Pursuing a lemon law claim is a lot like going on a road trip – you need to know where you are going and the best route to get there. The attorneys at Neale & Fhima know the process well. We can assist you from start to finish and make sure the auto manufacturer respects your legal rights.
Every state has its own lemon law statute. California’s version of the law includes unique provisions designed to help consumers. Purchasers and lessees of vehicles under factory warranty can insist that covered repairs be performed properly and without unreasonable delay. If the repair work falls short in either respect, consumers can demand a refund, replacement, or other financial compensation.
Bear in mind, though, that auto manufacturers are multibillion-dollar corporations. Lemon law claims cut into their profit margins. For this reason, every major car company doing business in California has a team of warranty specialists and defense lawyers charged with the task of avoiding or minimizing otherwise valid claims.
Our lemon law attorneys never allow themselves to be intimidated by the large automakers, and neither should you.
Here is an overview of what to expect during the claims process:
Five Steps to Winning a Lemon Law Claim in California
Step 1 – Seek Legal Counsel
Deciding whether to hire an attorney for any legal matter requires a cost-benefit analysis. In an uncontested divorce, for example, it may not be prudent for the parties to hire their own lawyers. On the other hand, the plaintiff in a complex personal injury case would be making a grave error by deciding to forgo representation.
Fortunately, when it comes to lemon law claims in California, the law makes the decision of whether to hire an attorney very simple. Auto manufacturers are required by statute to pay all of the legal fees and expenses of the consumer’s attorney following a successful lemon law claim. In the event the claim is not successful, most reputable law firms (including ours) will not charge the client for the work performed. This means that claimants have everything to gain and nothing to lose by retaining an attorney.
Step 2 – Initial Consultation
You will need to consult with your attorney at the outset of the claims process. At Neale & Fhima, we strive to make this initial consultation as convenient and straightforward as possible. We can conduct the meeting by telephone, and we will never ask for a consultation fee. The purpose of the consultation is for us to review your vehicle’s repair history, evaluate the merits of your claim, and answer questions you may have, such as:
- Must I give the dealer another opportunity to repair the defect?
- Will I need to gather additional lemon law documentation?
- How much will I owe on my car loan when the case is over?
- Does the “mileage deduction” apply, and how will it be calculated?
- Should I request a buyback or a replacement vehicle?
- When can I expect to receive the money from a cash settlement?
- All factors considered, how much is my claim worth?
The knowledge you gain during the initial consultation (and from follow-up discussions with your attorney) will allow you to make informed decisions throughout the remainder of the claims process.
Step 3 – The Demand Letter
If it appears that you have a valid claim, your attorney will send a demand letter to the manufacturer. This begins the informal claims process. The demand letter will assert your rights under California’s lemon law and request that the manufacturer provide your desired remedy.
Manufacturers rarely (if ever) resolve a claim based solely on receiving a demand letter. The letter is crucial nonetheless. In our experience, cases that are initiated with a thorough and persuasive demand letter are more likely to resolve quickly and on terms favorable to the consumer.
Step 4 – Settlement Negotiations
Most people are generally familiar with the concept of settlement negotiation. Broadly speaking, it consists of a series of counteroffers between the parties that eventually leads to a voluntary agreement and resolution of the case. But what drives negotiations in a lemon law case? Besides a desire to avoid formal litigation, what factors do the parties consider when deciding whether to settle?
The answer is two-fold. First, the parties take into consideration any legal or factual “trouble spots” in the claim. The manufacturer may believe the consumer misused or modified the vehicle in a way that contributed to the defect, for example. These types of factors weigh in favor of a smaller settlement.
Second, the parties understand that if the case proceeds to trial, the full extent of the manufacturer’s mistreatment of its customer will come to light. This can result in a substantial verdict in favor of the consumer, and therefore weighs in favor of a larger settlement.
Finding a middle ground is what settlement negotiations are all about. Of course, the skill and reputation of the attorney representing the lemon law claimant plays a key role. Auto manufacturers are sure to consider the formidability of their opponent when making settlement decisions.
Step 5 – Litigate the Claim (When Necessary)
If the manufacturer refuses to settle on terms you find agreeable, the claim will move to the litigation stage.
Litigation begins when your attorney files a complaint with the court alleging that the manufacturer breached its warranty contract. The manufacturer will then file a responsive pleading and the court will set a trial date. During the months that follow, the parties may exchange case-related information (this is known as “discovery”), take depositions, and argue pretrial motions in front of the judge. Finally, the case will proceed to trial and a verdict will be rendered.
The parties in a lemon law case may still reach a settlement agreement at any time during the litigation proceedings. Going all the way to trial is rarely necessary. Nevertheless, we take an aggressive approach to every case we litigate at Neale & Fhima.
Auto manufacturers know we mean business, and this works to the advantage of our clients.
Find Out More About Your Lemon Law Claim
Continue reading to learn how to exercise your rights under California’s lemon law:
Do You Have a Lemon Law Claim? Contact Neale & Fhima Today
If you believe you may have purchased or leased a lemon vehicle, we invite you to contact us for a free phone or in-person consultation. We represent claimants statewide. Call (888) 568-5405 or send us a message online to request an appointment.