By Russ and Tiña De Maris
A decision by the Illinois Supreme Court has likely frightened the daylights out of U.S. RV manufacturers. While the industry has been not-so-quietly touting its prowess in lobbying states to ensure RVs don’t come under Lemon Laws, the Illinois decision simply stands that work on its head.
The case ended up before the high court after Kimberly Accettura and Adam Wozniak had a run-in with a dealer, Vacationland, Inc. In 2014 the couple bought a new RV, drove it off the lot, and within two months, discovered a leaky window. The dealer offered to fix the problem; but a month later, more leaky windows allowed water into the rig, causing extensive damage.
Vacationland inspected the RV and told the couple that it couldn’t do the repair; the unit would have to be sent back to the manufacturer. Of course, the question every buyer would have is: “How long will that take?” Neither the dealer nor the manufacturer could say how long the couple would be without their rig while repairs were done. The RV sat on the lot for an additional two weeks before it was ever shipped back for the repair work.
Three weeks after having sent their defective rig back to Vacationland, Kimberly and Adam decided they’d had enough. They called the dealer and told them the deal was off, they were revoking their acceptance of the RV, and demanded a refund of their money.
Presumably this left Vacationland staff speechless, because some six weeks later, the couple got a phone call advising them their RV had been repaired, and that they should pick it up. Kimberly and Adam got an attorney, who fired off a letter to the dealer demanding a refund of the purchase money, and making it perfectly clear the RV was rejected. They followed up later with a suit filed in county court, asking for the purchase price and damages.
It took a long time for the case to work its way through the court system. Under the couple’s lawyer’s view, they were protected by a provision of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) – which all 50 states use as a legal guideline for business conduct. Therein, the UCC states that a legal revocation of a purchase can take place if one of two conditions are met: Either the customer knew that a purchase was defective, but had been assured the problem would be righted; or, the customer did not know of a defect, but later learned of it. Vacationland admitted that Kimberly and Adam were NOT aware of defects in the RV.
At the same time, Vacationland’s attorneys held that “under law” they had time to make repairs, thus voiding any rejection on the part of their customers. True, agreed the customers, but ONLY if we knew there were defects and understood they would be repaired. But in their case, they weren’t aware of the defects, and under the UCC the dealership didn’t have the luxury of making repairs.
The Illinois high court took the view of Kimberly and Adam. “We agree with [the plaintiffs’] interpretation,” Justice Rita B. Garman wrote in the court’s unanimous opinion. “We find this language plain and … subsection (1)(b) [of the UCC] does not require that a buyer give the seller an opportunity to cure.” They tossed out Vacationland’s argument that since the couple had brought the RV in for repairs, then they had to wait and allow the repairs to be made.
The high court has remanded the case to a lower court, presumably for that court to do the dirty work of determining damages, and making the order for both those, attorney fees, and the original purchase price to be typed up on a check.
Steve Lehto, a Michigan attorney who focuses on Lemon Law issues, sees this as great news for RV buyers, and a decision that will likely send RV manufacturers into a tizzy. His reasoning is that state courts often look at precedent even when decided in a different jurisdiction. If you have a “Lemon” RV issue, this approach could be one that might work for you. He does caution that a note in the UCC indicates that “time is of the essence.” While under the UCC a customer can indeed revoke the acceptance of defective purchases, it must be done “within a reasonable time” of the discovery of the defect.
Lehto recommends that RV buyers with a defective rig consult with a local attorney, but be sure to point to the Illinois decision as a potential point in litigation. And keep in mind, you’ll likely be without your money for a long time, even if a court were to rule in your favor. For Kimberly and Adam, it was close to five years – and they’re still waiting for the lower court to order their repayment be made. If you’ve financed the RV, you’ll likely still be on the hook for payments until the case is settled.
Still, this positive ruling from Illinois may well have plowed the ground for favorable decisions elsewhere. If nothing else, it may give the RV manufacturing community enough of a fright that they start paying some much-overdue attention to quality control on their manufacturing lines.