In the United States, ‘lemon laws’ have existed for several decades to protect consumers from permanently defective vehicles. Lemon laws generally require manufacturers to replace or reimburse consumers for vehicles that have proven defective under defined criteria, which may vary from state to state. Autonomous vehicles present a unique scenario regarding the applicability of lemon laws. Current semi-autonomous vehicles, like Tesla’s, have received software updates that have significantly affected vehicle functionality. Automotive repair has traditionally involved taking a vehicle to a mechanic for issues with ‘hardware.’ Yet, unsurprisingly, the laws have not anticipated the impact software such as that required for autonomous vehicles has upon the functionality of such vehicles. For instance, if a software bug exists across a fleet of vehicles, are all of the vehicles subject to recall? How do states define ‘permanently defective’ under their respective lemon laws as to recurrent software problems?
This summer Tesla seemed to answer some of these questions when it settled a lemon law claim with an individual over issues he had with certain luxury features of his newly-purchased Tesla automobile. Tesla repurchased his vehicle for US$160,000 at around the same time the company rolled out a software update that fixed the complained-of issues. The fact that Tesla undertook to repurchase the vehicle may indicate that companies are not expecting consumers to wait for a software update, even with a remedy via update in the works.
Autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicle manufactures are taking control away from drivers, and it is currently unclear what role lemon laws should play in the presence of such circumstances. Also at issue is the remedy for such problems as those involving at least two fatalities in connection with Tesla’s autopilot feature – should these possible software malfunctions result traditional tort cases or should government regulate such issues if caused by software glitches (as they currently do for ‘permanently defective’ vehicles)?
If you are interested in the issue of lemon laws in your state or country – in fact, in any consumer protection laws – talk to your Ally Law member firm to discuss such consumer protection measures and associated current regulation and legislation efforts. Ally Law member firms in many countries around the world have professionals knowledgeable about and engaged in the complex arena of government regulation.
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