At issue: Dealership's misrepresentation of van as new
Who's winning: Purchasers, as appeals court affirms the dealership must pay damages.
A three-judge Superior Court of Pennsylvania panel held that Thomas and Joan Stokes are entitled to $11,236 in compensatory damages and $22,472 in punitive damages from Gary Barbera’s Dodgeland under the state’s consumer protection law.
In their suit filed in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, the Stokeses alleged that a salesman had told them the 1996 Caravan had been driven only about seven miles and that the digital odometer, which would not illuminate, would be replaced.
A few days later, the suit said, while Thomas Stokes waited for the repair, he mentioned to the service department that the transmission did not operate smoothly and asked the service manager whether the van was new. The service manager said it was, but Stokes later overheard him tell a mechanic the van had a prior user.
The Stokeses also learned that the dealership had altered a financing document after they had signed it, the court said. When they received their copy of the document after processing, they saw that a notation had been added that the van “may have been previously sold and returned.”
The Stokeses informed the dealership they wanted a new van. The dealership said they could have one, but only if they paid an additional $4,000, the court said. They refused.
In an opinion by Senior Judge John Hester, the appellate court cited evidence of misrepresentation, namely the fact that the odometer wasn’t working when the vehicle was sold, the service manager’s admission that the van had been used and returned, and the altered documentation.
The appellate court also said punitive damages are justified, quoting the trial judge’s finding that the dealership had “represented an expensive van as new when it knew that the van had been driven previously” and that dealership employees had “intentionally manipulated” the odometer to “hide the van’s prior use.”
The dealership will ask the appellate court to reconsider its ruling, defense lawyer Craig Sopin said.
“We feel both the Superior Court and the trial court made some errors of law,” Sopin said, adding that the dealership believes there was insufficient evidence to support the allegations.
The plaintiffs’ lawyer did not return calls seeking comment.
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