When you file a lawsuit, you are basically making a high-stakes bet that a jury or judge is going to agree with your interpretation of the law and facts. If you lose on either the law or the facts, you lose your case. Unfortunately, there is never any guarantee that a judge or jury will agree with you. In order to give yourself the best chance of success, you will want at least a few pieces on your side.
1. Good Documentation
A firm where I worked had a saying, “If it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen.” Ideally, everything you want to prove will be in a writing from the other party. For example, suppose you want to show that a dealer lied to you about the condition of a vehicle. You ideally want a written advertisement stating that the vehicle is in “excellent condition with no problems.” This is better evidence than just saying what the dealer told you at the time of sale. It may be true in either case, but the ideal case does not rely on he-said-she-said arguments.
You also need copies of all contracts, service records, emails, texts, advertisements, etc. These documents may tell the story in a more convincing way than just relying on your testimony.
2. A Mechanic to Testify on Your Behalf
Any time a case relates to the mechanical condition of the vehicle, it is best to have an independent mechanic available to assist you from the outset. When you get to trial, you may have to show the jury that there was a mechanical nonconformity or defect, or that the vehicle was not safe to be on the road. In order to make these mechanical assessments, the Rules of Evidence require the person providing the testimony have the training, education, or experience necessary to make such an assessment. Even if you have such experience, it may be more convincing to have that assessment be made by an independent expert witnesses. You need a mechanic who is willing to provide you with a written statement and who is willing to take the stand to testify for you.
Based on the above, I would generally only consider bringing a case related to the mechanic condition of a vehicle if you have a mechanic who is willing and able to testify about the problem. These are the most common types of case inquiries I get. Unfortunately, I frequently reject cases that otherwise sound very legitimate because there is no mechanic to assist. In fact, I tell people that a mechanic is in some ways more important than the attorney you hire. This is because the attorney can only work with the evidence available. If there is no mechanical expert available, it is extremely difficult to put the evidence you need in order to succeed. There are people who make a living as expert witnesses, but these types of witness come at a substantial price. For this reason, it is often more practical to have a local mechanic diagnose your vehicle. For a variety of reasons, this is not something I arrange for people. If you cannot find a mechanic to give you the help you need, I’m not likely to be able to do so either.
Related article: How to Find a Mechanic for your Used Car Case
3. A Good Strategy
Bringing vehicle cases is not something most attorneys handle. It involves state and federal statutes that can be complex and intertwining. On a more practical level, many attorneys who practice in this area have their income tied to the success of these cases and rely on fee-shifting statutes to be fairly compensated. Many attorneys are not comfortable taking these types of cases on contingency or, even more-so, relying on the courts to recognize the value of their services in fee-shifting awards. As a result, this is not an area of law that attorneys deal with on a regular basis. It is also not an area of law that is generally taught in law schools.
It is therefore important that you work with an attorney who is familiar with the ins and outs of consumer claims related to vehicle sales. They are not easy cases and should never be taken lightly. It is usually an uphill battle. Opposing attorneys and courts are not sympathetic to consumers (Idaho is a very red state and consumer rights issues are generally left-leaning on the political spectrum). For context, most judges have to make decisions about splitting up families or taking away people’s freedom. They are not to be phased by your car case. I good strategy is critical to your success.
4. A Solvent Defendant
You have to feel confident that there is a pot of gold at the end of the litigation rainbow. If you can’t collect on a settlement or judgment, all of the work in the case will be for nothing. Dealers may carry a consumer protection bond. This is a bond required by Idaho statute to compensate individuals who are victims of unlawful acts by the dealer. Idaho also has a consumer asset recovery fund for victims of unlawful acts by dealerships. There also may be other defendants who may be liable for damages or remedies.
There are No Guarantees
Even if you have all of these ingredients, there is no guarantee that you will win. You could be technically correct on a point of law but a judge may disagree with you or even misconstrue the law. You could be telling the honest truth but a jury just doesn’t believe you. Because there are so many ways a case can go wrong, it is really a good idea to make sure you at least have the basic ingredients when you are going into it.
That being said, I have taken cases where we didn’t start with an expert mechanic (where the case involves objective defects that are either readily apparent of verified in dealer’s service records) or which relied in part on he-said-she-said types arguments. Each case must be evaluated on its own merits and in light of the circumstances. But I would definitely say exceptions to the above ingredients are rare.
Your Homework and Duty
As a person with a claim, your homework in preparing to have a successful case is getting all of your documents together. You should also write down a chronology of events or a narrative of what happened while it is fresh in your mind. If you need a mechanic for your case, you will need to find one who is willing to support your claim in court. If you are not able or prepared to do these things, you may be missing essential ingredients you need to give yourself the best chance of having a successful case.