It's incredibly disappointing to find out that a major purchase like a car has a substantial flaw or defect. When that flaw or defect impacts the mechanical function of the vehicle, it can be a lot more than disappointing — it can be deadly. Product liability and lemon law are two areas of the law that help protect consumers from manufacturing issues that result in unsafe and devalued cars. 

While these two concepts are both designed to protect consumers, there are some important differences between them. Understanding these differences can help you make sure that you move forward with any case you may have against the manufacturer in the most effective way. 

What is product liability? 

Product liability is a broad legal category that is used to protect consumers from error, oversight, and neglect when it comes to the products they purchase. Product liability can apply to virtually any product, and consumers who find themselves injured due to poor manufacturing can use product liability laws as they attempt to recoup their losses. 

In car manufacturing, product liability most frequently comes into effect when a vehicle's performance does not meet standards. Often, this is discovered after a crash or other significant driving malfunction. Typically, a product liability claim happens after there is damage as a result of this faulty element of the vehicle. In about 2% of vehicular crashes, the critical reason for the accident was assigned to the vehicle itself — a sign of some serious malfunction.

The consumer has suffered some loss due to the malfunction or poor design. This loss could come in the form of damage to property (including to the vehicle in question itself) or injury to the driver or others. 

There are some common categories of manufacturing malfunction that come up repeatedly in car manufacturing product liability claims. These include the following: 

  • Roof strength- In the event of a rollover accident, the roof of a vehicle is supposed to offer a certain degree of protection. Faulty roof design is a frequent category of product liability for car manufacturers. 
  • Restraint systems- When the car's seat belt systems do not adequately protect passengers, they may be at the center of product liability disputes.
  • Product stability- Particularly an issue in taller vehicles (such as SUVs), the ability of a car to remain upright in adverse conditions is an area where product liability kicks in. 
  • Third-party alterations- Sometimes, product liability applies not to the original manufacturer of the vehicle but to the manufacturer of third-party alterations that have made it unsafe. 

What is lemon law? 

"Lemon law" is the common term for a set of laws designed to protect consumers who have purchased a car with significant malfunction. All 50 states in America have some form of lemon law, but these laws vary from state to state. In addition, only a handful of states offer lemon law protection on used vehicles. Most apply only to vehicles that were purchased new. 

While the specific details of each state's lemon laws will vary, they have some common themes. Basically, a lemon law protects a consumer who has purchased a car and found themselves having to undergo repeated repairs. These laws are designed to address frustrations with the car's warranty. Yes, a warranty may require no-cost repairs to a vehicle, but many drivers find themselves frustrated and without a means to transportation when repairs drag on for weeks or happen repeatedly.

If a car requires multiple repair attempts for the same issue or is kept inaccessible to the driver for a specific period of time (often 30 days) while repairs are attempted, lemon laws obligate the manufacturer to either buy the vehicle back (often with reductions for the miles driven since purchase) or replace it with a new vehicle. 

What are the differences between product liability and lemon law?

Both product liability and lemon law deal with manufacturer's responsibility for their products, but there are key differences between them. 

In some ways, product liability has fewer limits. It does not just apply to new cars under their warranty period. Faulty manufacturing or design that results in injury and damages can be a liability even for older products. At the same time, product liability typically only applies once an injury or damages have occurred. 

Lemon law is more limited in scope because it only applies for a specific period of time after initial purchase, and the car's malfunctions must meet the standards outlined in the lemon law to qualify. At the same time, lemon law is in effect even when there has not been injuries or damages from the malfunction. 

Finally, a key difference between product liability and lemon law is the way the case is handled by professional attorneys. Some attorneys specialize in either product liability cases against car manufacturers or in lemon laws. Some firms will handle one type of case but not the other. It is important to reach out to a professional who is experienced in the kind of law that you need when you are working to right a wrong from a car manufacturer. 

If you are facing a product liability case, reach out right away to schedule a consultation.