Over the decades, state and federal legislation have worked diligently toward putting protection in place for consumers, including California’s groundbreaking lemon law entitling consumers to a full refund, buyback, or replacement vehicle if their warranty-covered vehicle had one or more significant defects after a reasonable number of failed repair attempts. Now, however, the pendulum may be swinging back in the other direction as powerful corporations backed legislation that strips away these protections from consumers by raising the threshold of claims to over $35,000 and limiting the amount of evidence presented in a case, making them more difficult to win.
California’s proposed SB71 bill passed both the California Assembly and Senate, and Governor Newsom approved the bipartisan bill on October 13, 2023. Though passed as a measure to streamline the process for consumers, lemon law attorneys in California warn that the bill seriously limits the tools consumers have in place to prove their cases.
California’s SB71 And Lemon Law Claims
The proponents of California’s SB71 state that its primary objective focuses on streamlining processes in small claims courts and civil limited court actions. Limited jurisdiction cases place limits on discovery and other pre-trial tools. This limits the ability of those with lemon law claims to prove their cases and also limits the court’s ability to award judgments over $35,000 when the previous threshold was $25,000. This midrange amount is one in which many consumer goods fall, including many lemon law claims. Limited civil court cases also allow only one deposition, drastically reducing the amount of evidence an attorney can present in a lemon law case.
Senator Umberg who authored the bill, erroneously stated in a hearing that his proposed bill wouldn’t impact lemon law claims with added attorney fees which would raise the judgment over the $35,000 threshold. However, jurisdictional minimums do not include attorney’s fees and costs, so consumers who purchased cars valued below the $35,000 threshold no longer have access to the legal recourse they previously enjoyed in California.
California’s New Law May Limit Consumers’s Ability to Obtain Legal Representation for Lemon Law Claims
With the limit on depositions and questions under the new law relegating lemon law claims to limited civil court, attorneys may have a difficult time proving lemon law claims and therefore may be less willing to take on these cases on behalf of consumers. This potentially leaves consumers unable to find legal representation for lemon law claims in California, making it far less likely for their claim to succeed against powerful vehicle manufacturers.
With the limits in place, consumers have less opportunity for a court to review the merits of their case and are now less likely to find a resolution through a refund, buyback, or replacement vehicle.
California’s new law may leave consumers facing powerful corporations in small claims courts without legal representation. Many experts warn that with fewer options in place for lemon law claims, more consumers may simply continue driving unsafe, defective vehicles placing themselves and others at risk on the roadway.