incident to the manufacturer’s breach or other violation of the Song Beverly Consumer Warranty Act.

            The fact that they were adding a new standard which could make it more difficult for consumers to prove their damages was not lost on the California Supreme Court. In acknowledging this reality, the California Supreme Court goes out of its way in providing a detailed hypothetical scenario in which a consumer could meet this new standard. In their hypothetical, a buyer presents their defective vehicle for repair four separate times within the first seven months of ownership, thereby triggering the presumption under Civil Code Section 1793.22, subdivision (b)(2) that a reasonable number of repair attempts were made. The manufacturer then delays providing the buyer with restitution or a replacement vehicle and the buyer incurs a registration renewal fee at the end of their first year of ownership. After the fee is paid, the manufacturer finally repurchases the vehicle. This delay then benefits the manufacturer who will have nearly the entire next year’s registration paid for by the buyer, who had a lessened ownership interest from the date the presumption was triggered. Even in a “less extreme” hypothetical where the buyer continues to possess and use the vehicle for some time after payment of the registration renewal fee, the Court believed that a trier of fact could still conclude that the buyer would not have had to pay the renewal fee but for the manufacturer’s delay in repurchasing or replacing the vehicle. Both scenarios are commonplace in California lemon law cases and will serve as a guide on how to present and argue incidental damages in the future.

            Ultimately the Court’s reasoning stemmed from the fact that once the manufacturer’s duty to repurchase or replace arises, the consumer no longer has the same ownership interest in the vehicle since the manufacturer should be complying with their obligation to promptly repurchase or replace the consumer’s vehicle. The California Supreme Court went on to address how something being a standard cost of owning a vehicle can prove it was incurred as a care and custody cost which would meet the first element for incidental damages. For example, buyers and lessees are legally required to pay registration renewal fees incurred prior to the vehicle’s transfer back to the manufacturer (Veh. Code, §§ 4000, subd. (a)(1), 4601, 4604) and payment of these fees safeguards the vehicle against impoundment (Veh. Code, § 22651, subd. (o)(1)(A)) which would undoubtedly qualify as a cost associated with the care and custody of the vehicle. Furthermore, manufacturers would be receiving a windfall in not having to pay for these fees themselves, and not holding them accountable for these fees could even result in tactical delays on their part to save money.

            Although the Court of Appeal was understandably concerned about opening up a “Pandora’s box” of potential costs had they allowed the registration renewals as incidental damages, the California Supreme Court’s opinion provided a fair balance of justice by keeping a tight rein on what could be considered an incidental damage. As long as the requested costs are reasonably incurred in the care and custody of nonconforming goods pending their return to the seller and they were incurred after the manufacturer’s duty to replace or repurchase arises, consumers will now have legal precedent to recover damages that are rightfully theirs.

            The implication of this new California Supreme Court opinion will undoubtedly have lasting effects in the lemon law world. Back in 2017 counsel for nearly all major automobile manufacturers wasted no time educating their plaintiffs’ side colleagues about the precedent the Court of Appeal’s decision would have on all future negotiations and settlements. Although while pending review the Court of Appeal’s decision was persuasive at best, it was enough to sway attorneys’ and judges’ opinions on the issue of incidental damages, and particularly with the plaintiffs’ bar, attorneys across the state did not want to risk creating even more bad precedent for consumers in a field that doesn’t see much change in case law to begin with. With the California Supreme Court’s opinion swinging the balance of power back in consumers’ direction by giving them a standard they believed “[would] not be difficult to meet” lemon law attorneys across California should embrace this new precedent and utilize it to argue for not only registration renewals, but insurance premiums, and storage expenses associated with their clients’ lemons as well.

Lemon Law 101: How Much Can You Sue For?

Generally, if you have a lemon in California you are entitled to either a repurchase (also called a buyback) or a replacement. For more questionable cases you may be able to get a “cash and keep” offer.

Option 1: Repurchase

A repurchase, also known as a buyback, consists of a return of your down payment, payments, out of pocket repair costs, towing, rental costs, and loan payoff, less the mileage offset, and less any aftermarket additions.

Option 2: Replacement

A replacement must be substantially identical to the vehicle replaced. If you have a lemon car or truck, you get to decide whether you want the manufacturer to repurchase or replace your lemon car or truck. However, the rules are different for RVs. If you own a lemon RV and before you file a lawsuit the manufacturer offers to replace your lemon RV, they are complying with the lemon law and you do not get to force them to repurchase your RV instead.

Option 3: Cash and keep

A cash and keep means the manufacturer gives you some money for your troubles, and you keep the car or RV, you continue making your regularly scheduled payments, and you keep any loans associated with the lemon if you financed it. Manufacturers are notorious for offering buyers these options because they will also require you to sign a release of all future lemon law claims for your car or RV.

DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING THE MANUFACTURER SENDS YOU WITHOUT CONSULTING WITH A LEMON LAW ATTORNEY!

Have you heard of the saying “There’s no such thing as a free lunch?” Well, in this case there’s no such thing as free money from the manufacturer. Signing those types of releases can mean you signing away THOUSANDS of dollars. Often times you may just be one or two repair visits away from proving you have a lemon, so with some patience and guidance from an experienced Orange County lemon law attorney, you could turn your minimal cash offer into a full repurchase.

Civil Penalty

The manufacturer could also be on the hook for a civil penalty which is two times the amount of your damages if you can prove they willfully violated the lemon law.

Our firm has mastered the paper trails necessary to prove a willful violation so if you’re interested in teaching your manufacturer a lesson, call the Orange County Lemon Law Expert at 714-804-5546 for a free consultation.

How Do You Qualify For The Lemon Law?

The California lemon law, also known as The Song Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, is the law the protects consumers when they purchase a vehicle or RV that the manufacturer is unable to repair under warranty.

There are three main ways to qualify for the lemon law:

  • Implied warranty- this means your car or RV wasn’t up to normal standards within the first year after purchase. For example, if you went out and purchased a new car and within a month of owning it you have catastrophic engine failure.
  • Express warranty- you take your car or RV in multiple times for the same issue and the dealer can’t fix it. For example, you keep feeling like your truck is hesitating every time to step on the gas, and you take it in to the dealership over and over again and the dealership keeps making repairs under warranty, but the issue never really goes away.
  • 30 day rule- the dealership has your car or RV for over 30 days for the same repair. This is the weakest of the three types of lemon law claims and for good reason. The lemon law has a provision that if there are circumstances outside of the manufacturer’s control causing the delay, then their obligation is to repair it as soon as the circumstances causing the delay have ended. This defense kicks in a lot when there are backordered parts so it’s best to build a strong lemon law case with the 30 day rule and at least one of the implied warranty or express warranty provisions.

One thing to keep in mind- just because you technically qualify doesn’t mean you automatically have a good case. Factors such as the number of days at the dealership for repairs, number of repair visits, and how significant the issue is plays a huge part in how strong your case is.

Find out if you have a case and how much your case is worth! Take advantage of a free consultation from Orange County’s leading lemon law attorney by calling 714-804-5546, or fill out our contact form and an attorney will be in touch with you as soon as possible!

What To Do If A Dealership Sells You A Lemon

From a lemon law attorney’s perspective, every new car or RV buyer should go into the purchase hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. Your actions starting on your first day of ownership can make or break your lemon law case so here are our top tips for what to do if a dealership sells you a lemon.

Get Organized

The first thing a lemon law attorney will ask you for is a copy of your purchase contract and all of your repair orders. Make sure you have a safe and secure place where you will keep all of the records for your car or RV throughout your ownership. 

Don’t Wait 

The second you notice something wrong with your car or RV schedule a repair appointment as soon as possible! The lemon law has a built in mileage offset (also called a usage deduction) for your trouble free miles so the law will assume the mileage on that first repair order is when you first started having problems and you can be charged for that mileage. Don’t let the manufacturer make any more money off of you by waiting to take your car or RV in! 

For RVs, delayed repair appointments are most dealerships’ MO right now so if your local dealership is quoting you a 2-3 month wait to get in for service, get them to put that in writing. Emails are a great way to document when you’re requesting a repair visit as well as listing all of the issues you want them to look at since it tends to be a longer list than car repairs, as well as getting them to confirm it’s a long wait to even get in. Depending on your circumstances, it may be a better idea to get the delayed appointment in writing, but try to get in for service at another authorized repair facility in the meantime, and let the manufacturer know you’re having these issues just getting a timely appointment. For a personalized strategy, call us for a free consultation. 

Document

Don’t trust that the dealerships are always going to be honest and confirm the issues you know your car or RV has. If possible, always document the issues you’re having so that you don’t have to rely completely on them for evidence that your car or RV is a lemon. Videos and photos are great, and if you want to take it a step further and take notes regarding when the issues are happening, it will give you and your lemon law attorney that much more ammunition to use against the manufacturer. 

Talk To An Attorney 

You might think, of course the attorney is going to say talk to an attorney instead of doing things on your own, but hear me out. Manufacturers are a business and unfortunately their loyalties don’t lie with you, they lie in their profits. I’ve heard so many stories of people trying to negotiate with the manufacturer on their own, only to be tricked out of thousands of dollars or strung along for months. Sure, their reps can be nice (sometimes), but they have no obligation to explain anything to you (especially that fine print and legal jargon) and they sure don’t have any obligation to get you the maximum settlement possible. So if your ‘DIY negotiate with the manufacturer alone’ way of handling things behind door number one doesn’t sound too promising anymore, there’s another option. 

Behind door number two is the option to work with a lemon law attorney and for this example I’ll talk about how our firm works. We provide free consultations to anyone that calls. These free consultations include strategizing on how to get you what you want as fast as possible and can include walking you through how to build a lemon law case if you’re close but not quite there. If the manufacturer doesn’t want to play ball without a lawsuit, then we sue them, once again at no cost to you. You might be thinking this sounds too good to be true, but for once it’s not. We’ll still get paid for all of our time and expenses, but that money will come directly from the manufacturer, not you. It’s a way the lemon law protects consumers and punishes manufacturers for not doing the right thing in the first place. 

Free Means Free

We’re also one of the few lemon law firms that do not charge our clients a contingency fee. The law says we get all of our attorney’s fees from the manufacturer, so we see no need to take any money out of your pocket when that’s not what the law intended. That’s another way you know we’re on your side. If you don’t get paid, we don’t get paid, so you can be assured that your fight is our fight (and trust me, we want to get paid for your lemon as much as you do). 

So, will you choose door number one where you will likely get scammed or strung along by the manufacturer, or door number two where you’ll have an experienced, effective, and ethical attorney by your side at no cost to you? 

For those that chose door number two, you can schedule your free consultation by emailing me (West Coast Lemons’ founder Michelle Fonseca-Kamana) directly at mfkamana@westcoastlemons.com , or calling the office at 714-804-5546, or toll free at (888) 959-3500. 

What Happens When You File A Lemon Law Case?

Lemons can happen to anyone, and often times having a lemon law claim is someone’s first experience with the legal system. Now this might be shocking but hiring an attorney isn’t going to magically solve all of your problems immediately. There is plenty of work your attorney will need to do to make the magic happen, and there’s generally a process that goes along with it. If you’re anything like me, I need to know what exactly I’m signing up for before moving forward with something so here’s the general timeline and process that goes along with hiring an Orange County lemon law attorney to handle your lemon law case. 

Step One: Case Initiation 

         Your lemon law attorney will draft the lawsuit (also called a Complaint) and get it filed with the court. Once the lawsuit is filed, process servers will serve each defendant (usually the manufacturer of your vehicle and he dealership that sold it to you). This process can take up to two weeks. 

Step Two: The Answer 

         Each defendant has 30 days from when they are served with the lawsuit to respond. Their response is called an “Answer” that they file with the court denying everything. The defendants denying everything is normal, and the good news is your attorney will now know what law firm and attorney is going to be representing the other side so the real work can begin. 

Step Three: Litigation

         This is the “meat and potatoes” portion of any case. During the litigation process both sides will try to get information about the case from each other using written discovery, depositions, and vehicle inspections. This process can take several months. 

Step Four: Settlement 

         Most lemon law cases settle before trial. It can take anywhere from 30-60 days for car settlements and anywhere from 30-90 days for RV settlements to be completed. You will know the exact timing of your particular settlement when you sign the settlement agreement but if it’s unclear for any reason, do not sign anything until that is clear. Settlement timeframes are important because the numbers change daily. Every day your loan is not paid off it is accruing interest and you will continue making payments during the settlement period so your credit isn’t negatively affected, so it’s important to have an Orange County Lemon Law Attorney that truly understands how these settlements should work so that you get every penny you’re entitled to. 

Step Five: Trial 

         If your case is in the minority of lemon law cases and does not settle, you’ll be going to trial. Lemon law trials usually last 5-7 days, depending on the complexity of your case and the courtroom’s schedule. Courts across California are trying to adapt to the obstacles brought by COVID-19 so having a jury trial for a lemon law case filed after the COVID-19 shutdowns anytime soon is very unlikely. In the pre-COVID-19 era, trials were generally set 12-18 months from the date the case was filed, but now we’re seeing those timeframes nearly double so it will be interesting to see how things continue to play out with the courts and jury trials. 

         If you have any questions or would like more information about The Lemon Law Process, contact your Orange County Lemon Law Attorney at West Coast Lemons for a free consultation at 714-804-5546 or fill out the contact form on our website and an Orange County Lemon Law attorney will get in touch with you. 

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