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 is 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 without prolonged litigation.
Tips on Finding a Mechanic
Admittedly, it can be 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 try and 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 (or that the mechanic will find anything wrong with the vehicle). Third, if I keep going to the same experts, its going to create an appearance of collusion or bias, which I want to avoid. Fourth, I want you to find and use a mechanic that you are comfortable with. Under this context, I view finding an expert mechanic’s assistance to be homework for the client. You need to do the legwork to get the proof you need of the defects.
Again, I recognize that this can be a difficult assignment. Even if a mechanic thinks you are right, the mechanic may not want to get involved in your legal battle. In my experience, most mechanics just wants to fix vehicles. They don’t want write up reports or testify in court. No one really 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 because they have an established relationship.
While it may be difficult, it is not impossible. Here is how I recommend you get started:
- Ask a mechanic you know. This is where most people successfully find an expert. If you have a good rapport with a mechanic and they believe you have been wronged, they may be willing to testify for you.
- 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 an “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 refer me to other 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 also “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 very hefty price tag. These experts will generally try to determine how much work might be involved in the entire case and then request a retainer deposit to cover all of that anticipated work. As such, the retainer deposit for an expert could be in the thousands of dollars. This is an option for someone who is willing and able to put these types of funds into the case. (At the time of drafting this post, I have not used a career expert in any vehicle related case and I do not even know one personally–I’ve only used local mechanics found by my clients).
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.