I got a jury verdict on Wednesday after a three day trial in which a conservative North Atlanta jury awarded treble and punitive damages against a slimy car dealer. The $6999 car sale turned into a $72,000 debacle for the defendant dealer. This is the long version:
My client is a 30 something single white female, college graduate English teacher. She returned from a gig teaching English in Costa Rica and was searching for a used car with about a 100,000 miles for about 7-8000. She researched cars on the internet and located the defendant dealer Atlanta Luxury Motors Inc. in Buford Ga. This is a smaller used car dealer that is playing off the name of a much larger Atlanta area dealer call Atlanta Luxury Motors of ___ (several locations around town). He has a web page on which he advertised cars through a system known as V12. He inputs information in V-12 software online and V12 sprays the information out to various web pages like car guru and cars for sale an auto trader.
The consumer found this car a nine year old Scion Tc with 106k miles online. The car was advertised as very clean inside and out, well maintained, runs and drives great, generally very good condition. The client visits the dealer and test drives this car and several others. She was not allowed the test drive alone. She never asked to take to a mechanic to check out. On her first drive of this car she heard what she thought was a brake noise on the left rear brake. The salesman explained that the car had not been driven in a while and since it was a cold rainy day, let it warm up and drive again. They drove other cars but she came back to this car. The 2d test drive she rode with the owner. She asked if he would allow his daughter to drive this car. He stated not my daughter, she is too young. But my wife yes. The client did not hear the noise this time. But when they returned from short test drive she asked the dealer to have a man she assumed to be a mechanic (on a roller under a car) check the rear brakes. She went into the building and was shown autocheck reports for several cars she had driven. She immediately advised she was not interested and rejected cars with structural damage or unibody damage. She testified she was shown a clean autocheck report on this car but she acknowledged she did not check the vin numbers. She trusted the salesman to be showing her the autocheck report for the car she was then discussing. The mechanic came in and said the brakes had 90% life left. She signs four different forms of “as is” documents. She paid $7700 TTT for the car.
She picked up the car two days later. She had tire pressure light and brake lights come on that evening. She took to a good year next day and they told her the rear calipers were so rusted out they needed to be replaced and they were surprised there was rubber on the right rear tire because the brakes was locked. The repair is $900. She calls the dealer and he offers $200. She pays for brakes. Then next day check engine light comes on. She takes it to another Goodyear. There is an evap leak and smoke test on gas filler hose shows large leak.
That night the cars goes dead on side of road. The battery is dead. She calls the dealer. He says he will send out someone to check. Several hours later salesman arrives. He brings new battery installs and tries to leave. She insists he stays for ten minutes to see if it keeps running. It dies again. It is alternator. Dealer says he will send wrecker to pick up/ several hours pass. Client and mom and dad drive to dealer in another car and ask him to cancel the deal and refund $. They will eat the $900 for brakes. He refuses. He does agree to repair car but reneges on $200 for brakes.
Client is called two days later. Car ready. She goes up to dealer and he will not give her the keys unless she signs a “Goodwill Repair” form acknowledging he only fixed the car as a favor. She eventually signs. On the way home she stops by another good year. They tell her the car has been wrecked. She decides to try and get out of the car and stops at Carmax. Carmax pulls and autocheck and tells her the car was sold at auction with structural damage and offers her $2000. She emails the dealer and asks for the autocheck she was shown. He says he has sent the file to his lawyer.
She contacts me. I have her arrange to have her car inspected by Mercer Blalock. He advises that there is significant structural damage to the car and it is unsafe to operate. We make a presuit demand under Georgia’s FBPA asking for her money back plus the costs of the brakes plus attorneys fees of $2500. The dealer never responds/
We file suit alleging violations of Georgia FBPA, Georgia Used Car Dealer Act, Fraud and Revocation of Acceptance.. Defendant answers pro se, is ordered to hire an attorney and hires counsel. I discover from Manheim that the car was announced at auction as structural damage rough condition with thousands of needed repairs. Check engine light on. Dealer acknowledges he reviewed the Manheim pre sale auction report. I find from autocheck that dealer never pulled his own authocheck on this car. He could not have shown her an AutoCheck as claimed with structural damage because he didn’t pull it. We surmise he pulled autocheck at Manheim and used the pre auction autocheck which did not show structural damage.
Dealer deposes that he personally inputs info in his web pages.
Dealer offers to settle for $5000 and he gets back the car. We offer to settle for $25000 including fees and he gets back the car. Again, 10 days prior to trial we offer to settle for same amount. Dealer changes lawyers. Dealer does not wish to negotiate settlement.
We pick a jury. I have one juror that cannot speak English, one that cannot understand English at normal speed and one can’t hear at all. The defendant strikes two jurors with bad used car experiences and one mechanic that does PSI for Hendrick Chevrolet. I call defendant for cross. Make him acknowledge the bad facts though he tries hard not to. The jury sees him squirm and gets a bad vibe from him right away. He states that yes he knew the car was structurally damaged, that his number one job in making PSI is consumer safety, that he puts the info on his web page, and that he thinks well maintained clean inside and out and good condition are truthful about this car. He claims he showed her an autocheck that disclosed the structural damage and he had her sign 4 as is statements.
Call client and go through the purchase in minute details. Very clear she told them no wrecks or damage. No she didn’t check VIN number on autocheck shown to her for this car but relied on salesman. She states she rode with the dealer in the car, asked if he would let his daughter drive, he says no she is too young, my wife yes. Call her mother and her friend to substantiate her testimony. Call Mercer Blalock who goes through all the photos and shows the damage that he states any dealer would have discovered. Car was not well maintained, good condition in and out and was not safe to operate. Scary part is that what he shows as evidence of structural damage is really obvious in some places so should the client have seen it?
Defendant recalled for direct. He tries to make out that my client made a mistake, that she mistook the autocheck reports. She signed four “as is” statements. She had a chance to inspect. He did not ride in the car with her.
Dealer closing he states client needs to take personal responsibility for her mistake.
In closing I ask the jury to protect Gwinnett County consumers and law abiding dealers. I tell them he tried to treat them like his customers lying to them and hoping he can get away with it.
I ask the jury to return verdict in all four choices (FBPA, Used Car Dealer, Fraud, Revocation) for plaintiff and ask for $11,600 for plaintiff. Jury wants to know what happens to the car. We tell jury that if they give judgment for fraud gets the car back.. Jury returns verdict for all damages less the $2000 value of the car on all counts except for fraud. Jury made clear they did not want him to get the car back.
Jury surprised they have to deliberate again. This time they find intentional violation under Georgia’s Fair Business Practices Act. I tell them we still haven’t heard he is sorry.
Jury further surprised they have to deliberate again. I ask for $100,000 punitive damages. He still hasn’t said he was sorry. He argues this case was all about fees. Jury returns verdict for $25,000 punitives. I ask the judge to award fees while jury still in box so they can know how we tried to settle and that I had done this all without my client paying me a dime. Judge awards all $25,000 fees and costs.
Immediately after verdict, dealer comes up to me and offers $25,000.