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The Shaken Faith Doctrine

  Norman Taylor & Associates
  July 19, 2010

Under the old Commercial Code, the seller is entitled to a reasonable opportunity to cure the defect before a buyer can revoke acceptance. However, when the buyer’s faith in the goods is so shaken that remedying the specific part or problem would not satisfy a reasonable buyer, the buyer may revoke acceptance, and get a refund without allowing any repair. Courts often call this the shaken faith doctrine.

Where a consumer has reasonably lost confidence in the performance of a vehicle, the shaken faith doctrine should allow the consumer to say, “Enough is enough,” and demand a replacement or refund under the California lemon law or other state lemon law without allowing any further repair attempts.

Nonconformities That are Covered Under Warranty 

The CA lemon law protects consumers against vehicles with nonconformities that are covered under the warranty which substantially impair the use, value, or safety of the vehicle. What is a nonconformity substantially impairing the value of the vehicle?

1) A nonconformity may include a number of relatively minor defects whose cumulative total adds up to a substantial impairment. This is the “Shaken Faith” Doctrine first stated in the Zabriskie case. “For a majority of people, the purchase of a new car is a major investment, rationalized by the peace of mind that flows from its dependability and safety. Once their faith is shaken, the vehicle loses not only its real value in their eyes, but becomes an instrument whose integrity is substantially impaired and whose operation is fraught with apprehension.”

2) A substantial nonconformity may include a failure or refusal to repair the goods under the warranty. In Durfee V. Rod Baxter Imports, the Minnesota Court held that the Saab owner that was plagued by a series of annoying minor defects and stalling, which were never repaired after a number of attempts, could revoke, “if repairs are not successfully undertaken within a reasonable time”, the consumer may elect to revoke.

Substantial Nonconformity and Lemon Laws often define what may be considered a substantial impairment. These definitions have been successfully used to flesh out the substantial impairment in the UCC.

In addition to the question of substantial impairment, the severity of the defect can impact the question of how many repair attempts are reasonable. If a defect indicates that the particular item is of poor quality overall, or is so substantial that the dealer probably could not correct it to the satisfaction of a reasonable buyer, then the buyer need not permit further repair attempts.

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