In my many years of owning car dealerships, I came to the conclusion that not everyone could be satisfied. I think this is one of those cases.
The owner of a Hyundai Genesis with a sunroof that opened and closed on its own has won a new trial in his lawsuit against Hyundai Motor America and the California dealership from which he leased the car.
A three-judge panel of the California Court of Appeal authorized a second trial after finding that the sunroof, which malfunctioned on a freeway the day after the plaintiff leased the new 2011 Genesis, may violate the implied warranty of merchantability. That warranty means a product is “fit for the ordinary purposes for which such goods are used.” The appeals court rejected a request by Hyundai for a rehearing. Mark Chirco, an in-house attorney for Hyundai, said: “We’re confident about our chances” when the case goes to the jury.
Here’s what happened, according to the court: The day after Ilan Brand leased the car in January 2012, the sunroof “spontaneously and repeatedly began opening and closing. The odd, uncontrollable movement of the sunroof was itself distracting, but the inrush of wind also caused documents to suddenly swirl around the cabin. Brand tried to close the sunroof to no avail.”
Brand immediately returned the car to Allen Hyundai of Laguna Niguel, where he had leased it. Over the next eight days, he received a variety of unfulfilled promises from the store about repair or replacement of the switch assembly, the court said. Brand then notified the dealership’s general manager and Hyundai customer service that he was rescinding the deal. Hyundai refused to cancel the transaction but the company offered to waive two lease payments of about $450 each as a goodwill gesture.
Brand’s suit alleged that the manufacturer and dealership breached the implied warranty of merchantability. Hyundai denied liability and contended the sunroof had only a “minor problem” caused by a nicked wire that was fixed.
Brand refused to retrieve the repaired Genesis from the dealership but “faithfully made the Hyundai lease payments and maintained insurance on the vehicle because he did not want his credit adversely affected,” the court said. Partway through trial, a lower-court judge dismissed the case, saying the malfunction “does not rise to the level of a breach of the implied warranty.”
Brand picked up the car from the store after losing the trial and still has it. The appellate court sided with Brand, saying a jury could reasonably conclude that a sunroof that “opens and closes on its own creates a substantial safety hazard” and that Brand “prudently turned the vehicle in immediately because it was not safe to continue driving it.”
Hyundai attorney Chirco said the court ignored the fact that the sunroof had been repaired before Brand demanded rescission. Plaintiff’s lawyer, Lawrence Hutchens of Bellflower, Calif., said the decision “is a primer for what implied warranty means.”
“If something is wrong and it’s not fit for ordinary purposes,” he said, a consumer doesn’t need to give the manufacturer “unlimited repair attempts.”
Hutchens said Hyundai could have quickly and inexpensively resolved the problem by giving Brand a new vehicle when he first asked, then fixed the problem and resold the Genesis. He added: “It would have had a happy customer.”
Nobody likes an early problem with any car, but it happens. A dealer and manufacturer cannot be expected to give every customer with a problem a brand new car. Hyundai will ultimately win this case.