Can Consumers Recover Emotional Distress Damages under the California Lemon Law?

The California Lemon Law (Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act) provides specific remedies and damages to California consumers, including restitution (refund) and civil penalties.  Despite the harrowing experiences and frustrations unrepaired defects in cars cause, as a general rule, damages strictly for emotional distress are not recoverable under the California Lemon Law. (Kwan v. Mercedes-Benz of North America Inc., (1994) 23 Cal. App. 4th 174.) However, that does not diminish the necessity of presenting evidence of a consumer’s distressing experiences to prove other aspects of a plaintiff’s case such as the element of substantial impairment. (Lundy v. Ford Motor Company (2001) 87 Cal.App.4th 472; Schreidel v. American Honda Motor Co. (1995) 34 Cal.App.4th 1242.)

One element to prove a breach of an express warranty under the California Lemon Law is to show the vehicle had a defect which “substantially impairs” the plaintiff’s specific use, value, or safety. (Civ. Code, § 1793.2 & § 1793.22(e)(1).)  Although evidence of substantial impairment involves objective evidence “based on what a reasonable person would understand to be a defect,” it also necessarily requires presenting evidence of the “specific circumstances of the buyer.”  (Lundy, supra, 87 Cal.App.4th 472, 478.).

The extent to which a consumer can present her or his specific experiences and the impact or effect of those experiences, was tested in Schreidel v. American Honda Motor Co., (1995) 34 Cal.App.4th 1242. The appellate court recited some of plaintiff’s testimony the jury properly considered:

“Due to the intermittent problems, Schreidel avoided using her car for long trips, thereby reducing its usefulness and value to her. There is no question that a delay in shifting into first is similar to stalling, a dangerous situation on the highway. Schreidel experienced panic when she could not shift into first gear. She felt as though she never had a new car. The problems were becoming worse as the car aged. Schreidel had lost confidence in the car and attempted to replace it. The jury could determine that the value of the goods to this particular buyer was substantially impaired.” (Id. at 1250.)

Presenting the plaintiff’s personal narrative of her or his driving not only completes the story, but is a required element of a California Lemon Law claim. Notwithstanding the plain language of the California Lemon Law statute and the case law interpreting it, automakers speciously try to convince judges to exclude such highly probative evidence of substantial impairment under the guise of avoiding improper emotional distress damage awards.

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.


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