You’ve heard the old adage, "If it looks like a duck, walks
like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck." We would
say, you might presume it’s a duck. Sure, there’s an outside
chance it’s an albino spoonbill chicken disguised as a duck, but
don’t bet your next paycheck on it.
To support the presumption, you get a nice textbook on birds (the law on
birds), or better yet, ducks. That’s where we find the law about ducks.
If you want to know if your defective vehicle meets the presumption that
it is indeed a lemon, in California, you read the appropriate sections
of the Song-Beverly Act. This is where you can find the definition of
the lemon law. As laws go, it is quite specific.
Here are the essentials of what the Song-Beverly Act says about what makes
a car legally a lemon. The presumption (that the vehicle is a lemon) is
established if any of the following occurs within the first 18 months
or 18,000 miles:
* The same defect is subject to repair four or more times; or
* The same defect is subject to repair two or more times, and is a serious
safety defect that is likely to cause death or bodily injury; or
* The vehicle is out of service for repairs for a cumulative total of more
than 30 days, for any combination of defects. Thus, if a California consumer
proves that a vehicle has been subject to repair four times for the same
problem within 18 months or 18,000 miles, then the judge will tell the
jury that the consumer has met his burden of proving that the manufacturer
had a reasonable number of repair attempts.
The presumption helps consumers meet their burden of proof if they have
to go to trial.
Does your vehicle have to meet the test of presumption to be considered
a lemon? No, it doesn’t. But there are advantages to the consumer
if it does. In lawsuits there is something called, the burden of proof.
If the consumer’s lemon vehicle doesn’t meet the presumption
that it is a lemon, the consumer has the burden of proving that the vehicle
is a lemon when contending with the manufacturer. Obviously it is a lot
more difficult financially for a consumer to prove that the vehicle is
a lemon than it is for the manufacturer to dispute the claim.
An example of a car that does not meet the presumption, but may well legally
be a lemon follows: The same defect is subject to repair four or more
times over a period of two and a half years; or
* The vehicle is out of service for repairs for a cumulative total of
more than 30 days, for any combination of defects.
* The vehicle currently has 38,000 miles on the odometer (remember, it
had to be 18 months or 18,000 miles).
If, however, the consumer’s vehicle meets the presumption, the burden
of proof shifts to the manufacturer. It is much harder for the manufacturer
to dispute the consumer’s basic facts that the car meets the essential
requirements of what is a lemon, when the vehicle meets the presumption.
With the burden of proof on the manufacturer, they must prove the consumer’s
car is not a lemon. They may have to bring in experts, go through a lot
of legal activities, and try to prove to a jury that the lemon law doesn’t
say what it says. They must do this in the face of your facts, which are
legally in your favor. This is good for the consumer.
Instead of being the short kid with glasses, constantly getting stuffed
in lockers and trashcans, you are now the buff athlete who takes no crap
from anyone. When our modern lemon laws were created, the very obvious
imbalance between the consumer and his or her resources vs. manufacturer
and their resources was taken into consideration. “The law”,
as some wit said, “is a fool.” This is not always true. Sometimes
the people who make the laws do the right thing. Sometimes even governments
do the right thing. Here in America it happens more than anywhere else
in the world.
[*] This information about Presumption applies to California. It varies
from state to state.