Car Dealer 1, Consumer 0: A Costly Lesson in What NOT To Do When Purchasing A Used Vehicle

Unfortunately another North Carolina consumer has lost a case against a car dealer.  Here are some of the key facts in the case—can you spot the problems for the consumer?

  • Consumer, North Carolina resident, finds a used vehicle on the Internet.  Vehicle was being offered online by a vehicle dealership located in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
  • Consumer contacts dealership and is told vehicle passed a state (Virginia) inspection and was in good condition.  Consumer agrees, via telephone, with dealership on purchase price and provides his credit card to purchase the vehicle.  The dealership charges the consumer’s credit card.  NOTE:  Consumer has not yet seen vehicle in person. Case law review
  • Consumer does not have any pre-purchase inspection conducted on the vehicle.
  • Consumer signs and faxes “as is” agreement to the dealership before ever seeing the vehicle.
  • Consumer travels to the Virginia dealership to complete the final paperwork and take delivery of the vehicle.  Consumer takes vehicle for a test drive and notices several problems yet initials additional documents acknowledging he is purchasing the vehicle “as is.” 
  • Consumer drives vehicle home to Wilmington and experiences more problems with the vehicle. 

Consumer filed suit in New Hanover County, North Carolina against the dealership and the vehicle service center that performed the Virginia state inspection on the vehicle.  The consumer filed the suit and handled his case without a lawyer.  Big mistake.  The vehicle service center had all claims against it dismissed because of a lack of personal jurisdiction.  And the dealership hired an experienced law firm to defend the lawsuit.  Almost one year after the date the consumer filed his lawsuit the judge dismissed all claims against the vehicle dealership.  To add more salt in the proverbial wound, the judge granted the car dealer’s request for $14,000.00 in attorney’s fees.  So the consumer appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. 

In Jackson v. Tim Maguire Inc. (COA 12-1098) the Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of the consumer’s case.  As unfair as it may be, the consumer’s “as is” purchase of the vehicle doomed his legal claims about the vehicle’s problems.  A review of the Court’s opinion also shows the consumer failed to comply with several rules of appellate procedure and even failed to provide legal support for some of his arguments.  Based on long-standing law the Court reached the right result in this portion of the case—-to the detriment of the consumer. 

In one of the few bits of good news for the consumer, the Court of Appeals overturned the Order that the consumer pay attorney’s fees.  However, this victory may be short-lived as the Court sent this portion of the case back to the trial court level.  So the consumer will likely have to make a second attempt at convincing a judge not to award attorney’s fees in favor of the vehicle dealership. 

So…….. what are the key takeaways from this case?

  1. Do not purchase a used vehicle sight unseen…but if you decide to do so have the vehicle inspected by an independent mechanic AND otherwise conduct your due diligence on the used vehicle.
  2. Do not file a pro se lawsuit or civil action against a vehicle dealership unless you have a very minor case (ex: Small Claims Court)
  3. DEFINITELY do not proceed pro se on an appeal of your case.

Legal professionals reading this post should note the Jackson case is a Rule 30(e) opinion but it is a good illustration of what appears to be a really bad case for the consumer.  For consumers, do not try to learn the law of warranties, contracts, consumer transactions, etc. and attempt to handle your case on your own against an experienced attorney.  Seek legal counsel of your own.  If you experience problems with a vehicle you purchased contact me for a free consultation.


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