Boat Lemon Laws
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When you purchase a boat, you envision spending weekends out on the water. You want to go sailing, take your friends and family out in a motorboat, or go fishing. You don’t want to be spending days and days waiting for your boat to be repaired for the same issue. You don’t envision spending thousands of dollars on repairs for an issue that never seems to be fixed. You also don’t envision fighting with the company that made your boat over whether or not they should replace or refund your boat under the warranty.
What legal recourse do you have against a company that refuses to honor its warranty and replace or refund your boat?
Despite the Magnus-Moss Warranty Act’s best efforts to ensure that warranties are made clear to consumers, they can still be confusing for most people. The issue seems to be even worse with products like boats. There could be multiple warranties for the same boat, depending on what company manufactured different parts of it. The engine could be warrantied separately from the rest of the boat. There are also different types of warranty.
As the name suggests, bow to stern warranties cover everything from the bow to the stern of the boat. These warranties typically cover the whole boat, including all of its parts and pieces, with the exception of the engine. Some companies don’t offer this type of warranty at all, while others will offer one for a limited time, usually a period between 1 and 5 years.
Bow to stern warranties aren’t usually transferable if the boat is sold, so if you’re buying a used boat, chances are good that it won’t come with a full bow to stern warranty.
Structural warranties cover only the major parts of the boat. This can include:
However, what’s included and for how long depends on the boat, the builder, and the specific warranty for it.
As implied by the name, hull warranties cover only the hull of the boat. These warranties can often last for a very long time, even for the lifetime of the boat. This is because failures of the hull that are catastrophic enough to be covered by the warranty aren’t very common, especially with new boats.
Blister warranties and gel coat warranties cover specifically blisters that form on the hull. Blisters occur when water gets in between the fiberglass and the gel coat on the hull. This causes bubbles, or blisters, to form. Because this is no longer a common issue, blister warranties are also not terribly common. However, some manufacturers do still provide this warranty.
For boats, extended warranties are generally extended service contracts that are marketed as warranties. These warranties are purchased separately from the warranties that might come with the boat upon purchase. Often, the company offering the extended warranty is not the manufacturer and therefore is not technically a warranty. It’s not a promise made by the company that manufactured the boat about the standards or quality of the boat. Instead, it’s a contract with a third-party company that, depending on the law in your state, may only be required to provide as much service as is specifically detailed in the contract.
Lemon laws at the state level are laws that require manufacturers of qualifying vehicles to repurchase or replace any vehicle that has undergone a certain number of repairs for the same issue or been our of service for a certain number of days. In Florida, the law requires at least three repair attempts for the same issue, after which the manufacturer is allowed at least one final repair attempt or a total of thirty total days out of service (fifteen of which can be before the manufacturer’s repair attempt).
In Florida, boats don’t qualify under the state lemon laws. However, that doesn’t mean there is no legal recourse for you if your boat does turn out to be a lemon. There’s a federal law called the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act that enforces warranties.
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act was passed in 1975 in order to protect consumers from misleading warranties or from unfair disclaimers on warranties. This law is meant to ensure that products meet certain standards as defined by law and that companies are required to abide by their warranties. If you are pursuing legal relief for a boat that is a lemon, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act is what will cover your boat.
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act doesn’t require companies to offer warranties. It does require companies to adhere to the standards outlined in the law. It also requires companies to abide by their warranties, whether they’re express warranties or implied.
Express warranties are the written warranties that come with your purchase. Any of the types of warranties listed above, with the exception of the extended boat warranty, which is really more of a service contract, would qualify as an express warranty. The company that holds the warranty would be obliged by the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act to abide by all promises made within the warranty. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act also prohibits companies from using the express warranty to create disclaimers that limit the implied warranty.
Although the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act mentions implied warranties, it leaves the definition up to the states. Typically, an implied warranty is an implied promise on the part of the company based on the circumstances of the sale of that product. For example, with a boat, when you purchase it, whether there’s a written warranty or not, it’s expected to run. Simply by selling the product in the first place, a company can be assumed to be promising that that product will meet certain standards of quality.
What exactly this implied warranty entails does depend on the state in which you live. While all implied warranties do guarantee a certain standard of quality for products, what that level of quality is may vary depending on the location and type of product.
Limited warranties under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act are the only way companies can legally alter the implied warranty. The limited warranty can only restrict the implied warranty in terms of the amount of time that it’s valid. It cannot change anything else about the implied warranty and what it may cover. Another thing the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act does is to prevent companies from making disclaimers on their warranties that invalidate the terms of the implied warranty.
Under both state lemon laws and under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, consumers are responsible for notifying the manufacturer or the company that holds the warranty about the issue. Beyond notification, the company cannot require further conditions or responsibilities on the consumer.
Depending on your warranty, however, you may be required to allow the manufacturer or the company holding the warranty the opportunity to repair your boat. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act requires that a reasonable number of repair attempts be performed and, if the boat still contains the defect, the company is then obligated to offer a refund or replacement under the warranty.
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act doesn’t cover all products. It does make provisions to protect the manufacturer from fraudulent claims by consumers that caused the damage themselves. The law does not require companies to honor warranties for products that were damaged by the consumer, either through misuse or through lack of maintenance.
If damage to your boat occurred because you failed to properly maintain it, then the builder won’t be required to replace or refund your boat. This may also be an argument used by the company holding your warranty for why they won’t replace or refund your boat, even if the damage was not caused by misuse or negligence.
Companies also aren’t required to cover boats that are outside of the warranty’s time limitations or that are used. Warranties don’t always transfer from one owner to another. Even under state lemon laws, there’s a limit to how long a company is responsible for replacing or refunding its products.
A breach of warranty occurs when your boat doesn’t meet the standards set by the warranty. The warranty is a promise made by the company that your boat will meet certain standards. These typically include functionality, safety, and even value. If there’s a defect that impairs the expected function, value, or safety of the boat, then a breach in warranty has occurred.
If your boat has experienced a defect or nonconformity, the first step is to carefully read every part of your warranty. You’ll need to know exactly what your warranty covers. You’ll also need to be familiar with what your state law requires for what is considered a reasonable number of repair attempts. Document all repairs and contact with the company. It’s also a good idea to keep documentation of your maintenance of the boat so you can prove that it wasn’t through a failure to properly maintain it that the damage occurred.
After you’ve gone through the required repair attempts, if the company is refusing to honor the warranty and either replace or refund your boat, that’s when legal steps should be taken. The warranty may require an informal dispute resolution first. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act encourages dispute resolution before a lawsuit is pursued.
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act lowers the required amount of monetary damages required to file a lawsuit in federal court to $50,000. If that’s more than what you’ve spent on your boat’s repair, then you still have other options. You can file a lawsuit in state courts or you can join a class-action lawsuit with others who are in a similar position to you.
Whether you’re undergoing dispute resolution or pursuing a lawsuit, consulting an attorney is a vital step. An attorney that is experienced with warranties and lemon laws can help you not only understand exactly what your boat’s warranty entails but can also help you navigate the legal requirements you must meet. Even in a dispute resolution, an attorney can advocate on your behalf.