A customer who was allowed to drive a car home before final sale must ante up more than $1 million in damages caused by an accident, the Florida Court of Appeal has ruled.
The March decision reverses the court's decision last year that the buck stopped with the dealership.
The court now says customer Susan McDowell must reimburse Boniface Hiers Buick Inc. of Merritt Beach, Fla., and its insurer, Universal Underwriters Insurance Co., for the nearly $1.3 million settlement fee it paid to victims of an accident.
The case began in 1993 when Boniface let McDowell drive home a 1993 Buick while it tried to find financing for her purchase. McDowell lent the car to her son's girlfriend, who got into a wreck.
The accident victims sued Boniface, which agreed to an $838,000 settlement and then sued McDowell to recover the money. A Brevard County Circuit judge ordered McDowell to pay $1,279,480, representing the settlement plus interest.
The Court of Appeal, meeting as a three-member panel, initially sided with McDowell, but Boniface asked the full 10-member court to reconsider the case. The full court favored the dealership, calling McDowell's arguments "a specious mixture of apples and oranges."
Matt Miles, the dealership's Daytona Beach attorney, said the decision makes sense. "If I loan you my car and you get in a wreck, why should I have to pay?" he asked.
McDowell's attorney, David Knapp of Orlando, has asked the appellate court to reconsider the case. If the court of appeal refuses to hear the case again, Knapp said he will petition the Florida Supreme Court to review it.