Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Questions You Should Ask When Buying an Automobile (What the Seller Must Tell You)

When I turned 16 and went out to shop for my first car with my savings, all I could afford was used so I started perusing the classifieds in my local paper and found one worth looking into.  The friendly seller seemed sincere; the car was a few years old but looked practically new.  My mechanic, who I brought along with me, test drove the car with me and gave the engine a passing test.  I (naively) ended up purchasing it with cash, rather than check upon the seller’s insistence.

Shortly after owning the car, I got into a minor fender bender so I made a beeline to a body shop for a repair estimate.  To my surprise, I received a call from the repair guy who told me that the car had been in a fairly major accident prior to this.  The frame was bent and straightened.  What??!!  I quickly realized why the seller insisted on cash and why the car looked practically new.  He had a collision, fixed and painted the car and decided to sell it.  Being a rookie in the car shopping experience, I kicked myself in the you-know-what for not asking more questions: whether the car had been in an accident, what repairs had been done in the past, etc…

As it turns out, there are good, valid reasons to ask investigative questions to a dealer or private seller, and it’s imperative you get the answers in writing. As many Lemon Law lawyers would agree, there are several vital questions consumers should always ask a seller.  Some are solely for dealer transaction, but at any rate, they are prime examples of how thorough and vigilant buyers should be when purchasing a motor vehicle.


What is the repair history for this vehicle?

If the car is relatively new or Certified Pre-Owned, a dealer should be capable of looking up the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and giving you a record of the work that’s been performed on the car at various dealerships. While it won’t include repairs by shops that aren’t associated with the manufacturer, you could gather important information about problems encountered by the previous owner.  If you are purchasing a car from a private seller, there are many websites where you can look up the VIN yourself or run a CARFAX report before deciding to buy.  This information will uncover important info such as any prior flood damage, odometer rollback, prior repair information, and title information (junked or salvaged titles).

Can you verify the odometer reading?

Odometer fraud is unfortunately all too common. Many consumers are under the impression that electronic odometers make it more difficult to change the reading, but it is just the opposite. The dealer should be able to verify the odometer reading through the vehicle’s repair history, present mechanical condition and title history.”

Can I see the vehicle’s title?

Some deceitful used car dealers may attempt to misrepresent vehicles.  In many states, a vehicle’s title must indicate if the car was a lemon buyback, or a rebuilt or salvage vehicle. Check to see how titles are marked in your state through your state’s Attorney General.  Remember that seeing a vehicle’s title is not a substitute for researching the VIN or running a CARFAX report. Used car dealers sometimes commit title washing, where a lemon buyback or salvage vehicle from one state is transported to and sold in another state with less stringent titling requirements. Looking up the VIN is the only way you’ll know where the vehicle has been.  Note that relying on a CARFAX report is not sufficient, since many dealers have been known to alter them.

Is there still a manufacturer’s warranty on this vehicle?

If the car you are looking at is relatively new, it may still be covered under the original manufacturer’s warranty.  If that is the case, be sure to attain the warranty documents from the dealership or the seller.  To give yourself more reassurance, call the manufacturer before you buy and give them the VIN to verify that the original warranty is still valid.

What is your return policy?

In a previous blog post, we covered Lemon Law myths, in which one refers to the law mandating a cooling-off period, which covers the time you can return a vehicle if you change your mind. Generally, the 3-day right to cancel a contract doesn’t cover vehicle sales. However, some dealers do have a return policy. Ask what the return policy is and get it in writing.  There are a few states with a used car Lemon Law, but it’s an option of last resort.

Can I see the Buyers Guide?

There is a Federal law which states that every used vehicle must have a Buyers Guide conspicuously posted (which usually is posted on one of the rear windows). The Buyers Guide lets you know if the dealer is selling the car “as is” or if there is warranty coverage.  If so, the Buyers Guide indicates what’s covered and how much the dealer will contribute towards repair costs. If there is not a posted Buyer’s Guide, turn around run away fast.

Can I get that in writing?

Dealers eager to unload vehicles will often promise you the moon and stars when it comes to warranties, financing, extra bells and whistles or vehicle repairs. Whether it’s from a dealer or private seller, ask for the promise in writing as part of the contract. If you don’t, it will be an uphill battle proving the misrepresentation. In regards to financing, NEVER leave a dealership without the financing arranged, agreed to and signed for.  We’ve had past clients who did that and were victims of bait-and-switch scams.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

GM Compensation Fund Set Up for Accident Victims

In light of GMC’s ignition switch recall, General Motors have placed a compensation fund aside for those who can show they have suffered serious physical injuries or have lost loved ones from accidents involving the recalled GMC vehicles with faulty ignition switches.  Approximately 1.6 million 2003-2007 recalled vehicles which were manufactured with the ignition switch defect, along with about 1 million 2008-2011 vehicles which were possibly repaired with a recalled ignition switch.  Compensation checks will range anywhere from $20,000 to several million, with $1 million being automatically awarded for pain and suffering above other payments for accidents involving deaths.

Independently administered by Kenneth Feinberg, who also administered the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, this voluntary program compensates those individuals if they agree to give up the  right to sue General Motors.  Although there is no cap on this victim compensation fund, GM expects to pay out anywhere from $400-$600 million.  Careful decisioning of approved claim disbursement will be made by Feinberg, not General Motors, and can take 90-180 days, depending on the complexity of the case.  Prior to the August 1st program launch, Feinberg outlined a compensation structure that is based on three tiers: 1) for death; 2) for catastrophic injuries, such as permanent brain damage and paralysis; and 3) for less serious injuries.

Claim submissions can be completed online or by mail, and must be submitted by December 31, 2014. A toll-free number has been designated for the GM victim compensation program: 1-855-382-6463 (U.S. and Canada) and the claim forms and submission information can be found at www.gmignitioncompensation.com.

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If you have had any issue with your GM vehicle, contact Davis Consumer Law Firm at 855-432-8475 for free lemon law help.  You may be entitled to financial compensation or a free replacement vehicle.  Visit www.usalemonlawyer.com to request a free case evaluation.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hyundai Hit with a Class Action Lawsuit for Stalling Defect

Hyundai Motor Co. has recently been hit with a class action lawsuit in a federal court in California on behalf of owners of the 2010-2012 Hyundai Santa Fe.

Julia Reniger and Greg Battaglia, plaintiffs in this lawsuit, allege that their Hyundai vehicles had a stalling defect and that Hyundai was aware of the defect, but waited years to issue a recall.  They purchased a 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe and a 2011 Hyundai Santa Fe, respectively.  They claim their vehicles stalled randomly with total loss of power, including with the brakes and steering.  This defect increases the chances of a crash and poses a risk of injury or death to passengers.  Many owners have complained of similar experiences.

Although Hyundai did launch a Service Campaign to tackle the issue, the lawsuit alleges that the problem still was not resolved.  The manufacturer states that while the driver is braking at low speed, the vehicles can stall due to reduced engine RPM.  With an additional simultaneous load on the engine, the reduced RPM can also stall the engine.  Those involved in the class action disagree with Hyundai and point out that different driving conditions cause their vehicles to stall.  Some owners have reported their vehicles shutting off with no warnings while operating at low speeds, turning or coming to a stop.  Others have claimed this occurred while driving at full speed on highways, while accelerating or at a stop, with several complaints depicting close calls which could have potentially resulted in a fatal crash.  Those who have complained were informed the problems were unable to be replicated or were given failed repairs.  They believe that they were issued “false or misleading statements”, with Hyundai informing them that their vehicles were safe to drive.

Do you need a Hyundai Lemon Law Attorney?

If you are experiencing stalling issues with your Hyundai, contact Davis Consumer Law Firm for a free consultation or complete our form.  There is absolutely no cost to the consumer.

Fred Davis is a true consumer advocate who has represented consumers in a countless number of lemon law cases and ended up with favorable outcomes for the vehicle owners. (Recent cases).  His experience in and out of the courtroom has earned him peer recognition as one of Pennsylvania’s 2013 Rising Stars in the national Super Lawyers. We fight diligently for consumers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Maryland.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Lemon Law Myths: What You Should Know

If you find yourself with a motor vehicle with defects, whether major or minor, that are irreparable, you may have entitlements under the lemon law.  There exists many myths that surround the lemon law and many have a mistaken perception when it comes to their own state’s lemon law.

It is our duty as consumer advocates to dispel any myths that may hold buyers back from entering into a lemon law recourse.  A motor vehicle is a fairly major investment; you deserve the quality for what you paid the big manufacturer.

Here are some of the most common myths we have heard from consumers:

The car dealership can make the decision to replace my lemon with a new car.
The truth:
Manufacturers are held responsible for lemons, rather than dealerships. The dealership does not have the authority to take the car back and offer a replacement or refund.   I often hear alarming stories from frustrated consumers who have gone to the dealership and threatened to sue their reps for not giving them their money back.  The dealerships are there to make commission off the vehicle purchase and that is it. 

I cannot afford to hire a lemon law attorney.
The truth:
If free is not affordable, then I don’t know what is.  Under the lemon law statutes, there is a fee-shifting provision that states the manufacturer is required to pay your attorneys’ fees if you are able to prove your claim.  With the Davis Consumer Law Firm, we work under this contingency fee basis, and charge no upfront or retainer fees. [Read “Why is it free?”]

I have a used car and cannot sue for lemon law.
The truth:
Even if you purchased a used vehicle, you may still be able to file a lawsuit if the vehicle had a warranty attached to it or if there was a guarantee on some type of repair.  The lemon law is actually triggered by the warranty that came with the vehicle - if your car came with an extended warranty, certified pre-owned warranty or service contract, you may have rights under the lemon law.   Although some states’ lemon laws apply only to “new” vehicles, there are other state and federal statutes that exist that allow you to carry out a claim if the defective vehicle has a warranty on it.  If this is the case, an attorney can apply a breach of warranty if the dealership fails to make the repair after a reasonable number of attemptsComputer Technology Articles.

My car will need at least 4 repair attempts to be legally deemed as a “lemon.”
The truth:
The fundamental issue in a matter involving a lemon is the question of whether a reasonable amount of repairs were attempted. In general, by law, the manufacturer is entitled to an opportunity at reasonable number of attempts to repair a vehicle.  Several considerations besides the state’s lemon law requirements are taken into account when defining what number of repair attempts is “reasonable” such as the vehicle’s manufacturer, the warranty and other factors.  Furthermore, the severity of the defect can impact the argument of how many repair attempts are considered reasonable. We’ve had cases where serious, life-threatening defects came into play which endangered the drivers and passengers, calling for fewer repair attempts and in a few cases, immediate buybacks from the manufacturer.

I can return my car 3 days later after purchasing it.
The truth:
Unfortunately, the three-day right to cancel a contract does not apply to vehicle sales. Generally, this statute or “cooling-off period” pertains to cash or credit transactions of at least $25 initiated through face-to-face contact (think door-to-door salesmen) at a location other than its regular place of business.  Once you sign the sales contract, the vehicle is yours.  If you end up with a lemon after leaving a dealership, it is best to speak with an attorney to discuss your options.

Only cars and trucks are covered under the lemon law.
The truth:
It is a popular myth of consumer’s that their state lemon law only applies to automobiles.  While state lemon laws vary, lemon law can also apply to motor vehicles with warranties such as motorcycles, trucks, SUVs, ATVs, RV’s and mopeds.  Basically, consumer goods with attached warranties costing over $10.00 such as computers, home appliances, cameras are also covered under the lemon law.  There is even a puppy lemon law.

My car is fixed now.  My lemon law rights no longer apply.
The truth:
If your vehicle is now fixed, it does not mean you do not have a valid lemon law claim. While your vehicle may not qualify for a repurchase under your state’s lemon law, there may be cash value to your case.  You still may be able to file a lemon law claim depending on the circumstances.  The problems you have experienced in the past may recur later down the road, especially if your vehicle has been subject to multiple repair attempts.  If this should happen, having your repairs on record will make your case stronger. Your interests would still be protected under the lemon law.   If a new set of defects should arise, you are probably still covered under your state’s lemon law.

Lemon Law states that the manufacturer must fix the defect within a reasonable number of attempts; in Pennsylvania it is three. If the manufacturer or dealer cannot repair the defect after three tries, then you have a lemon law claim, regardless. If the dealer fixes the defect on the fourth or later attempt, you still have the ability to proceed with your lemon law claim.

I do not have any of the repair orders or invoices. There goes my chances of winning lemon law.
The truth:
If the manufacturer had multiple repair attempts, you may be entitled to relief even without having any supporting paperwork. Although repair invoices can strengthen a lemon law claim, if you are able to provide a detailed list of all complaints made and a log of written/spoken correspondence with the dealer and manufacturer, this may be sufficient to commence the lemon law process.

Since my car is over a year old and has more than 10,000 miles on it, I have no lemon law rights.
The truth:
Lemon law mostly pertains to the manufacturer’s warranty rather than the amount of time you own the car. The first year or 10,000 miles, or in the case of Pennsylvania’s lemon law, the first year or 12,000 miles, creates a “presumption” that your car is a lemon if it was subjected to multiple repairs during this period. If this occurs, the burden then shifts to the manufacturer to prove that your car is not a lemon.  It should be noted that many cars qualify under the lemon law due to repairs made AFTER the first year and after the first 12,000 miles.

I cannot bring a lemon law claim if my warranty is expired.
The truth:
Though the warranty is expired, you may still be able to sue for lemon law against the manufacturer if the defects were discovered while the warranty was still active.
I think my car is a lemon. I can stop making payments.
The truth:
Even though it sounds fair to stop making payments on a purchased vehicle that is not working properly, refusing to make to payments is a default under most financing contracts which in many cases, can result in a repossession by the creditor.  If you find yourself paying for rental cars, taxi services or other expenses, try to negotiate with your loan company.  Some understanding lenders are willing to put your loan on hold or allow you to pay only the interest while your lemon issues get resolved.  Be sure to save your receipts in case the lender asks for copies.  If the lender is not accommodating, contact an experienced lemon law attorney.

The dealer cannot find a problem with my vehicle, so there is no case.
The truth:
False. A majority of the lemon law cases we take on involve problems that are intermittent, or occur randomly. To strengthen your lemon law claim, take your car in to the dealership or notify the manufacturer as soon as the problem occurs and give them an opportunity to repair the vehicle. If they are unsuccessful at making the repair or are unable to diagnose the problem, you may have a lemon on your hands. Keep all paperwork and keep taking your car to the dealership until the problem gets resolved.

Friday, May 9, 2014

"Will My Wages Be Garnished?"

At Davis Consumer Law Firm, that is the one of the top concerns coming from clients who are being harassed by debt collectors. If a debt collector threatens to garnish your wages in order to collect a debt, this could be serious business. What does that mean for you? You may now have a claim against that debt collector - they may have just violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which could entitle you up to $1,000 in statutory damages.

In most states like New Jersey, UNLESS the creditor obtained a court judgment stating that you owe them money, creditors and debt collectors cannot threaten to garnish your wages. For instance, if you are behind on credit card payments or owe a doctor’s bill, those creditors cannot garnish your wages UNTIL they sue you and get a judgment. There are a few exceptions each state; defaulted student loans, child support orders and unpaid income taxes are some of the few types of debts where your wages are able to be garnished without a court judgment.  For residents and workers in Pennsylvania, a credit card company cannot garnish wages from their paycheck, regardless if there is court judgment or not. However, a credit card company can garnish their bank account, including deposited wages, only if the creditor has obtained a court judgment.

When we get calls to our firm, we frequently receive several questions regarding wage garnishment. To reassure many consumers out there, we have compiled a Q&A on this post to address some of the inquiries we receive:

What is wage garnishment?
A wage garnishment or wage attachment is an order from a court or a government agency that is sent to your employer. It requires your employer to withhold a certain amount of money from your paycheck for the payment of a debt.

Can I get fired by my employer if my wages are garnished?
Although debtors are often embarrassed because now their paycheck and employer are now involved, they cannot be terminated from their job due to wage garnishment. Title III of the federal Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA) protects employees from being discharged by their employers because their wages have been garnished for any one debt and limits the amount of employees' earnings that may be garnished in any one week. It should be noted that it does not protect an employee from discharge if the employee's earnings have been subject to garnishment for a second or subsequent debts.

Can my bank account or checking account be garnished?
In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, if the creditor has a court judgment against you, they can garnish your bank account for a consumer debt. If you are in Pennsylvania and your bank account is owned jointly by your spouse, they cannot garnish that bank account unless the judgment is against both spouses. In New Jersey, with prior notice to the consumer, creditors who have a judgment against you can seize joint accounts in their entirety or try what’s called a “bank freeze” or “bank levy”. This is where the creditor has the sheriff freeze your bank account. The non-debtor whose money is in the account will need to file a petition in the court for return of his/her funds.

Can they garnish my Social Security benefits?
A federal law (applying in all states) disallows creditors from garnishing your Social Security benefits.

What should I do if a debt collector threatens to garnish my wages?
Be sure to jot down the date and time they contacted you and the debt collector’s information (the individual’s name, phone number and the debt collection company). Give our firm a call (855) 432-8475 for a free case evaluation. If this is an FDCPA violation, you would be entitled to free legal representation and up to $1,000 in statutory damages. Even if it turns out not to be, this service is still 100% free. Regardless, we will fight diligently on your behalf to make the debt collector pays for harassment and breaking the consumer protection law.  Visit www.usacreditlawyer.com for more information on debt collection and consumer protection laws
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Friday, January 24, 2014

Protecting Your Older Loved Ones From Fraud

Scammers are unscrupulous fraudsters that never quit at targeting innocent victims, with the latest being Target’s notorious credit card security breach. Regardless of age or what income bracket you are in, no one is immune to scammers or hackers. Staying informed and being educated is the best way to protect yourself and loved ones from being the next target.

Many of us take extra steps of precaution to ensure our older loved ones (older parents or grandparents) are protected from these ruthless individuals. Advise them to use direct deposits for their funds as opposed to having checks mailed to them, which decreases the likelihood that their checks will be stolen from the mail or lost. Educate them to never give their social security number to anyone on the telephone or to scammers knocking on their front door, even if they have personal information on them. They should take down the person’s name and phone number and give that information to a responsible, trusting relative to take care of that matter for them. Senior citizens tend to be extra compassionate and are more willing to help financially to those unfortunate, being raised in the 1930’s-1950’s when they were taught to me more gracious and trusting. Some receive letters or emails of requests for money to help a distant relative or “friend of a friend” involved in a tragic incident. There are far too many non-profit and religious scams that do not represent what they claim. Have an elderly loved one add a responsible close relative to their bank account so they can access their account online to keep a close eye on the checks they write. To keep them from being able to write large checks to a potential scammer, keep a low balance in their checking account.

A more prevalent scam that government organizations are warning older citizens about are reverse mortgage scams. Although legitimate reverse mortgages exist, some of the ones that are not involve advertising luring senior citizens who’ve built a lot of equity into their homes with “attractive offers of free money” but not disclosing the high fees, conditions, or risks associated with loan.

Unfortunately, the ability to recognize fraud can diminish with aging, especially among those with dementia or other cognitive impairments. According to the FTC, in 2013, 36 percent of all fraud cases were reported from Americans 50 years or older. The scary fact of that figure is that only represents a lesser portion, as only a small percentage of frauds are even reported. Many older individuals are unaware of the first step in reporting fraud or a scam. Helping to make it easier for seniors and their loved ones to report suspected fraud, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging released a toll-free hotline (855-303-9430) staffed with investigators with experience in investment scams, identity theft, bogus sweepstakes, lottery schemes, Medicare and Social Security fraud.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Target’s Offer to Consumers Post Security Breach: A Hoax or Legit?

I received an email recently in light of this past holiday season’s whole Target snafu. In so many words, the email reassures shoppers that the cause of the issue has been addressed, they are taking full responsibility for any fraudulent charges that were incurred and that it’s safe to shop there. A short time later, another “apologetic” email from Target headquarters arrived in my inbox offering a free year of credit monitoring service, with identity theft insurance through Experian with access to an activation code. What’s more inexplicable is that the email came from a targetNews@target.bfi0.com address. Very sketchy. Are they trying to regain my trust as a shopper with this offer?  Many consumers are wondering, is that email a hoax?

After doing some extensive research, I found the email to be actually legitimate. Target has confirmed the validity of this email on its corporate website:
https://corporate.target.com/about/payment-card-issue.aspx

I know every time I open those red doors, it’s like a retail booby-trap for me. I go in there with full intentions to purchase a just couple of necessary household staples and end up leaving with a cartload full of items I don’t really need, usually paid for with plastic. I happened to skip over that store in my recent holiday shopping excursions. But, why did I and many other consumers who haven’t recently shopped there receive  that email? In my research, I found that the hackers may have stolen personal information that the retailer had on file, including names, mailing addresses, phone numbers and email addresses. Not a comforting feeling, needless to say. Thankfully, after checking my financial statements and credit reports a short time ago, I have not noticed any suspicious activity. Whether the consumer decides to take Target up on that offer is up to them. Personally, in this day and age, I am steering clear from giving out more personal information if I don’t have to.