Person filing a lemon claim without a car.

No Car. No Problem.

By Brian T. Murray, Esq.

Consumers in California can file a lawsuit under the Lemon Law even if they no longer own the defective vehicle. 

In these volatile economic times, there is a growing pressure to keep up with our monthly expenses despite an uncertain financial future. For most of us, our car payment is one of our largest monthly expenses, second only to our housing costs.  And, for many of us in California, keeping your car is just as essential as keeping a roof over your head. 

If you are one of the thousands of Californians struggling to keep up with your car payments, just know that there is no requirement under the law that a consumer maintain ownership or control of a defective vehicle to claim your benefits under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, better known as California’s Lemon Law. 

This means that if you are forced to sell your car, or your car is repossessed, you can still recover the amount you paid for the vehicle (and still owe for the vehicle) if the vehicle qualifies as a “Lemon.”  

In 2011, in Martinez v. KIA Motors America, Inc. (2011) 193 Cal.App.4th 187, the California Court of Appeal addressed the issue of whether a consumer must possess or own a vehicle in order to obtain damages under the Song-Beverly Act.  In July 2002, Juanita Martinez purchased a new 2002 KIA Sedona.  In the first year, Ms. Martinez noticed an odd burning smell. She complained about the smell to the KIA dealership at least 4 times in the first 3 years of ownership, but the dealer did nothing to address the problem. 

In 2005, at 38,162 miles, Ms. Martinez was driving the KIA Sedona when it started shaking and smoking from the engine.  Ms. Martinez smelled a strong acidic odor, which she believed to be battery acid. The vehicle was towed to two different KIA dealerships, both of which denied warranty coverage, blaming the “battery” problems on Ms. Martinez. 

Unable to pay for the repairs out-of-pocket, Ms. Martinez was forced to leave the vehicle at a dealership where it was later repossessed and sold to KIA of Glendale.  KIA of Glendale determined that the car’s alternator had been overcharging and causing damage to electrical components and repaired the vehicle’s alternator under KIA’s written warranty.

In 2011, Ms. Martinez sued KIA for breach of warranty under the Song-Beverly Act.  The Superior Court of Riverside County dismissed Ms. Martinez’s case because she no longer had possession of the vehicle.  Ms. Martinez appealed.

The Court of Appeal held that consumer does not need to possess or own a vehicle to avail himself of the remedies of the Song-Beverly Act.  The court held that to impose such a requirement is contrary to the purpose of the Act which is a remedial statute designed to protect consumers. 

Therefore, based on Martinez, you are not required to hold onto a defective vehicle in order to exercise your rights under the law.   If you need to sell your car because you can’t afford to make payments or if your car is repossessed because you stopped making payments you can still recover the amount you paid for the vehicle and the amount you still owe on the loan if your vehicle qualifies as a “Lemon.” 

If you would like to discuss whether your vehicle, or former vehicle, qualifies as a “Lemon” please contact us today for a free consultation with an expert lemon law attorney: (833) LEMON-FIRM [(833) 536-6634] or www.thelemonfirm.com