Virginia Lawyers Weekly, Volume 21, Number 36, February 12, 2007

Sunshine Hardison told the salesman at Checkered Flag Motor Car Co. in Norfolk that she wanted a one-owner vehicle in her price range that had not been wrecked. The salesman assured her that the 2000 Hyundai Elantra she bought for $6,400 was just what she had asked for. In fact, the car had had several owners. It had been in a major front-end collision, and it had been repossessed. The salesman did not disclose that the car had been repossessed, as Virginia Code §59.1-200 requires. The transaction proved to be very expensive for the dealership.

Retired Judge John E. Clarkson arbitrated Hardison’s claims of fraud and violations of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act and awarded her a total of $114,400 - $2,500 in actual damages trebled under the VCPA because of what Clarkson found to be the willful and fraudulent misrepresentations of the dealership, $50,000 in punitive damages for fraud, $60,400 in attorneys’ fees and costs and $4,700 in arbitration costs, less a $7,500 offset for the duplication of the VCPA willful misconduct and punitive damage awards.

John Cole Gayle Jr. of Richmond, who represented Hardison along with John M. Barrett of Virginia Beach, said the attorneys’ fees reflected extended litigation before the arbitration. Hardison won a $10,000 judgment in general district court, which the dealership appealed to circuit court. The sales contract required arbitration of any claims, and the trial court finally decided to enforce the clause after several hearings on the issue. The parties agreed the The McCammon Group would arbitrate the claim, Gayle said.

Gayle said the dealership contended that it was unaware of the vehicle’s history. That contention was refuted by the company’s own records, which showed multiple owners and the repossession, and the testimony of the owner of the car when it was wrecked. She said she had bought it from Checkered Flag and sold it back to the dealership after the wreck.