California Lemon Law’s Fee Shifting Levels the Playing Field Between Consumers Stuck With a Lemon and Large Multinational Automakers

The California Lemon Law allows consumers who successfully sue to recover as damages the price “paid or payable” for the subject vehicle, subject to an offset in favor of the auto manufacturer for plaintiffs’ use of the vehicle prior to first defect.  Plaintiffs may also recover for violations of express warranty civil penalties of two times their actual damages.

The cost of litigating a California Lemon Law case against the multinational automakers or their distributors through trial can and often is completely unaffordable for consumers should they have to pay the attorney’s fees and costs themselves.  So does that mean that a consumer stuck with a lemon but who is only entitled to a relatively modest recovery is out of luck?  After all, if a consumer were to pay an experienced trial attorney, that consumer could end up having to pay an attorney’s fees and costs bill even after winning the case.  Similarly, what attorney would agree to expend the time needed to properly and thoroughly litigate a California Lemon Law case through trial against these large corporations army of attorneys for a percentage of a client’s recovery of the cost of the vehicle?

Luckily, the Song Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (aka the California Lemon Law)  provides that a buyer who prevails is entitled to have the automakers and auto distributors pay for the costs and expenses in curred in the case, including attorney’s fees based on actual time expended (determined by the court to have been reasonably incurred).  The California Court of Appeal, in Murillo v. Fleetwood Enterprises, Inc., (1998) 17 Cal.4th 985 commented on the purpose of the Song Beverly Act’s fee shifting provision declaring that the California legislature designed the fee shifting provision to make it financially feasible, and indeed desirable, for buyers with relatively low damages to bring suit under the California Lemon Law.

The Murillo court first observed that “the Song-Beverly Act is strongly pro-consumer.”  The Murillo court then observed that “the primary financial benefit the Song–Beverly Act offers to consumers who sue thereunder to enforce their rights [is] their ability, if successful, to recover their ‘attorney’s fees based on actual time expended.’ Such fees generally comprise the lion’s share of the litigation costs, and the prospect of having to pay attorney fees even if one wins a lawsuit can serve as a powerful disincentive to the unfortunate purchaser of a malfunctioning automobile. By permitting prevailing buyers to recover their attorney fees in addition to costs and expenses, our Legislature has provided injured consumers strong encouragement to seek legal redress in a situation in which a lawsuit might not otherwise have been economically feasible.”

The intent, purpose, and spirit of the California Lemon Law’s fee shifting provision should be at the forefront of the court’s mind whenever deciding motions for attorney’s fees in lemon law cases.  This is crucial to accomplishing the California Lemon Law’s purpose of encouraging buyers of defective automobiles to bring suit and thus discourage manufacturers of defective automobile from neglecting their duties under the California Lemon Law to promptly offer replacement or repurchase.

For more information call the experienced trial attorneys at (858) 259-5009 for a free case evaluation.

Disclaimer.  The information provided in this post is for informational and educational purposes only regarding aspects of the California Lemon Law.  It is intended for California Consumers only.  This post is considered an advertisement by attorney Richard M. Wirtz and Wirtz Law APC. You should not rely on any of the information provided in this advertisement and no legal advice is given by the advertisement. No attorney client relationship is established by viewing this advertisement. A written signed engagement agreement between you and Wirtz Law APC is required to create an attorney client relationship. You should immediately consult an attorney who is experienced in California Lemon Law. Attorney Richard M. Wirtz is responsible for the content of this post. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.


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