DIVISION VIII, TITLE 50, SUBTITLE II.CHAPTER 5
Washington DC Lemon Law § 50-502 Consumer’s remedy for defective vehicles
- If a new motor vehicle does not conform to all warranties during the first 18,000 (eighteen thousand) miles of operation or during the period of 2(two) years following the date of delivery of the motor vehicle to the original purchaser, whichever is the earlier date, the consumer shall during that period report the nonconformity, defect, or condition to the manufacturer, its agent, or its authorized dealer. If the notification is received by the manufacturer’s agent or authorized dealer, the agent or dealer shall within 7(seven) days forward written notice thereof to the manufacturer by certified mail, return receipt requested. The manufacturer, its agent, or its authorized dealer shall correct the nonconformity, defect, or condition at no charge to the consumer, notwithstanding the fact that the repairs may be made after the expiration of the first 18,000(eighteen thousand)- mile period of operation or the 2-year period.
- If, after a reasonable number of attempts, the manufacturer, its agent, or authorized dealer is unable to repair or correct any nonconformity, defect, or condition which results in significant impairment of the motor vehicle, the manufacturer, at the option of the consumer, shall replace the motor vehicle with a comparable motor vehicle, or accept return of the motor vehicle from the consumer and refund to the consumer the full purchase price, including all sales tax, license fees, registration fees, and any similar governmental charges. In calculating a refund, the manufacturer may deduct from the consumer’s full purchase price a reasonable allowance not to exceed 10 cents per mile for the consumer’s use of the motor vehicle in excess of the first 12,000(twelve thousand) miles of operation, and a reasonable allowance for any damage not attributable to normal wear or to the nonconformity, defect, or condition which significantly impaired the motor vehicle. Refunds shall be made to the consumer, and the lienholder, if any, as their interests may appear on the records of ownership kept by the Department of Public Works.
- Each of the following circumstances shall be an affirmative defense to any claim under this section:
- The nonconformity, defect, or condition does not significantly impair the vehicle.
- The nonconformity, defect, or condition is the result of abuse, neglect,or unauthorized modifications or alterations of the motor vehicle.
- It shall be presumed that a reasonable number of attempts have been made to conform a motor vehicle to the warranties, if:
- The same nonconformity, defect, or condition, if it is not safety- related, has been subject to repair 4(four) or more times by the manufacturer, its agent, or authorized dealer after notification by the consumer within the first 18,000 miles of operation or during the period of 2(two) years following the date of original delivery of the motor vehicle to a consumer, whichever is the earlier date, but the nonconformity, defect, or condition continues to exist;
- The same nonconformity, defect, or condition, if it is safety-related, has been subject to repair 1 or more times by the manufacturer, its agents, or authorized dealers after notification by the consumer within the first 18,000(eighteen thousand) miles of operation or during the period of 2(two) years following the date of original delivery of the motor vehicle to a consumer, whichever is the earlier date, but the nonconformity, defect, or condition continues to exist; or
- The motor vehicle is out of service by reason of repair of any nonconformities, defects, or conditions which significantly impair the vehicle, on a cumulative total of 30 days or more during either period, whichever is the earlier date.
- The 30-day out-of-service period shall be extended by any time during which repair services are not available to the consumer because of a war, invasion, strike, fire, flood, or other natural disaster.
- The consumer, in order to seek the refund or replacement provided by this section, shall first submit a claim to the Board of Consumer Claims Arbitration established pursuant to § 50-503. If the Board rejects the case for arbitration, or if the claim is arbitrated and the consumer rejects the arbitration decision, the consumer may then bring an action in court to seek the remedies provided by this section.
- If a motor vehicle is returned to a manufacturer, its agent, or authorized dealer pursuant to this section, the manufacturer, its agent, or authorized dealer shall notify the Department of Public Works that the motor vehicle was returned.
- The Department of Public Works shall note the fact that the motor vehicle was returned pursuant to this chapter on any certificate of title issued for the motor vehicle.
- A motor vehicle dealer shall state the fact that the motor vehicle was returned pursuant to this chapter in any sales contract for the motor vehicle prior to the signing of the contract by a prospective purchaser.
- (Mar. 14, 1985, D.C. Law 5-162, § 3, 32 DCR 160.)
§ 50-503 Arbitration
New motor vehicle; repair during express warranty or two years or twenty-four thousand miles
- There is established in the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs a Board of Consumer Claims Arbitration for the District of Columbia. The Board shall consist of 7 members who shall be appointed by the Mayor.
- The members shall be at least 18 years of age and residents of the District.
- Two members shall be attorneys admitted to the practice of law in the District, 1 of whom shall be designated by the Mayor as chairperson of the Board. Two members shall have training and experience in arbitration and mediation. One member shall be the Director of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs or his or her designee. One member shall have experience or training in representing the interests of consumers. One member shall have experience or training in the manufacture or wholesale or retail sales of consumer goods.
- The Mayor shall appoint the initial Board members within 60 days of March 14, 1985. Of the members first appointed, the chairperson and 1 other member shall be appointed for terms of 3 years; 2 members shall be appointed for terms of 2 years; 1 member shall be appointed for a term of 2 years; and 1 member shall be appointed for a term of 1 year. Subsequent appointments shall be for terms of 3 years. This subsection shall not apply to the representative of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.
- Members of the Board shall be compensated pursuant to § 1-611.08.
- The Mayor shall issue, and may amend from time to time, rules and regulations to implement the provisions of this section and may establish reasonable fees for the filing of complaints.
- The Board, in accordance with the rules and regulations issued pursuant to subsection (f) of this section, shall provide arbitration for claims filed by consumers against manufacturers, their agents, or dealers pursuant to §§ 50-502 and 50-505; for claims voluntarily filed by consumers against the provider of any consumer goods or services, who agrees to arbitration, pursuant to rules and regulations issued by the Mayor; and for claims filed pursuant to § 31- 2405 by parties agreeing to arbitration pursuant to rules and regulations issued by the Mayor.
- Consumers may submit claims to the Board by completing forms which shall be approved by the Mayor.
- Upon receipt of a written claim filed by a consumer, the Board shall within 5 business days determine whether the claim qualifies for arbitration pursuant to this chapter and notify the opposing party.
- The Board shall develop and maintain a roster of persons who are residents of the District, at least 18 years of age, and experienced in arbitration techniques who may be employed to serve as arbitrators for specific cases.
- The Board shall assign cases for arbitration according to the following provisions:
- A case may be assigned to a single arbitrator if the Board first informs all parties to the case of the identity and background of the arbitrator and obtains their consent. When a case is assigned to a single arbitrator, the arbitrator must be an attorney-member of the Board or another attorney admitted to the practice of law in the District and chosen from the roster of arbitrators maintained by the Board.
- All cases not assigned to single arbitrators shall be assigned to a panel of 3 arbitrators, 1 of whom must be a member of the Board and 1 of whom must be an attorney admitted to the practice of law in the District. Participation on the panel by an attorney-member of the Board shall satisfy both requirements. The Board shall inform all parties to the case of the identity and background of the arbitrators tentatively selected for the panel and shall obtain the consent of both parties to the choice of arbitrators. The decision of the panel shall be by majority vote.
- The Board is authorized to reject for arbitration consumer claims which are determined by a majority of the Board to be frivolous, fraudulent, or beyond the legal authority of the Board.
- The Board shall promptly assign all cases accepted for arbitration to an arbitrator or arbitrators who shall appoint a time and place for a hearing and notify the parties personally or by registered mail not less than 5 days prior to the hearing. Hearings shall be public and shall be recorded electronically.
- At all arbitration hearings, the parties are entitled to present oral and written testimony, to present witnesses and evidence relevant to the controversy, to cross-examine witnesses, and to be represented by counsel.
- The Board may issue subpoenas for the attendance of witnesses and for the production of books, records, documents, and other evidence. The Board or arbitrators designated by the Board shall have the power to administer oaths and affirmations and take acknowledgements.
- Upon application by any party to an arbitration proceeding, or upon its own motion, an arbitrator or arbitration panel may retain independent technical experts as needed to determine the facts in the case. The arbitrator or arbitration panel may assign the costs of the technical experts to 1 or both parties to the case.
- The arbitrator or arbitration panel shall determine whether the defendant is liable to the claimant and, if so, shall award the claimant relief.
- The arbitrator or arbitration panel may award the claimant the relief provided by this chapter, any relief available under any other law, and reasonable attorneys’ fees. The defendant may be assessed the costs of arbitration as part of any award rendered by the arbitrator or arbitration panel.
- Decisions of an arbitrator or arbitration panel shall be in writing and shall be entered by and in the name of the Board.
- Decisions shall be entered no later than 60 days from the date the Board accepts a case for arbitration.
- The decision shall state the relief granted, if any, and shall specify a time limit for compliance.
- The board shall promptly provide a copy of the decision to each party.
- The Board or any party to a case may petition the court to issue an order compelling compliance with a decision by the Board.
- Any party to a case may, within 20(twenty) days after receipt of the Board’s decision, petition the court to vacate the decision and grant a trial de novo.
- Upon receipt of a petition, the court shall first determine the validity of the arbitration proceeding and shall vacate an arbitration award upon a finding that:
- The award was procured by corruption, fraud, or other misconduct in violation of law;
- The arbitrator or arbitration panel exceeded its powers;
- The arbitrator or arbitration panel failed to conform to the rules and regulations issued pursuant to this chapter, and the failure to conform prejudiced the rights of a party to the complaint; or
- The award is based on a numerical error or other error of fact which the Board has failed to correct.
- If the court determines the arbitration process was valid but grants the petition for a trial de novo on other grounds, the decision of the Board shall be admissible as evidence and shall be presumed correct.
(Mar. 14, 1985, D.C. Law 5-162, § 4, 32 DCR 160; Mar. 4, 1986, D.C. Law CREDIT 6-96, § 4(b), 32 DCR 7245; Feb. 24, 1987, D.C. Law 6-192, § 16, 33 DCR 7836; June 12, 1999, D.C. Law 12-285, § 4(h), 46 DCR 1355.)
§ 50-504 Disclosure of rights
- The manufacturer, its agent, or authorized dealer shall provide written notification to the prospective consumer of any motor vehicle to be sold or registered in the District of the rights provided to the consumer by this chapter.
- The Mayor shall issue rules and regulations prescribing the form and content of the notification required by this section.
- Any agreement entered into by a consumer for the purchase of a motor vehicle which waives, limits, or disclaims the rights set forth in this chapter shall be void. These rights shall inure to a subsequent transferee of the motor vehicle. (Mar. 14, 1985, D.C. Law 5-162, § 5, 32 DCR 160.)
§ 50-505 Disclosure of damages or defects in used motor vehicles; violations; penalties
- No motor vehicle dealer may offer for sale any used motor vehicle without first providing:
- Written notice to the prospective consumer of any material mechanical defect in the motor vehicle and any damage sustained by the motor vehicle due to fire, water, collision, or other causes for which the cost of repairs exceeded $1,000, when the defect or damage was known to the dealer; and
- Written notice to the prospective consumer whether the dealer has conducted any inspection of the motor vehicle to determine known defects or damage.
- A motor vehicle dealer who fails to provide the notices required by this section or who provides false or misleading notices shall, upon conviction, be subject to the following penalties:
- A fine of not less than $300 or more than $1,000 for a first offense; and
- A fine of not less than $1,000 or more than $5,000, or suspension or revocation of the license issued pursuant to § 300 of the Vehicles and Traffic Regulations (18 DCMR 300.1 et seq.), or both, for a second or subsequent offense.
- The purchaser of a used motor vehicle shall have a right of action against a used motor vehicle dealer for damages or injuries sustained as a result of the dealer’s failure to comply with the requirements of this section. The purchaser, in order to seek the remedies provided by this section, shall first submit a claim to the Board. If the Board rejects the case for arbitration, or if the claim is arbitrated and the purchaser rejects the arbitration decision, the purchaser may then bring an action in court to seek the remedies provided by this section.
- Violations of this section shall be prosecuted in the name of the District of Columbia by the Corporation Counsel of the District of Columbia.
- Civil fines, penalties, and fees may be imposed as alternative sanctions for any infraction of the provisions of this chapter, or the rules or regulations issued under the authority of this chapter, pursuant to Chapter 18 of Title 2. Adjudication of any infraction shall be pursuant to Chapter 18 of Title 2.
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act is a Federal Law that protects the buyer of any product which costs more than $25 and comes with an express written warranty. This law applies to any product that you buy that does not perform as it should.
Your car is a major investment, rationalized by the peace of mind that flows from its expected dependability and safety. Accordingly, you are entitled to expect an automobile properly constructed and regulated to provide reasonably safe, trouble-free, and dependable transportation – regardless of the exact make and model you bought. Unfortunately, sometimes these principles do not hold true and defects arise in automobiles. Although one defect is not actionable, repeated defects are as there exists a generally accepted rule that unsuccessful repair efforts render the warrantor liable. Simply put, there comes a time when “enough is enough” – when after having to take your car into the shop for repairs an inordinate number of times and experiencing all of the attendant inconvenience, you are entitled to say, ‘That’s all,’ and revoke, notwithstanding the seller’s repeated good faith efforts to fix the car. The rationale behind these basic principles is clear: once your faith in the vehicle is shaken, the vehicle loses its real value to you and becomes an instrument whose integrity is impaired and whose operation is fraught with apprehension. The question thus becomes when is “enough”?
As you know, enough is never enough from your warrantor’s point of view and you should simply continue to have your defective vehicle repaired – time and time again. However, you are not required to allow a warrantor to tinker with your vehicle indefinitely in the hope that it may eventually be fixed. Rather, you are entitled to expect your vehicle to be repaired within a reasonable opportunity. To this end, both the federal Moss Warranty Act, and the various state “Lemon Laws,” require repairs to your vehicle be performed within a reasonable opportunity.
Under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, a warrantor should perform adequate repairs in at least two, and possibly three, attempts to correct a particular defect. Further, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act’s reasonableness requirement applies to your vehicle as a whole rather than to each individual defect that arises. Although most of the Lemon Laws vary from state to state, each individual law usually require a warrantor to cure a specific defect within four to five attempts or the automobile as a whole within thirty days. If the warrantor fails to meet this obligation, most of the Lemon Laws provide for a full refund or new replacement vehicle. Further, this reasonable number of attempts/reasonable opportunity standard, whether it be that of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act or that of the Lemon Laws, is akin to strict liability – once this threshold has been met, the continued existence of a defect is irrelevant and you are still entitled to relief.
One of the most important parts of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act is its fee shifting provision. This provision provides that you may recover the attorney fees incurred in the prosecution of your case if you are successful – independent of how much you actually win. That rational behind this fee shifting provision is to twofold: (1) to ensure you will be able to vindicate your rights without having to expend large sums on attorney’s fees and (2) because automobile manufacturers are able to write off all expenses of defense as a legitimate business expense, whereas you, the average consumer, obviously does not have that kind of economic staying power. Most of the Lemon Laws contain similar fee shifting provisions.
You may also derive additional warranty rights from the Uniform Commercial Code; however, the Code does not allow you in most states to recover your attorney fees and is also not as consumer friendly as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act or the various state Lemon Laws.
The narrative information on Magnuson-Moss, UCC and Arkansas lemon laws on these pages is provided by Marshall Meyers, attorney.
Uniform Commercial Code Summary
The Uniform Commercial Code or UCC has been enacted in all 50 states and some of the territories of the United States. It is the primary source of law in all contracts dealing with the sale of products. The TARR refers to Tender, Acceptance, Rejection, Revocation and applies to different aspects of the consumer’s “relationship” with the purchased goods.
TENDER – The tender provisions of the Uniform Commercial Code contained in Section2-601 provide that the buyer is entitled to reject any goods that fail in any respect to conform to the contract. Unfortunately, new cars are often technically complex and their innermost workings are beyond the understanding of the average new car buyer. The buyer, therefore, does not know whether the goods are then conforming.
ACCEPTANCE – The new car buyer accepts the goods believing and expecting that the manufacturer will repair any problem he has with the goods under the warranty.
REJECTION – The new car buyer may discover a problem with the vehicle within the first few miles of his purchase. This would allow the new car buyer to reject the goods. If the new car buyer discovers a defect in the car within a reasonable time to inspect the vehicle, he may reject the vehicle. This period is not defined. On the one hand, the buyer must be given a reasonable time to inspect and that reasonable time to inspect will be held as an acceptance of the vehicle. The Courts will decide this reasonable time to inspect based on the knowledge and experience of the buyer, the difficulty in discovering the defect, and the opportunity to discover the defect. The following is an example of a case of rejection: Mr. Zabriskie purchase a new 1966 Chevrolet Biscayne. After picking up the car on Friday evening, while en route to his home 2.5 miles away, and within 7/10ths of a mile from the dealership, the car stalled and stalled again within 15 feet. Thereafter, the car would only drive in low gear. The buyer rejected the vehicle and stopped payment on his check. The dealer contended that the buyer could not reject the car because he had driven it around the block and that was his reasonable opportunity to inspect. The New Jersey Court said;
To the layman, the complicated mechanisms of today’s automobile are a complete mystery. To have the automobile inspected by someone with sufficient expertise to disassemble the vehicle in order the discover latent defects before the contract is signed, is assuredly impossible and highly impractical. Consequently, the first few miles of driving become even more significant to the excited new car buyer. This is the buyer’s first reasonable opportunity to enjoy his new vehicle to see if it conforms to what it was represented to be and whether he is getting what he bargained for. How long the buyer may drive the new car under the guise of inspection of new goods is not an issue in the present case because 7/10th of a mile is clearly within the ambit of a reasonable opportunity to inspect. Zabriskie Chevrolet, Inc. v. Smith, 240 A. 2d 195(1968)
It is suggested that Courts will tend to excuse use by consumers if possible.
REVOCATION – What happens when the consumer has used the new car for a lengthy period of time? This is the typical lemon car case. The UCC provides that a buyer may revoke his acceptance of goods whose non-conformity substantially impairs the value of the goods to him when he has accepted the goods without discovery of a non-conformity because it was difficult to discover or if he was assured that non-conformities would be repaired. Of course, the average new car buyer does not learn of the nonconformity until hundreds of thousands of miles later. And because quality is job one, and manufacturers are competing on the basis of their warranties, the consumer always is assured that any noncomformities he does discover will be remedied.
What is a noncomformity substantially impairing the value of the vehicle?
- A noncomformity may include a number of relatively minor defects whose cumulative total adds up to a substantial impairment. This is the “Shake Faith” Doctrine first stated in the Zabrisikie case. “For a majority of people the purchase of a new car is a major investment, rationalized by the peace of mind that flows from its dependability and safety. Once their faith is shaken, the vehicle loses not only its real value in their eyes, but becomes an instrument whose integrity is substantially impaired and whose operation is fraught with apprehension”.
- A substantial noncomformity may include a failure or refusal to repair the goods under the warranty. In Durfee V. Rod Baxter Imports, the Minnesota Court held that the Saab owner that was plagued by a series of of annoying minor defects and stalling, which were never repaired after a number of attempts, could revoke, “if repairs are not successfully undertaken within a reasonable time”, the consumer may elect to revoke.
- Substantial Non Conformity and Lemon Laws often define what may be considered a substantial impairment. These definitions have been successfully used to flesh out the substantial impairment in the UCC.
Additional narrative information on Magnusson-Moss, UCC and Arkansas lemon laws on these pages is provided by T. Michael Flinn, attorney.