Three customers who lost a lawsuit against a dealership over the same used car are appealing the verdict.
Healey Ford-Lincoln-Mercury Inc. of Ansonia, Conn., was accused of unfair trade practices, fraud, nondisclosure and breach of contract and warranty in connection with the sale of a 1987 Ford Tempo to three different customers at different times. The customers testified the Tempo was unsafe and they would not have purchased it if they had known it was a former rental car that had been damaged in an accident.
The Tempo was purchased by the three plaintiffs - Dennis Kenney, Muriel Jordan and Jay Jacobs - between October 1988 and May 1991 at prices ranging from $5,095 to $11,667, according to court records. The car was voluntarily repossessed by Ford Motor Credit Co. from each of the three plaintiffs.
The four-week trial in Superior Court in New Haven began before a jury, but as procedures lengthened the court began to lose jurors for personal reasons. Judge Patty Jenkins Pittman then heard the case herself.
Pittman said because the Tempo was not advertised, the dealership was not obligated to tell customers it was a rental car.
She said the case hinged almost entirely on the credibility of witnesses. She cited 'exaggerated false claims of emotional distress,' including a claim that the car caused marriage problems, as examples of poor credibility.
She also said claims of unexpected sudden acceleration and claims that the buyers had asked about the car's ownership and accident history were unbelievable.
In the appeal, plaintiffs' attorney Joanne Faulkner of New Haven said the judge erred when she applied common-law standards, which are far less demanding than those in the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act. Even so, the attorney told the Connecticut Appellate Court, under common law the dealership had a duty to disclose the vehicle's history.
Dealer Mike Healey is president of the Connecticut Automotive Trades Association and was a finalist for the Time Magazine Quality Dealer Awards in 1994.
'The easy way out of this would have been for Healey to pay off the three and their attorney, and the case would have disappeared,' said Milford, Conn., attorney Anita Flannigan Steenson, one of the lawyers representing Healey.
In a press release, Healey said, 'The only way these frivolous lawsuits will stop is when dealers start to fight them and win. Car dealers have got to get smarter and protect themselves.' Better business documents such as arbitration clauses, waiver statements and disclosure forms are long overdue, he added.