If you believe a car dealer tricked you into buying a vehicle that is mechanically unsound, you have the burden to prove it. In order to meet that burden, you will have to provide testimony on at least the following issues:
(1) the vehicle has problems, AND
(2a) the dealer knew or should have known of the problems, OR
(2b) the dealer represented the vehicle was in good condition without a reasonable basis for making that representation (ie: did not reasonably inspect the vehicle to ensure that this representation was accurate), AND
(3) the dealer misrepresented that there were no such problems.
Why you need a Mechanic
Generally speaking, the courts only let testimony be introduced if it is admissible. There are various rules that determine what evidence is admissible and what is not. In this case, the court will want to ensure that the testimony regarding the mechanical condition of the vehicle is credible. It is credible if it made by a person with knowledge, experience, or training on the issue, who has performed a reasonable examination of the issues, and has come to conclusions based on generally accepted methods and information. This person is referred to as an “expert witness.”
It is usually best to have such a person onboard with your case at the outset. In fact, I often require that you have an expert mechanic opinion before I am willing to take the case. Not only is it best to have the expert witness in place at the beginning of your case, but sending the written statement may help resolve your case.
Tips on Finding a Mechanic
Admittedly, it is sometimes difficult to find an expert who is willing to help you. I do not generally seek out or find these experts for my clients. This is for a few reasons. First, no one wants to pay me to find an expert for them. Second, I don’t want to charge someone to help them find an expert when I’m not even sure I will find one. Third, if I keep going to the same experts, its going to create an appearance of collusion or bias. I want to avoid that.
Even if they think you are right, a mechanic may not want to get involved in your legal battle. Generally speaking, a mechanic just wants to get in and fix a vehicle. They don’t want to spend their time writing up reports. Additionally, no one likes litigation so it is understandable that people won’t want to get involved. I’ve turned down cases where a mechanic wanted to help but was only willing to provide an anonymous statement. Additionally, the mechanic may not want to testify against the dealer or manufacturer.
While it may be difficult, it is not impossible. Here is how I recommend you get started:
- Ask your regular mechanic. You may have a good relationship with this person, so you may get some sympathy points.
- Offer to pay. The mechanic may be reluctant due to concerns that helping you will be too time consuming and result in lost revenue. You may be able to allay these concerns by offering to pay the regular mechanic rates for time spent helping you. This is called a “retained expert witness fee.” It may sound like a weird idea to pay someone for their testimony, but most cases involve retained experts.
- Stay local. It is my experience that most mechanics want to help people in their community. Just because one turns you down, it doesn’t mean they all will.
- Ask around. I’ve had mechanics send me to mechanics in out of state areas or otherwise get me connected with people who would certainly qualify as experts in what we were looking for.
Getting a mechanic to help you is one of the major hurdles in putting together a credible, meritorious case. Some communities have mechanics that specialize in providing diagnoses and statements for bad car sales. Unfortunately, Idaho communities don’t seem to have that type of service available.
There are “career experts” who make a living providing expert testimony in all types of cases, including vehicle cases. These experts may be available for your case but tend to come with a hefty price tag. The initial retainer deposit could be in the thousands of dollars. This is always an option for someone who is willing and able to put these types of funds into the case. There is certainly nothing wrong with going this route. If that’s a route you would like to take, you can let me know.
Getting a Written Statement
As mentioned, I want to have the written statement available at the beginning of the case. I may not disclose it right away, but I want to have it regardless. I have prepared a form that may help you get the information you need from a mechanic:
(Note: this form is for cases where people feel the dealer misrepresented the condition of a vehicle. It may not apply to every case.)
I can’t find a mechanic, do I still have a case?
Having an expert mechanic backing your case is a huge step in the right direction. Having an expert adds credibility to your case. Even with one, though, there is no such thing as a slam dunk case. Captain Picard once said, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose.” Having an expert is a definitely a benefit to your case.
BUT, if you do not have an expert, you are still allowed to attempt to prove your case with circumstantial evidence. In other words, you can say, “Look at how much of a disaster this vehicle is. Based on all of these problems, it is more probable than not that the vehicle was in bad shape when sold to me.” Idaho courts have specifically recognized that this is an available avenue of evidence:
In determining whether the product was unmerchantable at the time of delivery, the Court is permitted to infer the merchantability of a product from circumstantial evidence. Meldco, Inc. v. Hollytex Carpet Mills, Inc., 796 P.2d 142, 146 (Idaho Ct. App. 1990) (holding that a later manifestation of disproportionally excessive wear in a carpet was circumstantial evidence to prove the carpet was unmerchantable at the time of delivery); see also Verbillis v. Dependable Appliance Co., 689 P.2d 227, 229 (Idaho Ct. App. 1984) (“It may be inferred from circumstantial evidence showing a malfunction of the product, the reasonableness of its use after it was acquired, and the absence of other reasonable causes for the malfunction.”)Ada County Highway District v. Rhythm Engineering, LLC, 710 P.2d 621 (Idaho App. 1985)
In totality, I wouldn’t really recommend that someone rely on circumstantial evidence without having an expert to back the claims up. It’s just makes for a harder case to win. However, you can still put on a case based on circumstantial evidence.