A Texas appeals panel has overturned a $21,000 judgment against an Austin dealership that admitted it failed to provide a salvage title to a customer. The court also ordered a new trial in the dispute over a 1992 Chevrolet Corsica.
The Texas Court of Appeals held that a procedural error requires another trial in Leroy Prince's case against Heart of Texas Dodge Inc. under the state's deceptive trade practices law.
In November 1994, Prince bought the Corsica after the dealership agreed to fix several problems, including the starter, overheating, the alignment and back windows that weren't on track, according to the court. He asked if the car had ever been in a wreck and was told it had not, the court said.
When Prince took delivery, he found that the promised repairs had not been made, the court said. He returned the car to the dealership, which held it three weeks but apparently failed to resolve the problems. Prince said he tried to fix it himself, but the car never performed well.
When he renewed the registration in 1996, he learned the Corsica previously had been wrecked and salvaged. When Prince presented Heart of Texas with a salvage certificate of title, the dealership denied knowing of the salvage title before the sale.
Prince sued the dealership for misrepresentation and breach of express and implied warranties. At trial before Judge Orlinda Naranjo, Prince won the full $3,450 he sought in compensatory damages, plus $10,000 in punitive damages and $7,623 in attorney fees.
The Texas Court of Appeals did not consider the merits of the claim but set aside the award because Prince had not been listed before trial as a witness on the diminished value of his car.
There were no other witnesses for either side on the question of how much a salvage title would reduce the Corsica's value, the appeals court said, and such evidence is necessary for the jury to calculate the amount of damages and the nature of any false, misleading or deceptive conduct by Heart of Texas.
The dealership's lawyer, Donna Brooks of Austin, said, 'There was no dispute that the vehicle needed a salvage title, but the paperwork on the car was clean. This was a big mixup in our Department of Transportation.'
Brooks said her client had acquired the Corsica at an auction without knowing it had been wrecked and reconditioned. 'If we'd known that, we'd probably not have bought it,' she said
Even so, Brooks said, the dealership should not be held liable because 'we sold this car as is.'
Prince's lawyer, Michael Simpson of Austin, said that whether or not Heart of Texas knew the Corsica needed a salvage title, the dealership falsely told his client that the car 'never had been in a wreck.'
Simpson said he may ask the appeals panel to reconsider its ruling. If not, the case will go to trial again.