A couple of months ago we received a call from a young woman in West Virginia. She traveled to Uniontown, PA to purchase a used vehicle from used car dealership. She purchased a used mini van and drove it home. At the time of sale, the vehicle did not have a valid State inspection. However, she was told that the vehicle would pass PA State Inspection, but the salesman was not sure about West Virginia. She accepted that explanation, put $600 down, and signed a finance agreement for $1,400.00.
However, when she got home, her husband started looking at the van and pointed out a TON of rust, especially on the frame. Her mother called the dealership and tried to negotiate a return of the vehicle, but the dealership said, “No.” At that point, our client stopped paying on the financing because she did not enter a contract to pay for what she received. For a month, they tried to get the dealerships to take it back, even offering to pay for the tow from West Virginia back to the dealership. But, the dealership still said, “No.” In October, the dealership sent a tow truck to repossess the vehicle and threatened to sue our client for a breach of the finance agreement.
It was at this time when she called our office. We told her to take her van to an auto body shop for a State Inspection. Sure enough, the mechanic stopped his inspection when he saw the frame, said it wasn’t safe to drive, and failed it. That’s all we needed. We accepted the case and sent the dealership a demand letter. In return, we received a really nasty denial of any settlement negotiations. So, we filed suit in the local Uniontown Magistrate’s Office.
We had the hearing this week and won. The Judge held that even though the van was sold As-Is, because the salesman said it would pass inspection, when it wouldn’t, that was enough for auto fraud. Under Pennsylvania law, the Auto Industry Trade Practices Act prohibits a dealership from selling a vehicle that won’t pass State inspection if the dealership knew or should have known that it would not pass inspection, and didn’t tell the buyer that before sale.
Ultimately, my client won her $600 down payment back, the dealership was ordered to go pick up the car, and we were awarded our attorney fees. While the dealership will likely appeal, we are writing about this to make a point: If the facts are right, the size of the case doesn’t always matter. The consumer protection laws of Pennsylvania are written to provide payment of attorney fees by the Defendant so that we can take these “smaller” cases. $600 is a lot of money to a lot of people. Without Pennsylvania’s fee-shifting provision in its consumer protection laws, we would not be able to help because the case wouldn’t be worth enough money to take on a contingency fee basis.
With the right facts, no case is too small.