LANSING, Mich. - The Michi-gan Court of Appeals has upheld a $4,521 judgment against a used-car dealership that failed to tell purchasers that a minivan had been totaled and repaired.
The court let stand a nonjury verdict against R&R Auto Sales of Sanford in a Michigan Consumer Protection Act suit.
At the same time, it refused to increase the amount of attorney fees awarded to the purchasers' lawyer.
Jeffrey and Wendy Sibley bought a used 1992 Dodge Caravan for $12,000 from R&R. They later discovered it had been involved in a serious collision, totaled and then rebuilt with used parts.
The vehicle did not have a branded title. After unsuccessfully requesting a refund from the dealership, the Sibleys sued.
At trial, they offered expert testimony from the longtime owner of a used-car business that the damage had reduced the Caravan's value by 40 percent.
Midland County Circuit Judge Paul Clulo ruled against R&R and awarded the Sibleys' lawyer $2,261 in attorney fees, ruling that the $9,000 requested was excessive.
R&R's lawyer, Richard Handlon of Midland, said the appellate decision should alert dealers that the state's consumer protection law is real. 'Our people never disclosed it was damaged at all. (The Sibleys) never asked if it was damaged. We never told them.'
He said the Sibleys originally sought a refund, which R&R refused. 'They drove it 50,000 miles. It was a good vehicle.'
Although the dealership acknowledged failing to tell them about the crash-related damage, it disputed at trial whether the Caravan should have been retitled with a branded title, he noted.
The Sibleys' lawyer, James Hammond of Bay City, said the appeals court's refusal to increase the amount of attorney fees will make it more difficult for purchasers to find lawyers willing to handle consumer protection claims.
The decision 'guts Michigan Consumer Protection Act cases since courts are unwilling to allow reasonable attorney fees,' Hammond said. 'These cases are far more complex than anyone would allow.'