Post-Warranty Repairs Can Prove a Car Was Never Actually Fixed under California Lemon Law

Most of us have experienced that sinking feeling when your car starts acting up after the warranty has expired and you realize you’ll have to pay out of pocket for the necessary repairs. Or worse – when you bring your car in and unexpectedly get the bad news that the needed repairs “aren’t covered by the warranty.”  This is particularly frustrating when you already tried to fix the problem during warranty.  Under the California Lemon Law, repairs that occur after the warranty has expired aren’t automatically excluded from the analysis of determining that a car is a lemon. Such post-warranty repairs that relate to the same problems experienced during the warranty are admissible to prove that the problems were never actually fixed within warranty.

This post warranty repair issue was decided by the Court of Appeal in a case called Donlen v. Ford Motor Company, (2013) 217 Cal.App.4th 138.  In Donlen, Ford’s tried to keep out evidence from trial of a post-warranty transmission repair.  During trial the court denied Ford’s motion and admitted the evidence based on its relation to transmission repairs performed during the warranty. The trial court later reversed itself and granted Ford’s motion for new trial, ruling that it made an error of law admitting the post-warranty evidence which confused and mislead the jury. (Id., at 145.) In reviewing the case, the Court of Appeal found that the trial court’s initial ruling was correct — post warranty repairs related to in warranty repairs are relevant and admission. The Court of Appeal ruled that the trial court should not have granted a new trial and remanded the case for entry of judgment in favor of plaintiff as was originally entered before Ford’s post-trial motions. (Id., at 147-148,  trial 155.)

The Donlen appellate court’s opinion unambiguously held that post-warranty repairs related to repairs during the warranty period have a “tendency to establish” a failure to conform to the warranty and the admission of such evidence is therefore permitted.  The Court clarified that post-warranty repairs need only have some causal relationship to the repairs performed under warranty since “the plaintiff is not obligated to identify or prove the cause of the car’s defect. Rather, he is required only to prove the car did not conform to the express warranty.” (Id., at 149, citing Oregel v. American Isuzu Motors, Inc., (2001) 90 Cal.App.4th 1094, 1102, fn. 8.) The Court further stated: “[p]laintiff was not required to show a closer causal relationship in order for the evidence to survive an objection based on relevance.” (Id., at 149.)

The Court of Appeal also discussed Ford’s claim of undue prejudice resulting from the evidentiary admission, but expressly held such evidence was not unduly prejudicial. In looking at the facts of Donlen, the Court of Appeal concluded that “the post-warranty repair by its nature [was] connected to the last warranty repair,” and rejected Ford’s assertion, holding the “possibility that the evidence of the non-warranty repair could confuse the issues or mislead the jury did not substantially outweigh the evidence’s probative value.” (Id., at 151.)

Automakers often try to argue that a lack of evidence of post-warranty issues proves a vehicle was fixed, but such claims are not supported by Donlen or its progeny. If the Donlen Court intended the analysis to be a two-way street, it would have specified. Instead, the Court emphasized the Lemon Law’s purpose: “[t]he [Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act] ‘is a remedial measure intended for protection of consumers and should be given a construction consistent with that purpose.’”  (Id., at 149, citing Robertson v. Fleetwood Travel Trailers of California, Inc. (2006) 144 Cal.App.4th 785, 801; see also Kwan v. Mercedes-Benz of North America Inc., (1994) 23 Cal. App. 4th 174, 184.) Any attempted use of the Donlen framework as a sword against consumers lacks any supporting authority and would vitiate the intent of the Lemon Law.

The California Lemon Law itself also includes a provision which states: “[i]f a defect exists within the warranty period, the warranty will not expire until the defect has been fixed.” (California Civil Code § 1793.1(a)(2).) This further supports the Donlen analysis which narrowly limited the use of post-warranty repairs to show a problem was not fixed, within the context of the Lemon Law.

Circling back to that frustration in paying for post-warranty repairs out-of-pocket – there is good news at the end of the road! Not only can post-warranty repairs serve as strong evidence that a vehicle was never fixed, but they can also increase a consumer’s damages if litigation occurs. Consumers can seek reimbursement damages for post-warranty repair costs which related to repairs within warranty and should not have been charged as “customer pay” items, and such expenses are often recoverable as incidental and/or consequential damages, especially when they relate to prior complaints.

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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