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Florida Appeals Court Rules in Favor of Consumer in Motor Vehicle Fraud Case

ConsProt

On September 6th, 2017, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal issued a ruling in the case of  Landry v. Charlotte Motor Cars, LLC. This case centered around a dispute involving alleged fraud by a car dealership. Originally, a lower court had dismissed the fraud claim on the grounds that consumer had “spoiled” the evidence. However, the appeals court overturned the decision. Here, our West Palm Beach consumer fraud lawyers analyze this decision and explain why it is so important to preserve evidence.

Case Analysis: Landry v. Charlotte Motor Cars, LLC

The Background 

In the fall of 2013, Jamie Landry purchased a 2004 Dodge from Charlotte Motor Cars, LLC, an auto dealership located in Port Charlotte, Florida. Approximately six months later, Ms. Landry took the vehicle to another dealership, with the intention of trading it in. At this second dealership, she learned that the 2004 Dodge’s odometer had been “rolled back”, making it appear as though the vehicle has fewer total miles on it than it actually did. This substantially decreased the Dodge’s value. As a result, Ms. Landry took legal action against Charlotte Motor Cars.

The Car Was Repossessed, Leading to Accusations of Spoliation of Evidence

Soon after Ms. Landry learned that the car’s odometer had been “rolled back”, the vehicle was repossessed by the lender. Charlotte Motor Cars argued that this meant that evidence was “spoiled”. As the car was no longer in the possession of the owner, they had no chance to inspect the vehicle to build a defense. The lower court agreed with this argument, and dismissed the fraud claim on the grounds of evidence spoliation.

The Second District Court of Appeals Reverses

Under Florida law, a consumer fraud claim can be dismissed as a sanction if the plaintiff:

  • Loses material evidence; or
  • Destroys material evidence.

Indeed, that is exactly what happened in this case at the trial level. However, the Appeals Court did not agree that the facts of this case merited a dismissal. In the view of the appeals court, the consumer did not “lose” or “destroy” evidence; instead, it was legally repossessed. Further, the 2004 Dodge in question still exists. The plaintiff was able to track it down and find that it was for sale in a lot in Sanford, Florida. On these grounds, the Appeals Court ruled in favor of the consumer, remanding the fraud case for reconsideration.

The Lesson: Preserve Relevant Evidence

The most important thing that you need to take away from this case is that preserving evidence is critically important. If you have been the victim of consumer fraud, you need to be proactive and work to preserve all of the evidence that is related to the case. If evidence is deemed lost or misplaced, an otherwise valid fraud claim could potentially be thrown out of court.

Contact Our Florida Fraud Lawyers Today

At Pike & Lustig, LLP, our business and consumer fraud attorneys have helped many victims recover full and fair compensation for their losses. If you were a victim of consumer fraud in South Florida, please contact our team today to request a free review of your case. We have offices in West Palm Beach and Miami, and serve communities throughout the region.

Resource:

2dca.org/opinions/Opinion_Pages/Opinion_Pages_2017/September/September%2006,%202017/2D16-4430.pdf

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