The Lemon Law Process
Here’s What to Expect When You File a California Lemon Law Claim
Filing a claim under California’s lemon law is a process. From sending a demand letter to asserting your statutory rights in arbitration or in court, every step along the way requires informed decisions, and you need to be careful to avoid costly mistakes. The best way to protect your rights is to work with an experienced attorney; and, under California’s lemon law, auto manufacturers are required to pay claimants’ legal fees separately from their awards of financial compensation.
Here is an overview of the lemon law claim process in California:
1. Submitting Your Demand for a Replacement Vehicle or Restitution
The process starts when you submit a demand letter to your vehicle’s manufacturer. The letter should provide detailed information about your vehicle (i.e. whether you purchased or leased the vehicle, the date you purchased it, the dealership you worked with, the amount you paid, and the current odometer reading), and it should provide a complete repair history for the defect underlying your claim. For each visit to the dealership, the letter should include details such as:
- The specific reason you took your vehicle in for service
- The date you dropped off your vehicle
- The date(s) of service
- The amount you were required to pay, if any, or a statement that the repair was covered under warranty
- How soon after the visit you experienced a recurrence of the defect
Next, the letter should recite your rights under California’s lemon law. If you have owned or used your vehicle for less than 18 months or 18,000 miles and one of the law’s presumptions applies, the letter should specifically reference the relevant presumption. If not, then the letter should establish that you have allowed the dealership to make “a reasonable number of attempts” to repair your vehicle, as required under California’s lemon law.
Finally, the letter should state your demand. Are you requesting that the manufacturer provide a replacement vehicle? Or, are you demanding restitution for the amount you paid? If you are seeking restitution, the letter should also include demands for, “any charges for transportation and manufacturer-installed options . . . and . . . any collateral charges such as sales or use tax, license fees, registration fees, and other official fees.” Whether you are seeking a replacement vehicle or restitution, your demand letter should include an accurate calculation of your “incidental damages” (i.e. repair, towing and rental car costs) as well.
2. Filing a California Lemon Law Claim in Arbitration
If the manufacturer rejects your demand and refuses to negotiate an acceptable settlement, then you have to make a decision: Do you want to pursue your claim in arbitration? Or, do you want to take your case to court? Both options offer different benefits and drawbacks, and you will need to make an informed decision based upon the advice of your attorney.
When you file a claim in arbitration, you are entitled to obtain certain information from your vehicle’s manufacturer, and the manufacturer is entitled to obtain certain information from you. This is known as “discovery.” Following discovery, each party will prepare to present its case to the arbitration panel; and, at the conclusion of evidence, the panel will render a decision.
If the arbitration panel rules in your favor, you can elect to accept the decision, at which point the decision becomes binding on your vehicle’s manufacturer. The manufacturer (either directly or through one of its dealerships) then has up to 30 days to comply with the terms of the arbitration award. If you reject the panel’s decision, you can then take your case to court.
3. Filing a California Lemon Law in State Court
Pursing a lemon law claim in California state court is a much more formal process than seeking relief in arbitration. State court litigation begins when the plaintiff (you) file a complaint against the defendant (your vehicle’s manufacturer). The manufacturer then files an answer; and, over the ensuing weeks and months, both parties will have opportunities to file several other types of pleadings and motions – all while conducting more-extensive discovery than what is available in arbitration – and the case will eventually be set for trial.
At trial, the plaintiff presents his or her case first. This involves introducing evidence through witness testimony and exhibits. Once the plaintiff rests, the defense then has the option to file a motion to have the case dismissed due to the plaintiff’s failure to present adequate evidence, or present its own evidence countering the plaintiff’s claims.
At the close of evidence, each party will present its closing argument, and then the factfinder will render a decision. This decision is binding on both parties, subject to the parties’ respective rights to file an appeal.
4. Negotiating a Settlement
From initial submission of the demand letter through closing arguments at trial, the parties can – and generally will – engage in settlement negotiations at all stages of the process. There is no time limit on the parties’ ability to settle a California lemon law claim; and, while many cases settle fairly quickly, cases can (and do) settle before and during trial. As your case proceeds through the various stages, your attorney will continue to explore opportunities for settlement; and, if you receive an offer that you find acceptable, you can resolve your case and move on with your life.
5. Securing Relief Under California’s Lemon Law
If your claim results in a favorable arbitration award, court decision or negotiated settlement, the final stage in the process is to enforce your award. If you accepted a replacement vehicle, this will mean going to the dealership and completing the paperwork necessary to take your new vehicle home. If you agreed to restitution, the manufacturer should make payment relatively quickly, and the payment should include any amount designated for incidental damages as well.
Contact Us to Discuss Your California Lemon Law Claim
Did you purchase or lease a lemon in California? If you believe that you may have a claim under California’s lemon law, we invite you to contact us for a free, no-obligation initial consultation. To speak with an attorney in confidence, please call 888-800-1983 or tell us how to reach you online today.