Nothing is more frustrating as a consumer protection attorney than seeing consumers get taken advantage of by manufacturers. Often times consumers feel like they can handle these negotiations on their own, and why wouldn’t they- they’re businessmen and businesswomen, fathers, mothers, teachers, entrepreneurs- people that can take care of themselves and their families, right? As an attorney that truly did come into this profession to help others, to be the David against their Goliath, it is maddening to get calls from potential clients after they’ve been tricked into giving up their rights for a false promise.
Recently I spoke with a potential client who owned a 2018 motor home. The RV had been out of service due to multiple warranty repairs for the better part of their first year of ownership, and with the warranty about to run out they reached out to the manufacturer to discuss options. The manufacturer then “kindly” offered them a 9 month extension to their warranty. Sounds fantastic, right? Wrong. These offers are almost always accompanied by a release of some sort, and these releases are famous for having so much legal mumbo jumbo that seems innocent enough, but in practice is actually asking you to give up all of your rights. This particular release included a Civil Code Section 1542 waiver which says you agree to waive “all known and unknown, and anticipated and unanticipated claims and damages relating to or arising out of all issues, problems or deficiencies in your [motor home].” Why would anyone choose to waive rights they don’t even know they have yet? Do you truly trust that the manufacturer that couldn’t fix your RV in the last year is finally going to fix it in the next 9 months? Do you truly trust that the product you purchased that has had this many issues while brand spanking new isn’t going to have even worse issues that are bound to come up after a few years of ownership?
It isn’t just the RV industry with these types of releases. The automobile industry has also been doing this for decades. I had another client who luckily called me before signing the release a major auto manufacturer had sent her and she was faced with the same predicament. She had voiced her concerns to the manufacturer and they responded, once again ever so “kindly” with a goodwill offer for $2,000.00 for her troubles. It was a 2019 vehicle with one of the best warranties in the industry, so the cash sounded like a fair deal, right? Wrong. The goodwill offer was once again accompanied by a 1542 waiver and additional language making it painfully clear that she would be waiving her rights to ever bring any type of lawsuit (ie. If the vehicle has a defect that causes her to get in a car accident, she can’t file a lawsuit; if the vehicle turns out to be a lemon, she can’t file a lawsuit). Thankfully this client sent over this release for my review and decided instead to ask the manufacturer, since they’re doing this out of the kindness of their hearts, to fulfill the offer without her signing away her rights. As expected, the manufacturer refused and there you see the manufacturer’s true intention. Because she asked an attorney for advice before signing anything, she was able to continue getting warranty repairs to build a lemon law case she will be able to actually file.
Now I’m not saying manufacturers are all bad but at the end of the day they are businesses. These direct to consumer negotiations are a bait and switch. They know the vehicle or RV they manufactured is a lemon so they bait consumers with some quick cash or a warranty extension in exchange for a waiver of rights. Even some manufacturer offers to fully buyback your vehicle or RV are a scam, but more on that another time.
Lesson here is this- most lemon law attorneys offer free consultations and the good ones will have no problem giving you free advice even if you don’t actually have a case. A lot of times my clients will handle these negotiations themselves while I’m just in the background advising them on what to say and how to respond to whatever the manufacturer says or offers. So why not have someone who knows exactly how these manufacturers work on your side for free?