Civil Penalties: Because Putting the Cookies Back in the Jar Isn’t Enough

By Michael H. Rosenstein, Esq.

If you’ve reviewed CCA’s Success Stories, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that our clients – by in large – recoup much more than what they paid for their cars in settlements and verdicts.  While many other lemon law firms settle for merely a refund or replacement of their clients’ vehicles, we hold automakers to a much higher standard.  California’s strongly “pro-consumer” Song-Beverly Act requires that manufacturers pay civil penalties when they willfully violate our State’s strong laws in order to punish their wrongdoing and discourage future bad behavior. CCA’s expert attorneys are familiar with the intricacies of these laws and, when enforcing them, work diligently to ensure that our clients receive maximum recoveries.  

In a nutshell, here’s how the law works: just as, when caught stealing, putting the cookies back in the jar isn’t enough; When an automaker willfully violates the Song-Beverly Act, merely recompensing the consumer oftentimes isn’t enough.  Like other areas of the law, the Song-Beverly Act mandates civil penalties for such willful conduct to punish the wrongdoing and discourage future bad conduct. CCA does not let manufacturers off with a slap on the wrist – we enforce California’s laws to their fullest extent allowed under the law.  

Civil Code section 1794 sets out the damages available to a buyer for a seller or manufacturer’s failure to comply with an obligation under the Act or under a consumer product warranty. Subdivision (c) (1794(c)) provides for a civil penalty of up to twice actual damages “[i]f the buyer establishes that the failure to comply was willful….” “In regard to the willful requirement of Civil Code section 1794, subdivision (c), a civil penalty may be awarded if the jury determines that the manufacturer ‘knew of its obligations but intentionally declined to fulfill them. There is no requirement of blame, malice or moral delinquency.” (Schreidel v. American Honda Motor Co. (1995) 34 Cal.App.4th 1242, 1249–1250.  

“[T]he penalty under section 1794(c), like other civil penalties, is imposed as punishment or deterrence of the defendant, rather than to compensate the plaintiff. In this, it is akin to punitive damages.” (Kwan v. Mercedes Benz of N. Am. (1994) 23 Cal.App.4th 174, 184–185).  

Thus, the Song-Beverly Act allows consumers to recover substantially more than what they paid for their vehicles when a manufacturer willfully violates the Song-Beverly Act.  Such willful violations may occur in a variety of ways. Careful consumers should only consult with attorneys that: (1) are able to identify willful violations of the Song-Beverly Act; and (2) know how to enforce our State’s laws to recover civil penalties from the manufacturers.  

CCA’s attorneys have a strong track record of holding automakers responsible to the fullest extent of the law and obtaining superior recoveries for our clients.  If you’ve had problems getting a manufacturer to do the right thing or an attorney that needs help with a tough lemon law case, call us to learn more about our expert legal services: (833) LEMON-FIRM.  

About the Author
Sepehr Daghighian is a partner with CCA that is well-versed in all aspects of lemon-law litigation. A 2005 graduate of Loyola Law School, Mr. Daghighian has been practicing litigation throughout the state of California for over 13-years. In this time, Mr. Daghighian has advocated on behalf of California consumers in hundreds of lemon law cases throughout our great state. Mr. Daghighian has also successfully tried numerous such cases to verdict in both Federal and State Court.