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California’s lemon law applies only to vehicles bought within California, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday. “The phrase ‘a buyer of this product in California’ indicates that the Legislature believed those rights applied only to a buyer who purchased the product in California,” Chief Justice Ronald George wrote for a unanimous court. The lemon law, adopted in 1982 as part of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, requires auto dealers to replace any car that has repeatedly malfunctioned or to reimburse the buyer in an amount equal to the purchase price. Edward and Sandi Cox had contended that the law applied to a Winnebago motor home — equipped with a Cummins Inc. engine — that they bought in Idaho. After the vehicle proved irreparable, they sued both companies, seeking damages of nearly $286,000, attorneys fees and a civil penalty, allowed by the lemon law, of twice the actual damages. Riverside County Superior Court Judge Dallas Holmes denied the companies’ summary judgment motion, but the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed in 2003, saying that the lemon law applied to vehicles sold outside California as long as repair attempts were made inside the state. The high court reversed. “Although the act treats motor vehicles differently from other types of consumer goods in several ways,” George wrote, “we find no indication that the Legislature intended to treat motor vehicles differently with respect to the limitation on the act’s coverage to goods sold in California.” If the law applied to items sold outside the state, he continued, “uncertainties would be created as to the precise reach of the law.” The ruling is Cummins v. Superior Court ( Cox), 05 C.D.O.S. 6264.

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