Common Manufacturer Defenses Against Lemon Law Claims

Common Manufacturer Defenses Against Lemon Law Claims

Lemon laws serve as a protective shield for consumers, offering a recourse when they find themselves stuck with a vehicle that has persistent defects affecting its use, safety, or value. However, navigating a lemon law claim can be akin to traversing a minefield, with manufacturers often deploying a variety of defenses to deny such claims. Understanding these defenses and knowing how to counter them effectively can make the difference between winning and losing your case.

The Burden of Proof

The “burden of proof” defense is a critical and common strategy used by manufacturers in contesting lemon law claims. This defense revolves around the legal principle that the party making a claim (in this case, the vehicle owner) bears the responsibility to prove the claim is valid. Specifically, in the context of lemon law claims, this means the consumer must demonstrate that the vehicle in question indeed has a defect that substantially impairs its use, value, or safety and that the defect falls within the scope of the lemon law’s protections.

Manufacturers leveraging the burden of proof defense will typically argue on several fronts:

  • No Substantial Defect Exists: The manufacturer may assert that the consumer has not sufficiently demonstrated that the vehicle’s issues are due to a substantial defect as defined by the applicable lemon law. 
  • Insufficient Documentation: The manufacturer might contend that the consumer has failed to provide adequate documentation to prove that the vehicle has been subjected to a reasonable number of repair attempts or that the problem persists despite those attempts.
  • Defect Not Reported or Repaired Within Required Timeframe: They could argue that the consumer did not report or attempt to have the defect repaired within the timeframe stipulated by the law, thus failing to meet the burden of proof for a valid claim.
  • Lack of Notification: Manufacturers may use the defense that they were not properly notified as required, challenging the adequacy of the consumer’s efforts to resolve the issue under the law’s guidelines.

Counter Strategy

To counter this defense, meticulous documentation is your best friend. Keep detailed records of all repairs and interactions with the dealership and manufacturer, including dates, names, and a summary of conversations. Service receipts and repair orders are golden, as they provide tangible evidence that the vehicle has been subject to repeated attempts at repair for the same issue.

Definition of “Substantial Defect”

Manufacturers often contest what constitutes a “substantial defect” under the lemon law. They might argue that the issue with the vehicle is minor, does not affect its safety, use, or value significantly, and therefore does not qualify under the lemon law. The defense hinges on minimizing the perceived impact of the defect on the vehicle’s overall functionality.

Counter Strategy

Gather evidence that illustrates how the defect affects the vehicle’s performance, safety, or value. This can include expert testimonials, safety inspection reports, or any documentation showing the vehicle’s diminished value due to the defect. Emphasizing safety concerns can be particularly effective, as courts often view these as inherently substantial.

Warranty Coverage

A manufacturer might claim that the defect is not covered under the vehicle’s warranty. This could be because the warranty has expired or the specific issue is excluded from warranty protection. They might also argue that any aftermarket modifications made by the vehicle owner voided the warranty, thereby relieving the manufacturer from any legal obligations.

Counter Strategy

Review your warranty documentation closely to understand its terms. If the defect should be covered under the warranty, prepare to present this evidence. If the warranty has expired, you may need to demonstrate that the problem existed before the warranty’s expiration.

Modification or Abuse

If a manufacturer can demonstrate that the defect was caused by the owner’s misuse, neglect, or unauthorized modifications to the vehicle, they can effectively deny a lemon law claim. This defense relies on proving that the issue was not present at the time of manufacture and is instead the result of external factors after the vehicle was purchased.

Counter Strategy

This defense requires you to prove that the defect was not due to misuse, abuse, or modifications. Service records showing regular maintenance and inspections can help, as can expert testimony stating that the defect is due to manufacturing or design flaws, not owner actions.

Number of Repair Attempts

Lemon laws typically require that the manufacturer is given a reasonable number of attempts to fix the vehicle. A common defense is that the consumer did not allow the manufacturer enough opportunities to repair the defect. This can involve disputing the number of repair attempts or arguing that the consumer did not follow the appropriate procedure for reporting and getting the defect repaired.

Counter Strategy

The law’s specifics vary by jurisdiction, but generally, you must give the manufacturer a reasonable number of attempts to repair the vehicle. Ensure you understand the legal requirements in your area and have documented every repair attempt, including any times the car was in the shop for multiple issues.

Time Frame

Lemon laws have specific requirements, including the timing of the defect manifestation and the duration within which a claim must be filed. Manufacturers might defend against a claim by pointing out that it does not meet these statutory requirements, such as arguing that the defect appeared outside the relevant time frame or the claim was filed too late.

Counter Strategy

Review the specifics of your state’s lemon law to understand the time frame within which defects must be reported. If the defect appeared within this period, provide evidence such as service records or dated complaints to the manufacturer or dealer.

Professional Help Fighting Back Against Lemon Claim Defenses

Successfully navigating a lemon law claim against a manufacturer requires understanding their potential defenses and preparing your counter strategies meticulously. Documentation is paramount, as is a clear understanding of your jurisdiction’s specific lemon law provisions. If you think your car may be a lemon, Johnson & Buxton – The Lemon Law Guys can provide the expertise and guidance necessary to tilt the balance in your favor, transforming your lemon into lemonade.

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