Although Florida will be synonymous with oranges for as long as the state remains above water, lemons fell out of local agricultural fashion in the late 1800s. As climate change and plant disease, threaten the production of the Sunshine State's characteristic citrus crops, lemons are slowly regaining favor on the panhandle – that is, of course, unless you buy those lemons from a car lot, an electronics store or an appliance dealership. Florida lemon laws famously protect consumers from automotive duds, but don't forget to exercise your state-given legal rights when that new washing machine kicks the bucket before it finishes the first permanent press load.
Florida Lemon Law
Across the United States, lemon laws generally break down (no pun intended) like this: State laws protect against automotive lemons, and federal laws protect against all types of lemons. Florida, in this case, is no different.
Florida's own vehicle lemon law, according to the Florida Office of the Attorney General, covers defects or conditions that substantially impair the use, value or safety of a new or demonstrator vehicle. This comes from the Florida Motor Vehicle Enforcement Act, which typically gives consumers 24 months from the date of their receipt of the vehicle to report any defects to the manufacturer. If the manufacturer does not make what the law defines as a reasonable number of attempts to repair the defects – legally dubbed noncomformities – it must refund the purchase price or provide a replacement.
Federal lemon laws only cover manufacturing defects. That means they don't apply to so-called nonconformities caused by user errors, such as accidents, neglect, rough usage or post-market alterations and modifications. This prevents someone from wrapping their new Mazda around a tree a few days after purchase and trying to claim lemon law protections.
When manufacturers refuse to comply, consumers can invoke their lemon law rights through various arbitration programs. Though Florida's vehicle-centric lemon laws don't cover appliances, federal lemon laws do – and, overall, they work pretty similarly.
Federal Lemon Laws: The Basics
As one of the 50 states in the union, Florida is protected by the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, legislation passed by Congress in 1975, which you might know better as the federal lemon law. At its most basic level, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act protects consumers from defective products, provided that the product costs $25 or more and comes with a warranty. If the provider of the warranty does not correct the product's defect, it is legally responsible for refunding your purchase or replacing the product.
Additionally, the law requires consumer product manufacturers to provide detailed information about warranty coverage, terms and conditions. To be clear, it does not require them to provide a warranty, but if there is one, it must be thoroughly explained. It also warns against using deceptive or misleading terms in warranty coverage.
In passing the act, Congress aimed to both enhance the rights of the consumer and to promote economically healthy competition among companies. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act also makes it easier for customers to pursue legal action when a warranty is breached, all while helping customers and companies resolve disputes informally without the need for litigation.
So, is the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act a lemon law for appliances? Essentially, yes, but its reach extends far beyond just washing machines and refrigerators.
Federal Lemon Law: The Details
Like Florida's automotive lemon laws, federal lemon laws obligate manufacturers to repair defective products. Manufacturers do, however, have the right to expect customers to bring their product to the company, work with an authorized repair person, or deliver the item to an authorized repair facility, if requested. These repair attempts must occur within a certain time frame, as laid out in the warranty terms.
If your appliance or product did not come with a warranty, whether you're in Florida, Nebraska or any other state, federal lemon laws do not ensure your right to a repair or a refund free of charge. The same goes for any products knowingly purchased with existing faults or sold "as-is." Not all hope is lost, however, as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act does protect consumers who have been mislead into waiving a product's warranty at the time of purchase, provided the consumer can prove said funny business. In this case, you may still be legally entitled to warranty coverage.
The law does pose some limitations before a manufacturer is required to refund or replace your product. The defect or defects in question must significantly limit the product's usability, safety or value, and you must have made multiple attempts to work with the manufacturer to have the item repaired, if requested. You're also entitled to a repurchase, replacement or refund if the product is out of use for more than 30 days while repairs are being made. As an alternative to these options, manufacturers may offer a cash settlement.
Failing all of this, you, as the consumer, have the right to pursue legal action. If you win the case over that faulty new dishwasher that the maker refused to repair, refund or replace, the court will most likely deem that the manufacturer should be required to carry out one of those solutions to remedy the injustice. In terms of refunds, you're entitled to the purchase price, sales tax, finance interest and any other collateral charges added by the dealer. On top of that, the law will typically deem the manufacturer responsible for any legal fees you incurred during the litigation process.
If you're a Floridian, your faulty appliance rights don't end with hiring a lemon law lawyer (of which there are plenty) or filing a lawsuit on your own. To file a complaint with the state's consumer services department, call 800-HELP-FLA (800-435-7352).
Read More: What is the Lemon Law?
Exceptions to the Rule
Under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, the warranty in question must be in writing for it to be honored – oral warranties or guarantees may leave you out of luck in Florida and elsewhere. Likewise, the Act only applies to warranties on goods; warranties on services are not covered. Resold products and products sold for commercial purposes are also not covered. This is important; it means that under federal law, only warranties on consumer products are protected. So while personal, family and household products are covered, business products are not.
While the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act covers everything from appliances to computers to smartphones to hearing aids, guitars and insulin pumps, it's still not all-encompassing. Covered products do not include consumables, such as your weekly groceries or clothing.
Notable Florida Lemon Law Cases
Laws on paper are one thing, but seeing Floridians navigate their way through those laws sheds a whole new light on lemons. In recent years, local media has put the spotlight on more than a few notable examples of Florida residents exploring the legality of lemon-flavored appliances:
The Kuntzes and Samsung: In November 2016, Jacksonville residents Ken and Lili Kuntz purchased a Samsung refrigerator from a local Lowe's home improvement store. The fridge stopped working about two months later. As the it was past the retailer's coverage, Lowe's referred the couple to the manufacturers at Samsung, who performed an in-home repair, but that repair only kept Kuntz's appliance running for a week. Per Samsung's lemon policy, the manufacturer sent about five or six more technicians to the Kuntz's home to repair the product, which continued to break down after each remedy.
By February of 2017, the consumers invoked their Magnuson-Moss rights and requested a refund on the $1,400 purchase. They also wanted Samsung to remove the defective fridge, which wallowed in the couple's garage. Though no legal records indicate that the case ever made it to court, local news coverage prompted a response from Samsung. In June 2017, the company promised to "resolve the matter to the Kuntzes' satisfaction."
Alice Parzek and Sears: Merritt Island, Florida, resident Alice Parzek bought a nearly $1,000 Sears-branded washing machine and dryer combo (Sears is the parent company of in-house Kenmore brand) online in 2018, which worked a grand total of twice before it kicked the bucket. According to local ABC affiliate WFTV Action 9 – which contacted Sears' national office – Parzek experienced three repair attempts, all of which resulted in eventual failure.
More than 20 local consumers contacted Action 9 with similar experiences, citing repairs that dragged on for months at a time without any offer of replacement. After Action 9 contacted the national office, and Sears – presumably under the cloud of negative press and likely quite aware of consumer's legal rights under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act – provided Parzek with a new appliance and an extended warranty within 48 hours.
The Balascos and Frigidaire: Mark Balasco of Miami completed his remodeled kitchen with a brand-new, $2,000, stainless steel Frigidaire refrigerator-freezer combo in late 2015. Mark and his wife, Amy, were over the moon with their purchase until six days after the fridge was installed, at which point it experienced a power failure. An authorized repair person had the appliance up and running again, but it was back on the fritz just a few weeks later.
According to Mark, who spoke with Miami's WSVN 7News in 2017, the Florida couple had 12 service calls in just as many months and had the paperwork to prove it. Balasco said that the fridge was plagued by numerous issues – from a bad compressor to a faulty ice maker to a lukewarm freezer. He claimed "they had been out here five, six, seven, eight times now. This is ridiculous. It’s time for a new one." Yet, they would not budge. Instead, the company said they would send the tech out to fix the problem – again.
Broward County public defender Howard Finkelstein chimed in on the case with WSVN to provide a little legal clarity: "There is no lemon law for refrigerators [in Florida], but there is a lemon law for cars that says if you don’t fix it after the fourth attempt, you get a new car or your money back. Legally, that seems to indicate the courts would do the same thing for a refrigerator or any other major appliance, meaning, after three or four failed attempts to repair it, you'd get a new refrigerator or your money back. So clearly, Mark should get a new refrigerator." Sure enough, after WSVN contacted Frigidaire parent company Electrolux, the Balascos had a new fridge delivered to their home in no time.
Once again – especially in the golden age of social media – it seems that sometimes simply putting a company on blast can get results before taking legal action. Or at least, it certainly did in the Balascos' case. Says Finkelstein, "In many cases, it’s less expensive for the manufacturer to keep repairing it rather than replace it. If you want a new one instead, keep pestering them. Go up the corporate ladder. Don’t give up."
A combination of federal and state-level laws protect consumers when purchasing appliances that are lemons in Florida.
- Citrus Industry News: Lemons in Florida: Something New Under the Sun?
- Florida Office of the Attorney General: Lemon Law
- Reference.com: How Would the Lemon Law Apply to Appliances/
- Reese, Poyfair, Richards PLLC: Understanding the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act
- Shainfeld Law PC: Is the Lemon Law Just for Vehicles?
- Krohn and Moss Consumer Law Center: Your Lemon Law Rights: Florida – Frequently Asked Questions
- First Coast News: Consumers Question Florida's Lemon Law Following Buy of New, Defective Samsung Fridge
- WSVN: Appliance Breaks Again and Again
- WFTV9: Action 9 Gets Results After Consumer Says New Appliance Was a Lemon