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 nine-day California lemon law jury trial involving allegations that a used 2011 Hyundai Elantra was not properly diagnosed and repaired under warranty, the jury was hung 7 to 5 in defendant’s favor, on the question whether the subject vehicle had a defect which substantially impaired its use, value or safety. The case is titled Connie Marie Romero v. Hyundai Motor America, Sacramento County Superior Court Case No. 34-2015-00178728-CU-BC-GDS. A mistrial was declared after 4 hours of deliberations.
Plaintiff purchased a used 2011 Hyundai Elantra with 25,025 miles on it for her granddaughter from a non-Hyundai retailer on August 6, 2012. Plaintiff alleged that despite her and her granddaughter putting over 60,000 miles on the vehicle within 34 months of ownership, it was intermittently running rough, had no power, and exhibited hesitation issues. The repair documentation showed that the vehicle was presented to a Hyundai’s dealership four times for the alleged issues. At trial and in direct contradiction to her deposition testimony, the granddaughter claimed for the first time that she took the vehicle in to the dealership 6 additional times where the dealership allegedly did not document her visits.
When Ms. Romero called Hyundai and asked for her money back, Hyundai reviewed her repair history in good faith and denied her claim. It offered to have a field service engineer to inspect and repair the vehicle, if the issue was verified. If dissatisfied with the denial or the offer of further investigation, Hyundai apprised Ms. Romero that she could pursue buyback utilizing the BBB Auto Line, an arbitration program certified by California's Department of Consumer Affairs which was free, quick and binding on Hyundai only.
Rather than work with Hyundai or pursue arbitration, plaintiff filed her lawsuit. Less than two months after filing her lawsuit, plaintiff failed to make her loan payments and she allowed the subject vehicle to be repossessed, without notice to HMA. The vehicle was sent to an auction and sold, and as a result of vehicle being repossessed, HMA was never given a chance to inspect the subject vehicle.
In addition to seeking restitution, plaintiff sought a civil penalty of two times of actual damages. She claimed that Hyundai willfully violated California's lemon law, known as the Song Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, because it did not offer her a repurchase when Ms. Romero called Hyundai's 1-800 number and asked for a buyback.
In defense, Hyundai demonstrated through its investigation and review of the repair history that the subject vehicle had no defect which was not repaired within a reasonable number of opportunities. Hyundai’s expert Wayne Gates testified that based on the written records, all repairs were performed properly and timely. This was corroborated by the fact that plaintiff’s complaints were not verified during the fourth and last documented visit to a Hyundai dealership on August 14, 2014. Nor had plaintiff’s own expert, Thomas Lepper, ever duplicated the concern, instead only formulating his opinion based on testimony by plaintiff and her granddaughter. Hyundai’s person most knowledgeable regarding handling of “lemon law” complaints by customers, Sandy Zielomski, testified that Hyundai properly followed its procedures in reviewing plaintiff’s pre-litigation repurchase request and correctly decided to deny the request.
The new trial is set for April of 2017.
Plaintiff was represented by O'Connor & Mikhov LLP, Wirtz Law APC and the Law Offices of Michael H. Rosenstein.
Hyundai was represented by Julian G. Senior of Bowman and Brooke LLP from its Los Angeles office and Zhanna Bulkina, Corporate Counsel for Hyundai Motor America.