‘Lemon Law’ Losers Must Pay Costs
The state Supreme Court ruled that a car buyer who sues unsuccessfully under California’s “lemon law” must pay the manufacturer’s court costs, not including attorneys’ fees. The 6-1 ruling applies to all suits seeking replacement or reimbursement for a defective product under a state warranty law. A lawyer for vehicle manufacturers said the great majority of those suits involve the 1982 lemon law. The law entitles the buyer to replacement or reimbursement, at the buyer’s choice, if a new vehicle has defects that cannot be repaired in a reasonable number of tries. The law states that a customer who sues and wins is entitled to bill the other side for reasonable attorneys’ fees and court costs. It does not say what recourse is available to a manufacturer who successfully defends a suit under the law. But the court said manufacturers were covered by an older, more general state law that allows the winning side in any suit to recover court costs from the losing side, “except as expressly provided by statute.” Because the lemon law does not mention manufacturers’ costs, they are not “expressly” barred from recovery, said the opinion by Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar. She said the pro-consumer purpose of the law would still be served because customers who sue successfully could collect attorneys’ fees. The ruling requires motor-home buyer Robert M. Murrillo to pay $6,642 to Riverside-based Fleetwood Motor Homes for a vehicle he bought in 1991.