Does the “lemon law” cover a four-year-old refrigerator?

Kip Anderson’s General Electric refrigerator has suffered a catastrophic failure. But she’s not happy with GE’s resolution — and we don’t think we can help her get a better one.

Her case underscores the value of an extended warranty — as well as understanding the applicable laws. Anderson believed that her state’s “lemon laws” applied to her situation. But they don’t.

“Lemon laws” are U.S. state laws that cover purchases of consumer products, such as appliances and cars, which repeatedly fail according to normal standards of quality and performance. These laws provide buyers of such goods grounds for legal action against the manufacturers of the goods. Each state has its own lemon law.

Anderson and her husband, residents of California, purchased a side-by-side GE refrigerator for $7,647 when they moved into their home in 2013. At that time, they declined to purchase an extended warranty for the refrigerator, which would have provided coverage for the cost of repairing the refrigerator.

“Now we think it would have been a good idea, but as you know, hindsight is 20/20,” says Anderson.

No kidding. A few months after the Andersons purchased the refrigerator, the freezer inside it stopped maintaining its optimal temperature, causing the icemaker to leak and all of the contents of the refrigerator and freezer to spoil. The refrigerator has failed three times since then, each time requiring that the entire contents of the refrigerator and freezer be discarded after spoiling. The motor fan, evaporator fan and motherboard have been replaced more than once.

After the most recent failure, which took six days to repair and cost $453, Anderson asked GE for a full refund of the original cost of her refrigerator and reimbursement of the repair cost. GE offered to replace the refrigerator with another of the same model for $3,000, or an extended warranty on the most recent repairs to her current refrigerator. But it is not willing to issue Anderson a cash refund or reimbursement of the repair costs.

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Anderson isn’t satisfied with GE’s proposed resolution.

“As you can imagine, I am reluctant to have the same thing as what I have since mine has been nothing but trouble,” she says. “I printed out the California Lemon Law and it does appear they have responsibilities, regardless of whether I have a warranty or not.”

But did Anderson read the law correctly?

California’s Lemon Law, the Song-Beverly Act, holds that all goods in the state are sold with an “implied warranty of merchantability”:

(a) “Implied warranty of merchantability” or “implied warranty that goods are merchantable” means that the consumer goods meet each of the following:
(1) Pass without objection in the trade under the contract description.
(2) Are fit for the ordinary purposes for which such goods are used.
(3) Are adequately contained, packaged, and labeled.
(4) Conform to the promises or affirmations of fact made on the container or label…

Unless disclaimed in the manner prescribed by this chapter, every sale of consumer goods that are sold at retail in this state shall be accompanied by the manufacturer’s and the retail seller’s implied warranty that the goods are merchantable. The retail seller shall have a right of indemnity against the manufacturer in the amount of any liability under this section.

Anderson feels that her refrigerator is not merchantable because it isn’t fit for the ordinary purpose of a refrigerator and freezer, which is to store food items at preset low temperatures to protect them from spoilage. We don’t disagree with that.

Unfortunately for Anderson, the Song-Beverly Act’s applicability has a time limit:

[In] no event shall such implied warranty have a duration of less than 60 days nor more than one year following the sale of new consumer goods to a retail buyer. Where no duration for an express warranty is stated with respect to consumer goods, or parts thereof, the duration of the implied warranty shall be the maximum period prescribed above.

Since Anderson’s refrigerator is four years old, the window of time for which it was covered by the implied warranty of merchantability has expired. The Song-Beverly Act contains no language that would compel GE to refund the cost of her refrigerator or repairs.

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And Anderson had an entire year after purchasing the refrigerator to seek the protection of the Song-Beverly Act. Alternatively, she could have purchased an extended warranty when she bought the refrigerator.

We’ll put it to our readers:

Should the Andersons accept GE’s offer of either a new refrigerator of the same model at half the cost of the original or an extended warranty on the latest repair cost?

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Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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