The Circuit Court jury on Thursday, October 7, 2004, found that Windsor Auto Sales committed intentional fraud and violated the Virginia Consumer Protection Act when it described the 1996 Ford Bronco to the plaintiff as undamaged even though Windsor Auto had purchased the vehicle with an invoice that stated “Salvage History.” Windsor Auto’s owner testified that he told the plaintiff that the vehicle had been in an accident.
The jury awarded the plaintiff, Faye Teets, $6,000.00 in damages and awarded $34,000 punitive damages as well, Gayle said. The court subsequently awarded Ms. Teets almost $40,000 in attorney fees as well.
The lawsuit was based on intentional fraud and a violation of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act. “Ms. Teets was unaware that the vehicle had been in an accident. She even thought that car dealers had a duty to disclose whether a car they are selling has been in a wreck. Unfortunately, dealers most of the time do not volunteer this information,” Gayle said, “...and the buyer who trusts dealers to disclose damage during negotiations, is living in a dream world.” “Many dealers either will not advise of any damage, or will disclose some damage claiming it is minor, and intentionally not check the rest of the car in order to remain 'wilfully blind' about the other damage in the car so they can claim ignorance if the vehicle is returned due to prior wreck damage. When a car has any damage, that is a red flag that there may be some hidden damage lurking in a less than obvious place, and that a detailed inspection is necessary. When a car dealer learns of any damage the reputable ones will inspect the car to see if there is other accident damage, and if they find significant damage, then they should return it to the previous owner," Gayle observed. “This should be a warning to car dealers to stop selling cars unless they have done a thorough inspection, and if they find some damage, either return the car, or be honest to customers and take less of a profit." Gayle commented, “State inspections, nor the new fad, Car Fax reports, are no guarantee that a car has not been significantly damaged. The best way to avoid what happened here is to ask if the car has ever been damaged, and even if the answer is 'No,' demand that a body shop of your choice inspect it; if a dealer refuses to allow this, leave.”
The two-day case was tried before Circuit Judge Gary A. Hicks.
$34,000 in punitive damages