By Michael H. Rosenstein, Esq.
California’s lemon law, the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Protection Act, was an outgrowth of investigations and public hearings by the California Senate Business and Professions Committee in November 1969. The committee concluded that aside from automobile repairs, the single largest category of consumer complaints was warranty problems. In addition to warranties being confusing and misleading, consumers complained that manufacturers and retailers rarely accepted responsibility for making repairs under their warranties. Unsurprisingly, the largest number of warranty complaints concerned automobile dealers and manufacturers.
The committee inquiry convinced California State Assembly Senator Alfred Song that consumers “need legal protection” (As the leading proponent and coauthor of the Song-Beverly Act (Civil Code §§ 1790 et seq.), Senator Song specifically indicated that the purpose of creating a consumer warranty protection law was to establish “legal weapons” for consumers. If manufacturers wanted the advertising and marketing benefits of issuing warranties at the time of sale, manufacturers needed to eliminate the practice of making warranties “little more than sales gimmicks.”
The proposed consumer protection act set forth rights, responsibilities, and the legal relationship of buyers and sellers of consumer goods in California. Manufacturers or retailers issuing express warranties for consumer goods sold in California that were unable to service or repair consumer goods to conform to the applicable express warranties were required to either replace the goods, reimburse buyers, or face potential lawsuits. The Act initially proposed that if the buyer established that a retailer or manufacturer’s failure to comply was willful, any subsequent court judgment could include a civil penalty up to three times the actual damages plus attorneys’ fees. The final bill codified into law, however, reduced recovery for civil penalties from three times actual damages to two. It also indicated that manufacturers and retailers would only be liable under the Act if they had been given a “reasonable number of attempts” to fix defects (Civil Code § 1793.2).
Senator Song’s achievement was a remarkable one because the Song-Beverly Act was the first consumer warranty law–state or federal–passed in the country. At its inception, the Song-Beverly Act’s purpose was to arm consumers with powerful legal weapons attainable through the court system. However, all involved realized that ambiguities in the law could create unforeseen challenges. Even Senator Song noted that “like most new pieces of legislation, [the Act had] its share of loopholes and ambiguities” In particular, the Act did not define what constituted a reasonable number of attempts, willful violation, or a civil penalty. A
Since Senator’s Song’s remarkable achievement, the Song-Beverly Act has been expanded and explained through new legislation and decades of court decisions. Today, the Song-Beverly Act is found in California Civil Codes 1790 – 1795.8.
Fortunately for California consumers, the Song-Beverly Act remains one of the most robust consumer protection statutes in the nation. The lawyers at CCA have the great privilege of practicing Song-Beverly litigation every day. To learn more about how our State’s lemon law can be put to work for you, please call us: (833) LEMON-FIRM.