The Florida Motor Vehicle Warranty Enforcement Act, contained in Chapter 681 of the Florida Statutes is more commonly known as “the Lemon Law” and is probably the most widely known of Florida’s Consumer Protection laws. What is especially important about the lemon law is that it imposes a responsibility upon a manufacturer of an automobile to make whole a consumer who purchases a non-conforming vehicle. Historically, holding a manufacturer liable for a defective car was difficult, if not impossible, because the manufacturer would raise a defense of “lack of privity”, meaning that the manufacturer has no obligation to the consumer purchaser since it was the dealership, not the manufacturer who sold the defective car to the consumer.

A manufacturer has a duty to conform a car to its warranty

The lemon law provides protection against non-conformities (defects) in the vehicle during the first 24 months from the date of the original delivery of the vehicle to a consumer purchaser. A vehicle is considered to be “non-conforming” when it contains a defect or condition that impairs the safety, value, or use of the vehicle. The Lemon Law does not cover non-conformities that arise from an accident, abuse, neglect, or alteration of the vehicle.

A manufacturer has a duty under the Lemon law to correct any non-conformity with the vehicle at no cost to the consumer. If, after 3 attempts, the manufacturer is unable to repair the non-conformity, or if the vehicle is out of service for 15 or more days, the consumer can then give a written notice to the manufacturer of the problem and allow one last final attempt at repair of the non-conformity. If the non-conformity cannot be repaired, then the manufacturer has 40 days in which to either provide a replacement vehicle or to refund the purchase price, less a deduction for reasonable wear and tear to the consumer.

Occasionally, a consumer and a manufacturer find themselves in a dispute regarding the existence, cause, or repair of a non-conformity in a vehicle. When there is a dispute and a manufacturer refuses to either buy back the vehicle or provide a replacement, the consumer has the right to proceed to arbitration, and either the consumer or the manufacturer can appeal to the Circuit Court if they wish to contest the decision rendered at arbitration.

Where a non-conformity is found to exist, the consumer is entitled to receive a replacement vehicle or a refund of the purchase price of the vehicle. A replacement vehicle is considered to be acceptable if it is identical or a reasonable equivalent of the vehicle. When a refund is given the manufacturer is entitled to deduct a reasonable use offset that is determined based upon a formula contained in the statute.

The lemon law process in Florida is designed to be somewhat informal and does not require that a consumer be represented by an attorney. However, I believe that consumers who are represented by legal counsel benefit from the assistance of an attorney. It is important to remember that while the process is designed to be informal, the consumer arguing before the arbitration board is most often the least experienced party in the room. For more information on the Florida Lemon law process visit the Florida Attorney General’s website or contact me for a free consultation so we can discuss the particulars of your situation.