Because of the Recent California Supreme Court Decision, you no longer have to keep your lemon car while you wait for a trial date

The recent California decision of Niedermeier v. Fiat-Chrysler US LLC, decided on March 7, 2024, holds that a consumer who has a lemon and has filed a lawsuit seeking replacement of the vehicle need not keep the vehicle until the time of trial, which often can be years after the filing of the lawsuit.  A consumer who sells or trades in his lemon car before the trial can still claim all of the damages available under California’s lemon law, including the purchase price of the lemon car plus a civil penalty of up to two times the consumer’s damages, plus the consumer’s attorney’s fees.

Given the backup in California courts because of the pandemic, this is an important decision for California consumers who are stuck with a lemon.  If you are stuck with a lemon, you have the option to trade your vehicle in, or sell it, while waiting for a trial courtroom to open up for your case.  If you trade it in or sell it, you can still pursue your lemon law claim against the vehicle’s manufacturer, and the manufacturer cannot claim as an offset the sale or trade-in value that you received when you sold or traded in your car.  In other words, you can pursue all of the same damages you would have claimed if you’d kept the car while waiting for trial.

There are some important things you must do first before you trade in or sell your lemon vehicle—DO NOT trade in or sell your lemon vehicle unless you have these requirements in place:

  1. You need to have given the manufacturer a reasonable opportunity to repair the vehicle.  For a very serious safety defect, like a brake failure or stalling out on the freeway, this can be as little as one repair attempt, but it’s generally a good idea to give the manufacturer at least 3 repair attempts. The more serious the defect, the fewer repair attempts are needed to be considered a reasonable opportunity for the manufacturer to fix the problem; the less serious the defect, it’s a good idea to get at least three or more repair attempts.
  2. You need to have specifically requested from the manufacturer that they buy back your car under the California or federal lemon law.  I strongly recommend that you do this in writing, via certified mail, and obviously keep a copy of your letter.  Minimally, do this via email (with “read receipt” so you will have proof that the email was received) and keep a copy of your email.  You will need that proof if the case goes into litigation.
  3. There is no harm in asking the manufacturer for a repurchase more than once, if your first request is denied.  Again, do this in writing, and keep a copy of any such request that you make.
  4. If the manufacturer refuses to buy back your car, you will need to file a lawsuit.  My law firm has been handling lemon law cases very successfully for over 30 years and I am widely considered one of the best, if not the best, lemon law attorney in California.
  5. After you have an attorney file your lawsuit, then discuss with your attorney whether you can trade in or sell your vehicle.  If the manufacturer wants to settle your case early, the manufacturer may require you to return the vehicle, so I would never recommend this to a client if there were active settlement negotiations happening on his or her case.  But, if you’re stuck with your vehicle and the trial date is two years away, then by all means, speak with your attorney about selling or trading in your vehicle, all the while planning on continuing with the lawsuit.

I hope this short article is helpful for you.  The Niedermeier decision is a very helpful decision to California consumers who have to wait sometimes years for courtrooms to become available.  This will take some of the pressure off of consumers who are stuck with lemon vehicles in California.

Note: this decision is strictly a California law decision.  If you are in another state, please consult with a lemon law attorney in your state before you sell or trade in your lemon vehicle.

Thank you for reading this.

Comments are closed.