When the term automobile was first used to describe motorized vehicles more than 100 years ago, the vehicles were anything but automatic. Consider what was required just to start Ford’s early Model T: The driver had to pull out the choke, turn a crank to prime the carburetor, turn the key, set the idle, pull a handle to put the car in neutral, then turn the crank again to get the engine going.
The days of getting out of the driver’s seat to pull levers and turn cranks are long gone. Today’s cars can start with the push of a button. With the adoption of biometric ignitions, even this step will eventually be unnecessary. But, will technological advances translate into fewer defective new cars? Or should we expect more lemons to roll off the assembly line in the years ahead?
The Law Applies Equally to All New Car Buyers
As an initial matter, we must dispense with the idea that buyers of next-generation automobiles somehow accept the risk of getting a lemon. Nothing could be further from the truth. These consumers seek cars that perform to higher standards than traditional automobiles, and they are willing to pay a premium for that experience. Ending up with a lemon car is not a result of being an early adopter of technology – it is the result of being unlucky enough to purchase a vehicle with a defect that does not conform to manufacturing specifications.
New and Emerging Automotive Technologies
There is no denying the enthusiasm of Tesla buyers and others who want to get their hands on the latest and greatest products in the automotive world. Based on what these new vehicles offer, it is easy to understand all the excitement. Here are a few of the features now hitting the market:
- Autopilot and hands-free driving
- Onboard Wi-Fi
- Digital assistant/smartphone sync
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Rear side radar (for backing up into possible cross-traffic)
- Automatic braking / collision avoidance systems
- Vehicle-to-vehicle communication
- Smart airbags that adjust for impact and passenger weight
- Auto-presenting door handles
- Voice commands
- Ventilated temperature-controlled seats
- Dashboard “infotainment” systems
- Holographic control panels (virtual touchscreens).
All these new technologies have the potential to malfunction. And, lest we forget, next-generation vehicles can be defective in many of the same ways as traditional vehicles, including steering, braking, and transmission problems.
The Intersection of Lemon Law and Defective Product Injury Claims
There is currently a great deal of concern over the safety aspects of new automotive technologies – especially ones like autopilot that pose a serious risk when they malfunction. While unproven technology can certainly be dangerous, it is important to realize that lemon laws are not necessarily designed to address that concern. Other principles of personal injury law come into play when there is an accident.
If an electric vehicle has problems because its lithium-ion battery is defective, and the dealership cannot fix it in a timely manner, the owner has a number of remedies under the lemon law. The owner can seek a refund (buyback), replacement, or cash settlement for the reduction in value.
If that same vehicle suddenly catches fire because its battery is defective, and the owner is injured in the accident, the owner is entitled to much more than just the value of the destroyed vehicle. Compensation under personal injury law will include physical, emotional, and consequential damages.
Lemon laws protect people from inconvenience and financial loss. Personal injury law compensates people who get hurt. When both factors are present – like when a defective next-generation vehicle causes a wreck – the victim should contact a law firm with experience handling both lemon law and personal injury cases.
Whether the frequency of lemon law claims rises or drops in the coming years remains to be seen. But the law will always hold auto manufacturers responsible when they cause harm – financial, physical, or otherwise.