• No Limitation on Statute Of Limitations for Pennsylvania Lemon Law & Breach of Warranty Cases
  • December 21, 2009 | Author: David P. Czap
  • Law Firm: Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin - Philadelphia Office
  • The Pennsylvania Automobile Lemon Law, 73 P.S. §§ 1951-1963, essentially states that:

    (I)f a manufacturer fails to repair or correct a nonconformity after a reasonable number of attempts, the manufacturer shall, at the option of the purchaser, replace the motor vehicle...or accept return of the vehicle from the purchaser, and refund to the purchaser the full purchase price, including all collateral charges, less a reasonable allowance for the purchasers use of the vehicle......" 73 P.S. §1955.

    Section 1956 of the Pennsylvania Automobile lemon Law provides a presumption of a reasonable number of repair attempts if:

    1) The same nonconformity has been subject to repair three times by the manufacturer, its agents or authorized dealers and the nonconformity still exists; or

    2) The vehicle is out-of-service by reason of any nonconformity for a cumulative total of thirty or more calendar days.

    With very few exceptions, a typical "Lemon Law" complaint in Pennsylvania also includes counts under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act ("MMWA"), the Uniform Commercial Code ("UCC"), and Pennsylvania's Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. The MMWA is a federal act that is essentially a breach of warranty claim with regard to a manufacturer's limited, written warranty that is issued with the sale of each new vehicle. A plaintiff typically alleges that a violation of the UCC occurs when a manufacturer breaches certain "implied" warranties, such as an implied warranty of merchantability and/or an implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose. Lastly, Section 1961 of the Pennsylvania Lemon Law provides that a violation of its provisions shall automatically constitute a violation of the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.

    The MMWA, 15 U.S.C. §2301 et seq., specifically states that a consumer who is damaged by the failure of a supplier, warrantor, or service contractor to comply with any obligation under the MMWA, or under a written warranty, implied warranty, or service contract, may bring suit for damages and other legal and equitable relief.

    While the terms, definitions, and provisions of Pennsylvania's Lemon Law and the MMWA are, for the most part, clearly defined, neither law contains a statute of limitations period. Accordingly, there exists somewhat of a "gray area" with regard to this issue as it pertains to Lemon Law/breach of warranty cases.

    To date, there are no reported Pennsylvania cases directly addressing the issue of the statute of limitations for a Lemon Law case. However, defendants have been relying on a footnote from a decision by the Pennsylvania Superior Court in which Judge Cercone found that because the remedy in Lemon Law cases is "analogous to an action for revocation of acceptance under section 2608 of the Uniform Commercial Code, the four year limitations period of the Uniform Commercial Code is applicable." Gabriel v O'Hara, 368 Pa. Super. 383, 534 A.2d 488, n.20 (1987).

    Plaintiffs, on the other hand, argue that a Lemon Law violation is a per se Unfair Trade Law violation and, as such, all Lemon Law claims should be governed by a six-year limitations period.

    In Lowe v Volkswagen of America, Inc., 879 F. Supp. 28; 1995 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6473, the court concluded that because the Lemon Law is essentially a statutory warranty, a four-year period applies.

    However, pursuant to the statute, a Lemon Law claim cannot be maintained until there have been "a reasonable number of repair attempts." And, although the Lemon Law provides that it "shall be presumed that a reasonable number of attempts have been undertaken to repair or correct a nonconformity if...the same nonconformity has been subject to repair three times," 73 P.S. §1956, this is a rebuttable assumption-not a legal conclusion. Moreover, in most cases, it is unclear about when the plaintiff brought the car in for the third repair attempt, so this uncertainty leads to ambiguity as to when an action accrues, and subsequently when the statute of limitations tolls.

    Like Pennsylvania's Lemon Law, the Magnuson-Moss Act does not contain an express limitation period. However, where a federal statute does not contain an express limitation period, federal courts apply the most analogous state statute of limitations. Thus, as with the Lemon Law, the MMWA is most closely analogous to the UCC and, therefore, a four-year limitations period is applicable.

    Now, the UCC states that the Statute of Limitations is four years from the date of purchase. However, pursuant to UCC §2-725(2):

    A cause of action accrues when the breach occurs, regardless of the aggrieved party's knowledge of the breach. A breach of warranty accrues when tender of delivery is made, except that where a warranty explicitly extends to future performances of the goods and discovery of the breach must await the time of such performance the cause of action accrues when the breach is or should have been discovered.

    Pennsylvania courts have held that vehicle warranties (3 years/36,000 miles) clearly fall within the scope of §2-725(2); therefore, the period of limitation is calculated from the date of the breach of warranty and not from the date of sale.

    Further, there is yet another "exception" in Pennsylvania that is even more liberal than the UCC "exception." Under the Repair Doctrine of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act, 15 U.S.C.S.§2301 et seq., "the Statute of Limitations is tolled only where evidence reveals that repairs were attempted, representations were made that the repairs would cure the defects, and the plaintiff relied upon such representations. Whether the Statute of Limitations is tolled under the Repair Doctrine is a question of fact." Amodeo v Ryan Homes, Inc., 407 Pa. Super. 448, 595A.2d 1232, 1237 (Pa. Super. 1991).

    In other words, each time a repair is made and the plaintiff believes that the repair would cure the defect; the four-year Statute of Limitations begins all over again. Thus, a "well-coached" plaintiff will simply testify that at each visit the dealer told him that the repair would fix the issue and he believed the dealer.

    As far as the UCC (four years) and Unfair Trade Practices (six years), the statute of limitations is clear.

    As such, there is no real, concrete Statute of Limitations for breach of warranty claims in Pennsylvania with regard to Lemon Law and the Magnuson-Moss Act. However, it appears as though any implied warranties can be time-barred.