How do I know if I have a case?

The most often used portion of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, otherwise known as California’s Lemon Law, is related to an obligation to repurchase if a defect is not fixed within a reasonable number of repair opportunities. Under such standard, a consumer is entitled to a repurchase or replacement if (1) there was a warrantable defect that substantial impaired the use, value, or safety, and (2) the manufacturer could not repair it within a reasonable number of attempts.

Whether or not the problem with your vehicle is a warrantable defect, is “substantial,” and if you have provided the manufacturer a “reasonable number of repair opportunities” is case-specific. Every case is different.

Other common sections of California’s Lemon Law that may entitle a consumer to damages relate to such things as whether the vehicle was in the shop for more than thirty (30) days, whether the manufacturer provided its dealership with enough information to be able to properly fix the vehicle, and/or whether the manufacturer refused to honor its warranty. Likewise, a consumer may be entitled to damages if the consumer good was not of the same quality as those generally acceptable in trade.

All of these factors are typically case-specific; there is typically no automatic “yes this qualifies” or “no this doesn’t qualify.” The members of the Law Offices of Michael Devlin are happy to discuss your problems to determine if you have a strong case.

If I have a case, what am I entitled to?

The primary remedy under California’s Lemon Law, is to have the defective product repurchased or replaced. If the manufacturer offers a replacement, the consumer is entitled to demand that they wish to have the product repurchased instead; but not vice versa (meaning if a repurchase is offered a consumer does not have the right to demand a replacement instead).

Essentially, the Lemon Law is designed to offer “restitution” – which is the legal term defined as an “act of restoring” or “the act of making good or giving equivalent for any loss.” In other words, the Lemon Law is designed to get the consumer back to where they would have been had problems not began. A consumer is typically entitled to the amount they have paid to date on the vehicle (minus a mileage offset discussed below) and any outstanding loan paid off in exchange for returning the vehicle.

Am I entitled to extra money such as emotional distress damages or punitive damages?

Some people may be familiar with emotional distress damages or punitive damages in other types of cases. These types of damages are not recoverable in a Lemon Law case. The law treats a Lemon Law claim as an action under contract and as a result these types of damages are not recoverable.

However, the Lemon Law does allow for what are called “civil penalties” in certain cases that are capped at twice the consumer’s actual damages. Civil penalties are designed to punish a manufacturer for improper “willful” conduct. Whether there are facts in your case that would allow for civil penalties is something that is case-specific.

In addition to the payments made directly for the vehicle, are there other things for which I’m entitled to reimbursement?

In addition to monthly payments, a consumer is entitled to incidental and/or consequential damages. Thus, if there are other out-of-pocket expenses you have incurred as a result of the defect, such as towing expenses, rental car costs, or repair expenses related to the problem that were for some reason not paid by the warranty, you may be entitled to recover that money as well.

Are there any specific items for which I am not entitled to a recovery?

The Lemon Law specifically states that a consumer is not entitled to be repaid for “nonmanufacturer items installed by a dealer or the buyer.” In other words, if you have customized your vehicle with aftermarket rims, window tint, etc., the manufacturer is likely not responsible to pay you back for such items.

Additionally, recent changes to the law have established that a consumer may not be entitled to registration payments beyond the first year’s registration.

What is the “mileage offset”?

While the Lemon Law’s primary remedy is “restitution,” consumers should keep in mind that with respect to motor vehicles, the law sees the good use a consumer obtained from the vehicle prior to problems first beginning as a credit to which the manufacturer is entitled. In the Law’s eyes, the consumer needs to be restored to where they were prior to the problems beginning; which may not necessarily be when the vehicle was purchased. For comparison’s sake, someone who was able to drive a vehicle 50,000 miles problem-free is not viewed the same under the Lemon Law as someone who had problems as soon as the vehicle was purchased.

As a result, the manufacturer is entitled to a “mileage or use offset.” The Lemon Law has a specific statutory formula that accounts for how much of a deduction is appropriate in each case. Such specifics are discussed with any potential client of the Law Offices of Michael Devlin so that the client has an understanding of their potential recovery from the beginning of the case.

What if I leased a vehicle, do I still have a case?

Yes, the Lemon Law specifically applies to both purchased and leased vehicles.

I bought a used vehicle that has been problematic. Can I file a Lemon Law case?

In certain situations a pre-owned vehicle may still qualify as a “new motor vehicle” for the purposes of the Lemon Law. A “new motor vehicle” under California’s Lemon Law is defined differently for the purposes of the Lemon Law when compared to how the term is used in everyday conversation. If you purchased a used vehicle that still had a warranty in place you may be able to bring a claim.

What if my car is out of warranty?

You may still have a case even if your vehicle is out of warranty. If it can be proven that the vehicle had the problem within the warranty period you may have a claim. Further, the Lemon Law has certain provisions that establish that the warranty terms may not actually have expired as a matter of law if the manufacturer hasn’t been able to fix the problem yet under warranty. These are the sorts of specific facts that would be best discussed with the Law Offices of Michael Devlin.

Does the Lemon Law apply to anything other than just cars?

Yes, California’s Lemon Law is designed to address most any type of consumer good purchased with a warranty. In addition to automobiles, this includes motorcycles, recreational vehicles, motor homes, boats, electronics, and more.

What car companies should be avoided? Who makes the most Lemons? Who makes the best cars?

We often have individuals ask what companies they should avoid or what companies are the best. The truth is, every manufacturer has the potential to make a consumer good/vehicle that turns out to be problematic. The Lemon Law is not an attack on a manufacturer as a whole; it is simply a law designed to protect a consumer if they have the misfortune of purchasing a good that turns out to be problematic. Every manufacturer has the potential to sell something that did not live up to expectations. We have handled cases against companies otherwise thought of as luxury manufacturers who just happened to have sold our clients a “Lemon.”

If I hire your office, what is next? What will I need to do?

If you decide to hire the Law Offices of Michael Devlin, we will file a formal Complaint in the appropriate court venue on your behalf. The defendant will have approximately a month before they have to file their Answer that will typically be a standard denial. From there, the Law Offices will litigate your claim. Oftentimes this requires no further input from you. We will simply provide updates in the changes in the status of your case and are always happy to respond to questions about your case status. In some cases, our clients may be deposed at some point or the vehicle may be inspected in a formal legal inspection. Other than that, the Law Offices of Michael Devlin will handle virtually everything on your behalf. Every case is different. But many cases run from beginning to end with our clients only interactions being the initial case sign up and then the ultimate resolution/settlement of the case.

How long will my case take?

This is one of the most commonly asked questions which unfortunately there is no all-encompassing answer. Some of our clients cases settle within a matter of just a few months. Others have cases that last for over a year. We cannot guarantee any sort of timeline for you. The truth is that in lawsuits a defendant has more control over how long a case takes because they are the party that is the one that must put forth an offer that settles the case. As a plaintiff, you on the other hand, have the power related to the terms on which you will allow your case to settle. Oftentimes, manufacturers use delay as part of their defense strategy in efforts to wear you down so that when they finally do offer something to settle the case you will jump at the first offer. Understanding that the delay is a tactic and having faith in us as your attorney will go a long way in allowing the Law Offices of Michael Devlin to obtain the greatest recovery possible for you.

If you file a case on my behalf, does that mean I will have to go to court?

Typically, no. As is true in all types litigation – not just Lemon Law cases – 98% of cases settle without a trial. That is because it is in both parties’ interest to have a say in how the case resolves rather than leaving it in the hands of a jury of 12 strangers. There will likely be several status conferences and other types of hearings in your case that we would handle for you without your involvement being necessary.

What happens at the end of my case? How does a case typically resolve?

A vast majority of cases resolve in the form of a Settlement Agreement. What is the appropriate settlement value in your case is case-specific. There is no “one size fits all” answer. During settlement negotiations, our role is to give you as much advice that we are in a position to provide and your role as the client is to make the decision based on the advice we provide.

Will I have to pay the Law Offices of Michael Devlin for its services?

Unlike some other firms, we do not charge an upfront retainer fee to our clients. One of the most powerful provisions of California’s Lemon Law is its “one-way fee shifting provision.” In short, this means that the defendant manufacturer is legally obligated to pay all of your attorneys’ fees, costs, and expenses reasonably incurred on your behalf if/when it repurchases the defective product. Thus, the Law Offices will be paid by the defendant on your behalf at the resolution of your case. The more aggressive the defendant defends your case and the more work they cause the Law Offices to incur, the more they will ultimately have to pay under the Lemon Law on your behalf.