Legal Aid helps elderly couple deceived by car dealer

Southern Maryland office (Hughesville) staff attorney Jake Ouslander (left) recently obtained an $8,000 settlement check for a Charles County couple, aged 79 and 86, subjected to unfair and deceptive sales practices when they purchased a car.

The story: In June 2007, the couple went to a Waldorf, Md., car dealer to purchase a car. Sales representatives separated the couple from each other and subjected each of them to a sales pitch that lasted about four hours, despite the wife’s entreaty to be allowed to leave because she was feeling ill and disoriented due to her diabetes and heart condition. Eventually, the couple were allowed to leave the dealership, having purchased a car that they felt they could not afford.

A few days later, they returned to the car dealer to complain about the pressure sales tactics. A representative of the car dealer agreed to rescind the sale of the vehicle and sell them another car at the blue book value. The couple signed the sales documents presented and took their car home. Later, they realized that the car was sold to them at almost twice its blue book value. In addition, they had not received credit for the cash prize that induced them to shop at that dealership, and they had unwittingly purchased a warranty policy.

“When the couple sought help at the senior outreach site, Jake advised them of the law and sent a demand letter to the car dealer,” reported chief attorney Seri Wilpone. “The dealer’s attorney informed Jake that the contract limited the resolution of disputes to the National Arbitration Forum. Jake’s clients asked him to seek damages in the National Arbitration Forum, and he filed a complaint setting forth the misrepresentations and unfair and deceptive practices of the car dealer and seeking compensatory and punitive damages.” Within a few weeks of filing the complaint, the car dealer made a settlement offer, which the clients accepted, and sent a check to Jake’s clients for $8,000.

Most of the time, Legal Aid clients are on the defensive side in arbitration claims, and the expense of defending in that forum is prohibitive for many of them, Jake explained. “Being on the affirmative side did have some benefits,” he noted. “It was nice to have a less formal process for filing and making discovery requests. The rules are much different than the rules of court, and I would recommend reading every applicable rule twice to make sure no mistakes are made. Ultimately, the clients’ commitment to pursing a vindication of their rights even in an unfamiliar forum persuaded the car dealer to settle.”

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