Prominent Chrysler Dealership Ordered To Pay Double Damages To Police Officer
Philadelphia, PA - Nearly two years after Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Carolyn E. Temin ruled that Gary Barbera's Chryslerland had committed unfair trade practices, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the judgment, ordering the dealership to pay $38,484.40 in damages to Philadelphia police officer Jeffrey Hannan, plus all attorneys' fees and legal costs. Consumer advocate and attorney Craig Thor Kimmel, of the Ambler-based law firm of Kimmel and Silverman, P.C., represented Hannan.
The Court also ruled that Hannan could keep the 1995 Used Mazda Millennia at the center of this case. The car, which the dealership represented as being in excellent condition with no history of repairs or accidents, had actually gone through three transmission replacements, three engine replacements, and at least one automobile accident before the dealership sold it on their lot in July 1997. Hannan purchased the car, along with an extended warranty, for $19,242.20.
Two weeks after the purchase, Hannan's transmission began to slip when shifting into second gear. The transmission was still under warranty and Hannan took the car to an authorized Mazda dealership, which replaced the transmission. But the problem recurred over the eight months that followed, resulting in additional repairs to the brakes, power steering, water pump, radiator hose, and motor mount. While at the authorized Mazda dealership, Hannan learned that the car had a significant repair history pre-dating his purchase, including three transmission replacements and three engine replacements. Hannan obtained invoices for these prior repairs.
Hannan later obtained documents from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, which revealed that the car was turned in early from its lease to Gary Barbera's Chryslerland and was then sent to George Yelland & Company, a wholesale auction house based in Delran, NJ. According to documents dated May 14, 1997, Yelland performed body work and other repairs on several sections of the vehicle, including the left rear quarter, the right front bumper and the front cover. Parts of the car were aligned, adjusted, painted and blended. Despite these repairs, Yelland was unsuccessful in selling the vehicle so they returned the car to Gary Barbera's Chryslerland, who sold the car to Hannan. Because Hannan was color-blind, he did not notice that the car had been repainted and blended.
After finding out the information about the vehicle, Hannan returned to the dealership and asked for a refund or another vehicle of the same kind. The dealership refused to help him, saying "we don't work that way." Hannan obtained representation and filed his case in February 1998. Pursuant to the lawsuit, an expert mechanic found that several parts of the car didn't fit together and there were three different colors of paint on the body. In addition, a road test indicated that the engine mount was in need of replacement and would prevent the vehicle from passing state inspection. Furthermore, the mechanic testified that the repair history, coupled with the fact that the car had been in an accident, would greatly affect the value of the car. In this condition, the car was worth approximately $14,625, nearly $5000 less than what Hannan paid.
In August 1999, Judge Carolyn E. Temin of the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia County, ruled in Hannan's favor. In her ruling, Judge Temin stated that Gary Barbera's Chryslerland breached the implied warranties of merchantability and suitability for purpose. Specifically, the Court found that the dealership had misrepresented the vehicle's history in the sales presentation to Hannan and that the defendant's conduct was "outrageous, intentionally and maliciously misleading and in total disregard of the requirements of the law." The Court then awarded double damages to Hannan, totaling more than $38,000, in addition to $10,000 in counsel fees. The dealership appealed that ruling.
The Superior Court affirmed Judge Temin's ruling, finding that Gary Barbera's Chryslerland breached the PA Automotive Trade Practices Regulation section 301.4 subsection 9. Despite the fact that the dealership sold the car "as is," they did not use the exact language specified in the statute. The Court ruled that the "as is " provision used by the dealership was insufficient to disclaim implied warranties under state law. Furthermore, the Court ruled that the dealership was solely responsible for misrepresenting the car's value and condition.
"This is a moral victory," Hannan said . "The way they sold me the car was dishonest and I hope that this ruling will help to get the word out." "This is a tremendous victory for Officer Hannan and for Pennsylvania consumers," says attorney Kimmel. "This judgment reaffirms the fact the dealerships should be held responsible if they make misrepresentations to the consumer."
Attorney Kimmel advises consumers looking to purchase used cars to take three very important steps prior to signing any papers. "It is important to go on-line to obtain an auto history to make sure the car has not been salvaged, flooded or titled as a lemon buyback. Also, hire an outside mechanic to examine the car prior to purchase and obtain a warranty repair history from an authorized dealership of the manufacturer. These three steps will ensure that your dream car was never someone else's nightmare."