(Updated Jan. 24, 2018)
Breach of warranty law—or “lemon law”—allows consumers to file lawsuits against manufacturers or merchants for products that fail to live up to their warranty. The term “lemon law” has its origins in the slang term “lemon,” which denotes a faulty item or a dud.
The most common items at the center of lemon law cases are cars, RVs, boats, and mobile homes.
The foundation of this kind of litigation is the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975, which aimed to protect consumers from false or misleading advertising, to clarify warranties, and to strengthen those warranties by forcing companies to uphold them.
The most common items at the center of lemon law cases are cars, RVs, boats, and mobile homes. Defective certified pre-owned vehicles often spur lawsuits, particularly those from the following automakers:
That said, the statute applies to almost any consumer product that comes with a warranty and costs more than $10.00. (Note: The Magnuson-Moss Act only applies to tangible goods, not services.) Thus, household items like electronics, appliances, HVAC units, and exercise equipment also qualify.
Most lemon law lawsuits involve a refusal of warranty service, 3+ unsuccessful repair attempts, and/or a product being out of service for 30+ days due to repair attempts. However, there are many exceptions to these guidelines.
If you think you may have a lemon law case, don’t hesitate to contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation. Under the Magnuson-Moss Act, a prevailing plaintiff may recover legal fees, which means a person can pursue a breach of warranty lawsuit free of charge.
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (or Federal Lemon Law)
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (MMWA), sometimes called the Federal Lemon Law, was sponsored by Senator Warren G. Magnuson (D – WA), U.S. Representative John E. Moss (D – CA), and Senator Frank Moss (D – UT). Congress enacted the law in 1975 in response to the rampant exploitation of warranties and disclaimers by businesses.
The MMWA is a warranty enforcement statute that allows a consumer to sue a warrantor or manufacturer for failure to live up to the obligations of a product’s warranty. Importantly, the Act does not require a manufacturer to create a warranty for a product—only to uphold the warranties it does write.
Cases under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act are typically filed in state or federal court.
Under the MMWA, warrantors must state the terms and conditions of the warranty in plain, clear, easy-to-understand language. The language cannot be ambiguous or obscure.
The warranty also cannot contain “tie-in sales” provisions, which require that the consumer purchase other products or services by the same manufacturer in order for the warranty to take effect.
If it’s a full warranty, the warrantor promises to repair the product in a reasonable amount of time, free of charge. If they cannot repair the product, they must either give the consumer a full refund OR replace the product free of charge.
A warranty cannot require that a consumer buy other products or services from the same company for the warranty to take effect.
Except for returning the item to its place of purchase, the warrantor cannot require any other action on the part of consumers. In short, a full warranty means the warrantor must fix or replace a defective product within a reasonable amount of time, at no cost and little-to-no inconvenience to the consumer.
The MMWA covers goods and products, not services. It only applies to written warranties, not oral ones or handshake agreements. And it does not supersede Federal Trade Commission Act (FTCA), nullify or restrict other federal laws, or nullify or restrict relevant state laws.
The MMWA also does not apply under the following conditions:
- The item in question was damaged while in the consumer’s possession.
- The consumer did not use the item properly/the way it was intended to be used.
- The consumer did not provide the necessary care or maintenance of the product.
In order to pursue a lawsuit, a consumer must save and provide all pertinent receipts/invoices and repair orders as proof of breach of warranty.
Under the Magnuson-Moss Act, a prevailing plaintiff is entitled to recover attorney's fees from the warrantor. This means a consumer can pursue a breach of warranty lawsuit without being required to pay for an attorney, who can recover fees and costs from the other side.
Additionally, a winning consumer is often awarded the "diminished value" of the product, which is the monetary difference between the value of the product as promised and the actual value of the product received.
In certain cases, a consumer may also recover incidental or consequential damages incurred as a result of the breach of warranty. These damages may include:
- Lost wages
- Loss of use of the product
- Cost of replacement transportation such as rental vehicles or taxi fares
- Other out-of-pockets costs related to the product’s defects
However, while a repurchase is sometimes available if the direct seller of the product gives a warranty, a manufacturer who does not sell the product directly to a consumer is not typically required to repurchase the item under the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act.
Florida Lemon Law
State lemon laws vary by state, as you might expect. Florida’s Lemon Law is a statute that applies only to certain types of new vehicles and for a limited period of time. Except under rare and very specific conditions, cases under Florida’s Lemon Law are decided through binding arbitration with the State Attorney General’s Office.
Florida’s Lemon Law is a statute that applies only to certain types of new vehicles and for a limited period of time.
Unlike the MMWA, the only remedy available to consumers through Florida’s lemon law arbitration is a refund or replacement of the defective vehicle. (Florida’s Lemon Law does not allow for the recovery of attorney’s fees.) Thus, if a consumer wishes to hire an attorney, the consumer will be responsible for paying his or her own attorney’s fees.
Furthermore, a consumer may be responsible for the negative equity in the vehicle they traded in at the time of purchase, as well as a statutory offset for the consumer’s use of the defective vehicle.
Thus, in some cases, a lemon law refund or replacement may actually require a consumer to pay the warrantor to offset his or her use of the vehicle (negative equity), instead of receiving a payment for the defective vehicle.
America's Top Lemon Law Firm
If you purchased a warrantied product that proved to be damaged or defective, and the manufacturer or merchant has failed to uphold the warranty, you may have a lemon law case.
Morgan & Morgan is one of the largest consumer protection firms in the country. With more than 300 lawyers and a support staff of over 1,500 people, we are one of the few with the resources to take on large companies. To date, we have won more than $5 billion for our clients.
Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation.