Jim Porter: Sunroof goes crazy — as does the court
August 6, 2014
California's Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, in the Civil Code, also known as the "Lemon Law," is one of the strongest in the country, especially when combined with California's Car Buyer's Bill of Rights law.
The federal Lemon Law is the Magnusson Moss Act. California is indeed a good place to buy or lease a new vehicle.
Ilan Brand leased a new Hyundai Genesis sedan from Allen Hyundai on Jan. 2, 2012.
On Ilan's drive home on the 5 freeway, the sunroof spontaneously and repeatedly began opening and closing without Ilan pushing any buttons.
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He immediately returned the Hyundai to the dealer and after several attempts to fix the sunroof and several false claims that it was fixed, on Jan. 11 Ilan wrote he wanted his money back.
Ilan rejected Hyundai's offer to waive his first two lease payments; after only four weeks he sued Hyundai.
The day before he sued Hyundai, the problem was diagnosed as a small nick in an electrical line, a short, but Ilan Brand was on his way to the courthouse — too little, too late.
The Song-Beverly Act in California, as the Court wrote, is strongly pro consumer. The Act provides for both express and implied warranties.
Under a manufacturer's express warranty the buyer must allow for a reasonable number of repair attempts within 30 days before seeking to undo the purchase contract.
The Act's implied warranty of merchantability does not require a 30 day opportunity to fix the problem.
The Lemon Law is actually a portion of the Song Beverly Act. If the manufacturer or dealer is unable to repair a new motor vehicle after "a reasonable number of attempts," the manufacturer must promptly replace the vehicle or refund the buyer's money.
The Court cases seem to say four or five returns to the dealer with a recurring problem that remains unfixed is "a reasonable number of attempts."
If the vehicle is out of service for a cumulative total of 30 days, that constitutes a lemon car.
The Act creates a presumption that if the same defect has been subject to repair four or more times within 18 months or 18,000 miles, the vehicle is presumed to be a lemon and subject to replacement or partial money back.
Ilan Brand's Hyundai wasn't returned four times, and he sued before 30 days had run, so he was not entitled to the express Lemon Law warranty under the Act. His claim was based on the implied warranty part of the Act.
An implied warranty does not promise to fulfill a buyer's expectations, but provides instead for a minimum level of quality … a new car need not be perfect in every detail, as the Court of Appeal wrote.
If you were the judge would you refund Ilan's money?
NO COOLING OFF PERIOD
The Court noted that California law does not have a "cooling off" period in which to reconsider an automobile purchase.
It considered Ilan's argument that the defective sunroof was a safety issue, to which Hyundai countered: if sunroofs were dangerous then no cars would have sunroofs.
In the end, the Court of Appeal ruled that a jury could conclude the randomly opening and closing sunroof was not a minor defect but instead constituted a safety hazard breaching the implied warranty, so while Ilan didn't necessarily win, he is entitled to take his case to the jury.
I'm not sure I support this decision. By the way, the implied warranty term under the Act is one year, surprisingly long.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee, Tahoe City and Reno. Jim's practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.portersimon.com.