By: Brett Shainfeld
Most drivers believe wholeheartedly in the benefits of buying a new or certified pre-owned vehicle from a dealership over sifting through car after car on the used market. Trying to find the right deal, determine if a seller is reputable, figure out financing and tell whether or not a used vehicle will truly last can be a total nightmare, so it only makes sense that drivers turn to dealerships and manufacturers in hopes that a new vehicle, fresh off the assembly line, will stand the test of time.
But what happens when time doesn’t stand a chance, and your brand new car keeps leaving you stranded on the side of the road on your way to work in the morning? What can someone do when they’ve taken their new vehicle, still under warranty, into the dealership time and time again for service, only to find that the problem still hasn’t been resolved? This is where lemon law comes into play.
The law, which several states have on the books but California has codified in the Song-Beverly Act (as well as other pieces of consumer legislation), is designed to insulate consumers from such circumstances where they invest great sums of money into a new vehicle, only to be sold a false bill of goods. The law stipulates that, while the vehicle is under warranty, the dealership only has a certain number of attempts to correct a problem that could cause harm to the driver or render a component of the vehicle unusable per factory requirements.
You may have heard of being “sold a lemon”, but this is the law that lets you sell the lemon back. If the vehicle meets the requirements of the law, the consumer may sell the vehicle back to the manufacturer for a refund or receive a replacement vehicle.
While some vehicle owners may be well aware of this arrangement, they may not understand the legal process that ensues should you need to pursue a lemon law case. Some may have heard or read that you can push the case on your own, while others may advocate for the consultation of a qualified attorney specializing in lemon law. Today, we’re going to clear things up by explaining the value in having an attorney for a lemon law case, as well as things you should watch out for should you choose to seek legal representation.
How a Lemon Law Lawyer Can Help Your Case
Lemon law may seem, on paper at least, to be highly protective of consumer interests and favorable towards car owners. The reality is that manufacturers and dealerships stand strongly in opposition to the law and, utilizing the massive legal resources and backing of what are typically multinational, billion-dollar organizations, they will challenge consumers every step of the way when lemon law is invoked. You’ll then be faced with limited legal expertise, going up against a team of lawyers held on retainer that are paid vast sums of money to do one thing and one thing only: defeat your case.
At this juncture, it’s critical to understand how lemon law cases typically unfold in California courts. The first thing to note is that they often don’t enter the courtroom at all; cases are usually funneled into an arbitration proceeding that’s overseen by the Arbitration Certification Program. In this process, third-party arbitrators review the case and make determinations about whether or not a reasonable number of repair attempts were made, and what type of decision should be granted in the case. Should the consumer accept the terms, the manufacturer must comply with the outcome of the hearing.
Many consumers hear this next part, and use it to make their determination about hiring a lawyer or not: the arbitration process is absolutely free, funded by the participating manufacturers. Moreover, the process does not guarantee that attorney fees will be included in the outcome unless a manufacturer decides to do so.
However, on the flip side, these two facts should also be considered. First, any decision rendered by the arbitrator can be used in future proceedings as evidence. That is to say, should the arbitration process not work in your favorite, you can expect that the manufacturer will latch onto that fact in future civil cases, creating a steep uphill battle for you to push through. The second aspect is that California State Lemon Law specifies that, in a civil case, the defendant (in this case, the manufacturer) is responsible for paying all legal fees as part of the settlement should you win your case.
This latter fact means two things: many attorneys will take the case on a “fee-shifting” basis, and that should you hire an attorney, you’ve gained significant leverage in the form of a ticking clock for the manufacturer. When meeting with a reputable and experienced lemon law attorney, your counsel will be able to determine fairly early whether or not your case can be won, and present an option to shift legal fees until after the case is concluded so that your finances are not tied up in the proceeding.
Additionally, besides the expertise your attorney will bring to the table, the tables will be flipped for the manufacturer. Typically a manufacturer sees an individual, possibly without a vehicle and in a compromised financial position, and will use their legal counsel to stretch things out as long as possible to bend and break the plaintiff. In this scenario, they’ll begin to make decisions based on mounting financial liability as they’ll be held responsible for your legal fees, providing incentive to settle quickly.
What to Watch Out For When Choosing a Lemon Law Attorney
Should you opt for an attorney, there are a few things you should check in the process. First, steer clear of attorneys that attempt to charge a percentage of your recovery as part of their legal fees. This is simply an unnecessary charge and violates the sanctity of what lemon law stands for, which is a means to get consumers back on the road and not leave them penalized for the mistakes of the manufacturer. The manufacturer will pay your legal fees, and should a lemon law attorney attempt to extend themselves further into your settlement, take a hard pass.
When you hire an experienced lemon law attorney like Shainfeld Law, they’ll listen to the evidence of your case and provide advice on how to proceed. They won’t cut straight into all of the money you can get back and make promises within the first three minutes of conversation. Your lemon law attorney should work with you, understand the case, give sound advice and work to recover your investment and get you back on the road in a suitable vehicle as soon as possible.
For more information on whether or not legal counsel will work for your case, or to learn more about the lemon law process, reach out to the attorneys at Shainfeld Law. We’ll be happy to work with you and get you back on the road with the compensation you’re due.