CASE RESULTS DEPEND UPON A VARIETY OF FACTORS UNIQUE TO EACH CASE. CASE RESULTS DO NOT GUARANTEE OR PREDICT A SIMILAR RESULT IN ANY FUTURE CASE.
In a California Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (lemon law) trial involving allegations that a new 2009 Hyundai Sonata was not repaired under warranty, the jury decided 11-1 in favor of Hyundai Motor America that the subject vehicle did not have any defects that substantially impaired its use, value, or safety. The case is titled Elaine C. Bierman, et al. v. Hyundai Motor America, San Diego County Superior Court Case No. 37-2015-00034603-CU-BC-CTL. Judge John S. Meyer presided over the trial. After five days, the jury reached its defense verdict in approximately half an hour.
In this case, plaintiffs Elaine C. Bierman and her daughter Stefanie E. Bierman purchased a new 2009 Hyundai Sonata from Poway Hyundai. Plaintiffs alleged that within weeks of purchasing the vehicle, a light intermittently flashed indicating the vehicle’s electronic stability control (ESC) was off. The repair documentation showed that the vehicle was presented to the dealership three times for this issue, and on the third time, the dealership replaced a steering angle sensor. At trial, Plaintiff Elaine C. Bierman and her husband, Eric Bierman (a percipient witness), testified that in nearly seven years of vehicle ownership, the ESC Off light never came back on, but that it caused them to fear for their safety.
After four years of using the vehicle without experiencing any issues, in 2013 plaintiff allegedly experienced a hesitation in the vehicle, which she and her husband described as a jolt with a thumping noise. On September 24, 2013, plaintiff presented the vehicle to the dealership, where technicians performed a diagnostic update. The update appeared to resolve the problem. On the second visit, the dealership and Hyundai Motor America’s tech-line decided to replace the transmission and ordered the necessary parts. The transmission was replaced on a third visit on October 7, 2013, and a reflash to the transmission was performed on a fourth visit just two days later. The problem appeared to have been resolved.
Despite not experiencing any warranty conditions with the vehicle for the rest of calendar year 2013 and all of 2014, in June 2015, plaintiff’s husband Eric Bierman called Hyundai Motor America and demanded a repurchase of the vehicle. Per the testimony of Sandy Zielomski, Hyundai’s person most knowledgeable regarding handling customer “lemon law” complaints, Hyundai investigated the claim by talking to the plaintiff, reviewing the repair history and other documents, which showed that there were no current warranty conditions or concerns, and as such denied the repurchase request in good faith. Dissatisfied, plaintiffs retained counsel and filed a lawsuit.
In addition to seeking restitution, plaintiffs sought a civil penalty of two times the amount of actual damages. They claimed that Hyundai willfully violated California’s lemon law because it did not offer a repurchase when Mr. Bierman called Hyundai’s 1-800 number and asked for a buyback.
In defense of the case, Hyundai demonstrated through a vehicle inspection, factual investigation and review of the repair order history that the vehicle was repaired within a reasonable number of repair attempts, and simply, that the vehicle did not contain any defects. This was supported by the fact that one day before Plaintiff Elaine C. Bierman’s deposition, plaintiffs brought the vehicle to Poway Hyundai alleging the same jolt and thumping sound, but nothing could be duplicated. The technician drove the vehicle 25 miles and evaluated the vehicle for diagnostic trouble codes, but found nothing. The next day, Hyundai’s expert Greg Webster and plaintiff’s expert conducted a legal inspection, driving the vehicle nearly 60 miles, and again could not duplicate any concerns alleged by the plaintiff. The evidence was clear that the vehicle did not suffer from any nonconformities. The jury agreed.
On Tuesday, February 14, 2017, the parties concluded trial. The jury was sent out to deliberate and came back with their verdict half an hour later. The decision was 11-1 in favor of defendant Hyundai Motor America.
Plaintiffs were represented by Lauren Ungs of O’Connor & Mikhov, LLP (reformed as Knight Law Group, LLP), Bryan Altman of the Altman Law Group, Richard Wirtz and Amy Smith of Wirtz Law APC, and Michael H. Rosenstein of the Law Offices of Michael H. Rosenstein.
Hyundai Motor America was represented by Brian Takahashi of Bowman and Brooke LLP and Zhanna Bulkina, Corporate Counsel for Hyundai Motor America.