Judge Finds Emissions Violation Awards Damages

One of the easiest ways for used car dealers to make profit is to purchase cheap used vehicles that have not and can not pass emissions and sell them to people as normal “clean” cars without a valid passing emissions certificate.

Recently, one of our clients bought a 2000 Nissan Maxima from Sheba Independent Auto Sales in Dekalb County. Within days after purchasing the vehicle, the check engine light came on and started blinking on and off. The client took the vehicle back to the dealership and was told by the employees to take the vehicle to their mechanic. The mechanic inspected the vehicle and found that the engine was misfiring and that the muffler was missing parts. After the vehicle was returned to the client, it began to have more problems the following week. That is when the client decided to call our office seeking advice. Since our client was a resident of Stone Mountain which is located in a “Clean Air” county, it was illegal for Sheba Auto Sales to sell our client the car without a valid emissions certificate. Our office found that our client’s vehicle did not have a passing emissions certificate when it was sold to her and the vehicle also did not have a FTC Used Car Rule “buyer’s guide” affixed to the window, which is illegal. After taking this case to court, it was found that the dealership did indeed break the Georgia Fair Business Practice Act by selling a car without an emissions certificate. The Court found specifically found that the sake of the car without a valid passing emissions was an unfair business practice. The Court stated:

Although O.C.G.A. §10-1-393 states in subsection (a) that “[u]nfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of consumer transactions and consumer acts or practices in trade or commerce are declared unlawful,” the various practices declared unlawful in subsection (b) are stated as being “[b]y way of illustration only and without limiting the scope of subsection (a).”  What “constitutes unfair or deceptive acts or practices within the meaning of O.C.G.A. §10-1- 393 generally” is for resolution by the fact finder. Regency Nissan, Inc. v. Taylor, 194 Ga. App. 645, 648, 391 S.E.2d 467, 470 (1990). The Court, acting as the fact finder in this case, finds that the act of a used car dealer selling to a consumer from the general public a vehicle in such a condition as would constitute a misdemeanor under the Clean Air laws constitutes an unfair or deceptive practice. Moreover, used car dealers are governed by regulations requiring that they obtain passing emissions inspections on vehicles sold to purchasers in counties covered by Clean Air regulations, which apply even to “As Is” sales. In addition, state agency rules and regulations relating to vehicle emissions have the force of law pursuant to O.C.G.A. §12-9-56. Although the Court has found no cases in which the sale of a vehicle without the legally required emissions inspection has been held to be a violation of the FBPA, the facts of this case seem analogous to the Crown Ford case in which a dealer’s sale of a used car with an odometer reflecting less than the vehicle’s actual mileage, despite federal and state law requiring disclosure of odometer discrepancies, was found to fall within the ambit of the FBPA. Crown Ford, 221 Ga. App. at 883, 473 S.E.2d at 556.

Furthermore, the Court finds that the public consumer interest—enforcement of Clean Air standards—is served through application of the FBPA to the sale of a vehicle lacking the requisite emissions certification. Because the vehicle at issue in this case should not legally have been sold to Plaintiff without a valid emissions inspection, and because it is undisputed in this case that the vehicle did not have a valid inspection until after it was sold to Plaintiff, the Court finds that the first element of the FBPA claim has been met.

The Court ordered that the defendant (the dealership) pay for her actual damages and cover the cost of her attorney’s fees. The defendants now are seeking to appeal and head back to court, where we will fight for the consumer yet again. This is just one of many examples of how The Law Offices of T. Michael Flinn fight to protect consumers in a state plagued with slimy car dealers who take advantage of consumers to make a quick buck. If you believe you’re a victim of fraud by a car dealer, call our office today at 770-832-0300 or simply use our online form to request a free case evaluation.