How Do I Sue a Car Dealership – Consumer Legal Rights

Once a car buyer decides they want to pursue action against the dishonest  new or used car dealership they purchased the car from, they have to decide which path to take to exercise their legal rights.  Many people try to resolve the matter themselves, sending letters and leaving voicemails for the sales manager, finance manager or general manager.  Usually, managers are never available, the voicemails never get returned, the complaint is ignored, and the customer becomes very frustrated.  

Once that happens, or if a customer decides to skip that step, the next thing to do is hire an experienced consumer attorney who has experience suing car dealerships.  The attorney may begin the case with a letter of representation, or may begin by filing a lawsuit. In our experience with certain dealerships, we know that even our letter will be ignored, and that filing suit is necessary to begin to pursue the claim. 

Whitney, LLP’s attorneys provide representation to car buyers in a variety of claims against dishonest car dealerships and used car lots that have committed both civil violations, and often crimes, including, but not limited to, forging customer’s signatures,  as well as committing bank fraud, providing false information to banks on credit reports, selling dangerous, frame damaged and structurally damaged vehicles, and a number of other schemes that require lying and deceiving customers for the purposes making an additional profit.  Some of Whitney, LLP’s past dealership fraud claim and case results can be reviewed here.

Contact Us Now at (410) 583 8000 for your Free Consultation, or use our Online Quick Contact form, and we will be in touch.

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Who Pays Attorneys Fees when Suing a Car Dealership?

Consumers often are worried about paying for a lawyer, and wonder how much it costs to get their case started.  At Whitney, LLP, we tell our clients they do not need to worry, because our clients do not pay out-of-pocket fees or expenses.  Attorney’s fees are recovered from the dealership as part of the settlement or judgment. 

Many state laws recognize that consumers do not have thousands of dollars available to pay and lawyer, which is why the laws have been created to allow lawyers to recover their fees from the dealership.  This is called “fee-shifting”.

Because attorney’s fees are often recoverable through state law, such as Maryland’s Consumer Protection Act, or Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices Act, attorneys have an incentive to take these case, allows, as discussed above, attorneys to take these claims without needing the car buyer and client to pay out of pocket.   Whether a judge will award the full amount is another story, and there are methods attorneys can use to justify what eventually may be a very large claim for attorney’s fees.   

Maryland’s Consumer Protection Act, like other states’ similar laws, provides a list of “unfair or deceptive trade practices” that businesses may not engage in, and if they do, the victim can ask the court to make the business to pay their attorney’s fees.

What Court to Sue a Car Dealership In?

In Maryland, there is small claims court, with a limit of $5,000; District Court, with a limit of $30,000; and Circuit Court, for claims over $30,000.  When the attorneys at Whitney, LLP file lawsuits for claims against car sellers, we file suit in Circuit Court in order to not limit the potential recover for our clients.  While the case may take longer to resolve, we have found that taking the extra time is often worth it. While a consumer themselves may decide to represent themselves, filing suit can be tricky if they do not have experience with the process.  

A consumer bringing a claim for under $5,000 should have a relatively simple time of filing the paperwork in small claims court and handling the case themselves.  However, when in district court or circuit court, the formal legal proceedings can be complicated for some people if they have not gone through the process previously.

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Bringing Arbitration Claims Against a Car Dealership

Sometimes consumers cannot sue a dealership due to an “arbitration clause” in the contract.

When this happens, consumers need to know how to bring an arbitration claim against a car dealership. The process is listed in the fine print in the arbitration agreement, if there is one, in the sales documents. The fine print is extremely important, and can sometimes make the difference of whether arbitration is actually enforceable. Usually, the consumer needs to give written notice to the dealership of their intention to being a claim.  Then the dealership should respond and hire the arbitrator, who will contact both sides to begin the process.

Many of the buyer’s orders and Retail Installment Sales Contracts that consumer sign when they purchase cars and SUVs had arbitration clauses.  Those clauses are often overlooked by consumers, but have serious implications for exercising legal rights.

The difference between going to court and seeking a jury trial, and arbitration, is basically that the consumer does not get a jury to decide the case, and instead gets a professional arbitrator who is often a retired judge.  Arbitration findings are essentially final, and while there is an appeal process, it is not typical to be able to overturn a finding. There is a reason car dealerships usually include arbitration in the contracts, and the reason is that arbitration is often more favorable to the dealership than a jury trial. 

However, just because an arbitration agreement was signed does not mean that all hope is lost for a consumer.  A good claim should still be pursued in arbitration.  

Do I Need a Lawyer to Arbitrate a Claim against a Dealership?

No, consumers can certainly proceed with arbitration themselves. However, the dealership will almost certainly have an experienced attorney representing them, which creates a large advantage. A consumer does not need a lawyer to pursue arbitration, but they should have one.  The arbitration process is still similar to a court proceeding, with written discovery and depositions still sometimes occurring.  For an inexperienced consumer, it may be overwhelming, and having an attorney to handle the arbitration claim, and make the necessary legal arguments, will likely be beneficial.

Making an MVA Complaint Against a Dishonest Car Dealership

Consumers can also report dishonest dealership complaints to the state agency that licenses dealerships and oversees and enforces state laws.  In Maryland, that agency is the Motor Vehicle Administration, known as the MVA.  A previous blog post discussed making MVA complaints against dishonest car dealerships.

However, in our experience, an MVA Investigator is often unable to do much more than cite the dealership for violations, and ask them to take the car back. When this is all that happens, the buyer may be out of pocket for down payments and monthly payments already made, and may very well be leaving compensation on the table for claims for other damages, including emotional distress and punitive damages, that an experienced attorney will be able to recover that the MVA Investigator may not know is even a possibility.

Questions for Auto Fraud Lawyers about for Suing a Car Dealership

At Whitney, LLP, our consumer protection and auto fraud attorneys have experience representing consumers against new and used car sellers.  We have sued many car dealerships for fraud, forging customer signatures, selling frame damaged vehicles, providing false information on credit applications, and a variety of other dishonest and unfair practices.

We provide Free Case Evaluations, and represent our auto fraud clients with no out of pocket attorney’s fees or expenses when we sue a car dealership. We are licensed to practice law in Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Washington, DC, and have relationships with law firms in other states, including Virginia, that allow us to provide representation in many claims.

Contact Us Now at (410) 583 8000 for your Free Consultation, or use our Online Quick Contact form, and we will be in touch. We can help.

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