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Knight Law Group: California Supreme Court Upholds Lemon Law Rights


LOS ANGELESMarch 9, 2024 /7Newswire — In an important vindication of California’s lemon law rights, the state Supreme Court ruled 9-0 this week in favor of consumers in Niedermeier v. FCA. In its Opinion, the Court struck down an Appeals Court ruling that allowed the automaker to take an improper damages deduction that threatened to undermine the Song Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (the formal name for California’s Lemon Law).

Lisa Niedermeier’s Jeep Wrangler needed repairs just a month after she bought it. Not long after, its engine, transmission, and exhaust system each needed to be repaired. Even after numerous repair attempts, it still did not run properly.

Ms. Niedermeier’s experience shows the lengths automakers will go to in order to avoid their obligations under the lemon law.  FCA, recently convicted of a felony, refused to buy back Ms. Niedermeier’s Jeep even as it became clear that her vehicle was hopelessly defective. Over the course of four years, as Ms. Niedermeier continued to shuttle to and from the dealership for repairs, she asked FCA (the parent company of Jeep) on three different occasions to buy back her vehicle, but each time she was told no. Eventually, these delays forced Niedermeier to throw up her hands and trade in her faulty vehicle for a GMC Yukon.

Represented by Knight Law Group, Niedermeier sued FCA, and at the conclusion of the initial trial, a jury ordered the automaker to pay her $98,961, more than twice what she originally paid for the vehicle. The large sum awarded was a result of FCA being required to pay incidental expenses and a civil penalty due to it “willfully” not following the lemon law. The fact that she was offered nothing by FCA until she hired a lawyer shows the importance of having an attorney at your side for lemon law cases. Hiring a law firm is often the difference between recovering nothing and recovering enough to pay for a future, more reliable vehicle. After a subsequent appeal and the present ruling by the Supreme Court, Ms. Niedermeier now will finally be paid what the automaker owes her.

During oral arguments before the Supreme Court, FCA invoked the specter of “gamesmanship” on the part of consumers distorting future lemon law cases, by incentivizing trade-ins rather than prompt buybacks. FCA’s argument was that Niedermeier’s restitution should be reduced by $19,000 (the amount the Jeep fetched at trade-in), even though FCA’s willful violation of the law was the cause of the delay that ultimately forced Ms. Niedermeier to trade in the vehicle.

Cindy Tobisman, arguing on behalf of Ms. Niedermeier, pointed out the FCA is the party with the extensive track record of gamesmanship in lemon law cases, and that it could have bought back the vehicle at any time during the years-long process, had it any interest in doing so. In its Opinion, the Court noted that allowing manufacturers the deduction proposed by FCA would undermine the public policy aims of the lemon law by incentivizing delays in offering buybacks and by allowing an auto manufacturer “to profit from its intransigence.”

“This case highlights the ongoing efforts of car companies to avoid complying with California’s laws dealing with defective cars.  It also shows that we will fight the hardest, all the way to the Supreme Court, to ensure consumers in this state get everything they are entitled to under the lemon law. We’re very pleased the court decided in our client’s favor,” said Roger Kirnos, Managing Partner of Knight Law Group.

Knight Law Group only handles Lemon Law claims and is the leading firm in California. We will never stop fighting for consumers, even if that means appealing all the way to California’s Supreme Court. Seven other Knight Law Group cases currently await hearing before the state Supreme Court. At the time they are heard, we look forward to holding other auto manufacturers accountable to consumers in the same way that FCA was finally held accountable to Ms. Niedermeier.

SOURCE Knight Law Group, LLP