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Vehicles Must Be Purchased From Car Dealerships

Some consumers want to know whether the California lemon law applies to vehicles purchased in private sales (i.e., vehicles that were purchased from individuals as opposed to car dealerships).  The answer to that question is no – at least based upon a strict reading of the California lemon law statute.  The definitions (at Civil Code Section 1791(b) and (l)) expressly state that a vehicle must be purchased from someone who is in the business of selling cars in order for the California lemon law to apply.

Are There Any Ways to Make the California Lemon Law Apply to Private Sales?

Maybe. Some California lemon law attorneys believe that is still possible to bring a California lemon law claim for a vehicle that was purchased in a private party sale.  There exists a legal theory (which has not yet been tested in California’s appellate courts) that a consumer who buys a vehicle in a private sale can still bring a California lemon law claim if the person who sold the vehicle to the consumer “assigns” (in other words, sells) their California lemon law rights to the buyer along with the vehicle.  Under this theory, having purchased the rights of the original owner, a consumer who bought the vehicle in a private sale can assert any claims that the owner could have asserted.

If you can find an attorney willing to try this type of lawsuit, it is usually relatively easy to convince the person who sold the vehicle (if they can be located) to assign his or her California lemon law rights to you because they no longer have any use for the California lemon law’s protections.  The assignment itself is simply a matter of drafting a written agreement confirming the assignment, which your lemon law lawyer will be able to do for you.

Arguments For and Against the California Lemon Law Applying to Private Party Sales

Presuming that you can obtain the necessary assignment of California lemon law rights from the prior owner, there would still be some uncertainty about whether or not this is a valid way to assert a California lemon law claim.  On the one hand, there is plenty of legal authority which confirms that assignments of statutory rights are possible.  Indeed, California law presumes that statutory rights can be assigned unless there is a clear indication in the statute that they cannot.  However, the opposing viewpoint argues that the Sacramento Legislature that enacted the California lemon law could not have wanted to permit such assignments because doing so would basically eliminate the California lemon law’s express requirement that vehicles be bought at retail in order for the California lemon law to apply.

Get a Second Opinion if the First California Lemon Law Attorney You Contact Turns Down Your Case

So what does all this mean if you purchased a vehicle in a private sale and want to assert a California lemon law claim?  It means talk to LOTS of attorneys, to see if any of them are interested in taking your case.  As stated above, there is considerable variation in how attorneys view these types of claims.  So you should not think that all hope is lost if the first lawyer that you talk to declines your case.  If you are serious about attempting to rely on this novel legal theory, then keep looking, and call numerous attorneys to see if any of them are interested.

The Vachon Law Firm will consider representing consumers in “private party sale” cases under the lemon law, and makes determinations on a case by case basis. If you have the prior owner’s contact information, and you are interested in trying to asserts a lemon law claim, then call the Vachon Law Firm right now at 1-855-4-LEMON-LAW (1-855-453-6665). Consultations are always FREE!