What makes a car a lemon?

Both the Missouri lemon law and the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (federal lemon law) require a manufacturer to repair a problem within a “reasonable number of attempts” or “within a reasonable amount of time.”

How many repairs are unreasonable? The Missouri lemon law states that it shall be “presumed” that 4 or more repair attempts are evidence that the manufacturer has failed to fix the vehicle within a reasonable number of attempts.

A presumption is a legal rule about the burden of proof, which requires a fact-finder, such as a judge or jury, to find that the evidence favors a particular party.  For example, the expression “innocent until proven guilty” is just a restatement of the presumption of innocent.  A judge or jury must conclude that the accused is not guilty, absent proper evidence to the contrary.

In a civil trial, the consumer presents evidence first, then the Defendant gets a chance to offer its counter-evidence. Without a presumption, a consumer could present evidence, the manufacturer could offer none, and a consumer could still lose. A judge or jury may simply not be persuaded by the consumer’s evidence.

But in a Missouri lemon law case, if a consumer puts on evidence of 4 or more repair attempts (or 30 or more days out of service), and the manufacturer offers nothing, the consumer wins. A judge or jury would be required to find that the vehicle was a lemon. The number of repair attempts is automatically persuasive evidence.

A presumption can be “rebutted.” In a criminal case, for example, the prosecutor will offer evidence trying to prove guilt.  In a lemon law case, a manufacturer might try to prove that the consumer abused, neglected, or modified or altered the vehicle.  Many manufacturers try to defend Missouri lemon law cases by focusing on whether the problems “substantially impair the use, value or safety” of the consumer’s vehicle. Such evidence would then be weighed by the judge or jury before determining whether the number of repair attempts were unreasonable.

However, a consumer might want to show there have been 3 identical repair attempts, or perhaps there have been 4 repair attempts but not all of them were within the first 12 months of purchase. In that situation, the consumer will not get the benefit of the “presumption,” but should be allowed to put on evidence to try to convince a judge or jury that fewer repair attempts were nevertheless unreasonable. Even if the manufacturer offers little or no evidence, the consumer might still lose the trial, because a judge or jury will not be bound to find in the consumer’s favor.

Many vehicles do not qualify for the Missouri lemon law presumption, but the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (federal lemon law) offers a possible alternative argument.

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