Farm Machinery Lemon Laws
Many states have passed specific laws for farmers who purchase machinery, and later find that the machinery does not conform to the express warranties offered by the manufacturer. In North Dakota, the relevant chapter of the Century Code is titled “Farm Equipment Nonconformity Remedies,” and is found at N.D.C.C. ch. 51-26. Other states in the region have very similar laws. For example, Minnesota’s laws begin at Minn. Stat. section 325f.6651, and are almost identical to North Dakota’s. Although the details of these laws may differ from state to state, the overall purpose and framework of the laws tends to be very similar.
Under North Dakota’s law, farmers are afforded specific remedies if they purchase a piece of new equipment with a “nonconformity.” A nonconformity is defined as “any condition of the farm machinery which makes it impossible to use for the purpose for which it was intended.” The law applies when a manufacturer of farm machinery makes an express warranty regarding materials or workmanship, and the machinery purchased does not comply with the warranty. In order to invoke the provisions of the relevant statute, the farmer must notify the manufacturer or its agent of the nonconformity during the period of the express warranty, or within one year, whichever is sooner.
Once the farmer has given this notice to the manufacturer, the manufacturer is required to make any repairs necessary to make the piece of machinery comply with the express warranty. If, after a reasonable number of attempts, the manufacturer is unable to repair the machinery so that it conforms to the express warranty, the manufacturer must either replace the machinery with a comparable piece of machinery acceptable to the farmer, or take title to the machinery and refund the full purchase price, including all reasonably incurred collateral charges, less a reasonable allowance for the use of the machine.
The law presumes that a reasonable number of attempts to repair the machinery were made if during the warranty period the manufacturer has made at least five attempts to repair, or the piece of machinery is out of service for repairs for over thirty days. If the time required for repair is more than fourteen days, the manufacturer must supply a comparable piece of machinery for the farmer to use free of charge. This obligation only arises if requested by the farmer, though, so be sure to send a written request if you find yourself in the middle of planting season waiting for machinery repairs.
“Collateral charges” are “those additional charges to a consumer not directly attributable to a manufacturer’s suggested retail price label for farm machinery.” The requirement that the manufacturer pay these collateral charges is important because many express warranties attempt to disclaim any liability for these collateral charges. Under North Dakota law (and the laws of other states), the manufacturer is still liable for these costs. A typical example would be the transportation costs necessary to get the equipment to a place where it can be repaired.
Finally, if a manufacturer is refusing to comply with the provisions of this law, it may be necessary to bring a legal action to enforce the law. The time period within which this must be done is relatively short; it generally must be initiated within six months of the expiration of the warranty or eighteen months from delivery of the piece of machinery, whichever is sooner.
Be sure to communicate your notices and requests to the manufacturer in writing, and as always, if you find yourself in a legal dispute with a manufacturer you should seek advice from legal counsel.