CACI 3244 Civil Penalty—Willful Violation (Civ. Code, § 1794(c))

California Civil Jury Instructions CACI

3244 Civil Penalty—Willful Violation (Civ. Code, § 1794(c))

[Name of plaintiff] claims that [name of defendant]’s failure to [describe obligation under Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, e.g., repurchase or replace the vehicle after a reasonable number of repair opportunities] was willful and therefore asks that you impose a civil penalty against [name of defendant]. A civil penalty is an award of money in addition to a plaintiff’s damages. The purpose of this civil penalty is to punish a defendant or discourage [him/her/nonbinary pronoun/it] from committing violations in the future.

If [name of plaintiff] has proved that [name of defendant]’s failure was willful, you may impose a civil penalty against [him/her/nonbinary pronoun/it]. The penalty may be in any amount you find appropriate, up to a maximum of two times the amount of [name of plaintiff]’s actual damages.

“Willful” means that [name of defendant] knew of [his/her/nonbinary pronoun/its] legal obligations and intentionally declined to follow them. However, a violation is not willful if you find that [name of defendant] reasonably and in good faith believed that the facts did not require [describe statutory obligation, e.g., repurchasing or replacing the vehicle].

New September 2003; Revised February 2005, December 2005, December 2011, May 2018, November 2018

Crowdsource Lawyers

Directions for Use

This instruction is intended for use when the plaintiff requests a civil penalty under Civil Code section 1794(c). In the opening paragraph, set forth all claims for which a civil penalty is sought.

An automobile buyer may also obtain a penalty of two times actual damages without a showing of willfulness under some circumstances. (See Civ. Code, § 1794(e).) However, a buyer who recovers a civil penalty for a willful violation may not also recover a second civil penalty for the same violation. (Civ. Code, § 1794(e)(5).) If the buyer seeks a penalty for either a willful or a nonwillful violation in the alternative, the jury must be instructed on both remedies. (See Suman v. BMW of North America, Inc. (1994) 23 Cal.App.4th 1, 11 [28 Cal.Rptr.2d 133].) A special instruction will be needed for the nonwillful violation. (See Suman v. Superior Court (1995) 39 Cal.App.4th 1309, 1322 [46 Cal.Rptr.2d 507] (Suman II) [setting forth instructions to be given on retrial].)

Depending on the nature of the claim at issue, factors that the jury may consider in determining willfulness may be added. (See, e.g., Jensen v. BMW of North America, Inc. (1995) 35 Cal.App.4th 112, 136 [41 Cal.Rptr.2d 295] [among factors to be considered by the jury are whether (1) the manufacturer knew the vehicle had not been repaired within a reasonable period or after a reasonable number of attempts, and (2) whether the manufacturer had a written policy on the requirement to repair or replace].)

Sources and Authority

Civil Penalty for Willful Violation. Civil Code section 1794(c).

“[I]f the trier of fact finds the defendant willfully violated its legal obligations to plaintiff, it has discretion under [Civil Code section 1794,] subdivision (c) to award a penalty against the defendant. Subdivision (c) applies to suits concerning any type of ‘consumer goods,’ as that term is defined in section 1791 of the Act.” (Suman v. Superior Court (1995) 39 Cal.App.4th 1309, 1315 [46 Cal.Rptr.2d 507].)

“Whether a manufacturer willfully violated its obligation to repair the car or refund the purchase price is a factual question for the jury that will not be disturbed on appeal if supported by substantial evidence.” (Oregel v. American Isuzu Motors, Inc. (2001) 90 Cal.App.4th 1094, 1104 [109 Cal.Rptr.2d 583].

“ ‘In civil cases, the word “willful,” as ordinarily used in courts of law, does not necessarily imply anything blamable, or any malice or wrong toward the other party, or perverseness or moral delinquency, but merely that the thing done or omitted to be done was done or omitted intentionally. It amounts to nothing more than this: That the person knows what he is doing, intends to do what he is doing, and is a free agent.’ ” (Ibrahim v. Ford Motor Co. (1989) 214 Cal.App.3d 878, 894 [263 Cal.Rptr. 64], internal citations omitted.)

“In regard to the willful requirement of Civil Code section 1794, subdivision (c), a civil penalty may be awarded if the jury determines that the manufacturer ‘knew of its obligations but intentionally declined to fulfill them. There is no requirement of blame, malice or moral delinquency. However, ‘… a violation is not willful if the defendant’s failure to replace or refund was the result of a good faith and reasonable belief the facts imposing the statutory obligation were not present.’ ” (Schreidel v. American Honda Motor Co. (1995) 34 Cal.App.4th 1242, 1249–1250 [40 Cal.Rptr.2d 576], original italics, internal citations omitted; see also Bishop v. Hyundai Motor Am. (1996) 44 Cal.App.4th 750, 759 [52 Cal.Rptr.2d 134] [defendant agreed that jury was properly instructed that it “acted ‘willfully’ if you determine that it knew of its obligations under the Song-Beverly Act but intentionally declined to fulfill them”].)

“[A] violation … is not willful if the defendant’s failure to replace or refund was the result of a good faith and reasonable belief the facts imposing the statutory obligation were not present. This might be the case, for example, if the manufacturer reasonably believed the product did conform to the warranty, or a reasonable number of repair attempts had not been made, or the buyer desired further repair rather than replacement or refund. [¶] Our interpretation of section 1794(c) is consistent with the general policy against imposing forfeitures or penalties against parties for their good faith, reasonable actions. Unlike a standard requiring the plaintiff to prove the defendant actually knew of its obligation to refund or replace, which would allow manufacturers to escape the penalty by deliberately remaining ignorant of the facts, the interpretation we espouse will not vitiate the intended deterrent effect of the penalty. And unlike a simple equation of willfulness with volition, which would render ‘willful’ virtually all cases of refusal to replace or refund, our interpretation preserves the Act’s distinction between willful and nonwillful violations. Accordingly, ‘[a] decision made without the use of reasonably available information germane to that decision is not a reasonable, good faith decision.’ ” (Lukather v. General Motors, LLC (2010) 181 Cal.App.4th 1041, 1051 [104 Cal.Rptr.3d 853], original italics, internal citation omitted.)

“[Defendant] was entitled to an instruction informing the jury its failure to refund or replace was not willful if it reasonably and in good faith believed the facts did not call for refund or replacement. Such an instruction would have given the jury legal guidance on the principal issue before it in determining whether a civil penalty could be awarded.” (Kwan v. Mercedes Benz of N. Am. (1994) 23 Cal.App.4th 174, 186–187 [28 Cal.Rptr.2d 371], fn. omitted.)

“There is evidence [defendant] was aware that numerous efforts to find and fix the oil leak had been unsuccessful, which is evidence a jury may consider on the question of willfulness. Additionally, the jury could conclude that [defendant]’s policy, which requires a part be replaced or adjusted before [defendant] deems it a repair attempt but excludes from repair attempts any visit during which a mechanic searches for but is unable to locate the source of the problem, is unreasonable and not a good faith effort to honor its statutory obligations to repurchase defective cars. Finally, there was evidence that [defendant] adopted internal policies that erected hidden obstacles to the ability of an unwary consumer to obtain redress under the Act. This latter evidence would permit a jury to infer that [defendant] impedes and resists efforts by a consumer to force [defendant] to repurchase a defective car, regardless of the presence of an unrepairable defect, and that [defendant]’s decision to reject [plaintiff]’s demand was made pursuant to [defendant]’s policies rather than to its good faith and reasonable belief the car did not have an unrepairable defect covered by the warranty or that a reasonable number of attempts to effect a repair had not yet occurred.” (Oregel, supra, 90 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1104–1105, internal citations omitted.)

“[T]he penalty under section 1794(c), like other civil penalties, is imposed as punishment or deterrence of the defendant, rather than to compensate the plaintiff. In this, it is akin to punitive damages. Neither punishment nor deterrence is ordinarily called for if the defendant’s actions proceeded from an honest mistake or a sincere and reasonable difference of factual evaluation. As our Supreme Court recently observed, ‘… courts refuse to impose civil penalties against a party who acted with a good faith and reasonable belief in the legality of his or her actions.’ ” (Kwansupra, 23 Cal.App.4th at pp. 184–185, internal citation omitted.)

“Thus, when the trial court concluded that subdivision (c)’s requirement of willfulness applies also to subdivision (e), and when it, in effect, instructed the jury that subdivision (c)-type willfulness is the sole basis for awarding civil penalties, the court ignored a special distinction made by the Legislature with respect to the seller of new automobiles. In so doing, the court erred. The error was prejudicial because it prevented the jurors from considering the specific penalty provisions in subdivision (e) and awarding such penalties, in their discretion, if they determined the evidence warranted such an award.” (Suman, supra, 23 Cal.App.4th at p. 11.)

Secondary Sources

4 Witkin, Summary of California Law (11th ed. 2017) Sales, §§ 321–324
1 California UCC Sales & Leases (Cont.Ed.Bar) Warranties, § 3.90
California Products Liability Actions, Ch. 2, Liability for Defective Products, § 2.30 (Matthew Bender)
44 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 502, Sales: Warranties, § 502.53[1][b] (Matthew Bender)
20 California Points and Authorities, Ch. 206, Sales, § 206.129 (Matthew Bender)
California Civil Practice: Business Litigation § 53:32 (Thomson Reuters)