From time to time I get calls from people who think they are about to get sued. It’s usually because they sold someone a used car and something went wrong. Here’s why they have little to worry about.
Suppose you decide it’s time to sell your older, well-loved car. You opt to go the Craigslist route and run the gauntlet of scammers who will call and try to rip you off.
Following my sage advice, you are truthful in your ad. Let’s say this: “2000 Kia Sportage. Needs work. Runs rough, engine leaks various fluids. 200,000 miles. Might make good project car. $500.”
I know that no Kia Sportage in the history of the 3rd dimension has ever gotten over 100,000 miles under its own power, but oddball fact-patterns are common in the legal world. Humor me for a second.
Judging from the huge volume of emails I get on this topic, I’d say that if you ran this ad and sold the car to the first person who showed up with cash, there is a good chance that person will call you later complaining, “The car died!”
When you respond, “Did you get the engine fixed?” They will tell you they did not, and they would kindly like a refund.
After you say no thanks, there is a good chance they will threaten to sue you.
Here is what I tell the people who call or email me at this point: 1.) You sold the car as-is and you do not owe the buyer anything. 2.) Anyone can threaten to sue anyone. But most threats are NOT followed through on. 3.) If you are sued, you will likely win. But I’ll add some clarity here.
The reason you do not owe the buyer anything is that they bought the car with all faults (assuming you are not a car dealer) and you were truthful in the ad. If their expectations exceeded your ad, that’s their problem. (HINT: Print out and save a copy of your ad for a while, just in case you need it later.)
The threat of a lawsuit is harmless. Since most of these threats are empty, ignore them. I have heard from people who panicked when they were threatened with a lawsuit. If you panic that easily, you should not be buying or selling cars. Hey, you probably don’t even deserve to own a car until you get a little more backbone.
Finally, if they do sue you it would probably be heard in small claims court. Go, answer and defend the action. Show the judge the ad and chalk the afternoon up as a learning experience. But let me tell you that in 24 years of practicing law I have never heard of anyone who was sued for selling a used car (on facts like those above) who lost. Most of the “lawsuits” I have heard about were threatened, but never filed.
Have I heard of successful suits against individual sellers? Sure, when they spun odometers, forged titles, or did things that went so far beyond simply “selling a bad car” that it was obviously fraud. Go ahead, sell your car on Craigslist. If your ad is truthful, disregard threats of litigation. And if, on the off chance you do get sued, defend it vigorously. You are in the right.
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Steve Lehto has been practicing law for 23 years, almost exclusively in consumer protection and Michigan lemon law. He wrote The Lemon Law Bible and Chrysler’s Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit’s Coolest Creation.
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