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Florida Politicians Favor Car Dealers Over Consumers

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The Florida legislature is poised to enact legislation (SB 292) that would make it significantly harder for consumers to enforce their rights if they’ve been victimized by fraudulent car dealers.  As a Florida consumer protection lawyer, I frequently see how car dealers rip off consumers: rolling back odometers, selling rebuilt wrecks without disclosure, selling defective vehicles, lemon law violations, financing frauds, sale price mark-ups, selling unnecessary products in a practice known as payment packing, increasing interest rates, etc.

Despite the almost boundless creativity of some car dealers in victimizing Florida consumers, they have convinced their loyal politicians that consumers have too many rights.  Their proposed solution is to force consumers to deal with a convoluted procedure requiring detailed specifications and accounting before they can sue a dealer who has engaged in illegal and deceptive practices.  That’s right – they believe the victimized consumer needs more red tape.  And, even if the car dealer knows they cheated the consumer, they can simply wait 30 days before doing anything about it.  Imagine how your family or your boss would feel if you told them you have no transportation for 30 days.

Under the proposed legislation, not only would a consumer have to itemize every single problem with the car or its financing, but they would also have to specify exactly how much “damages” they have suffered as a result of the dealer’s violation of the law.  If the consumer gets this wrong, they risk not being able to recover their attorney fees even if they prove that the dealer broke the law – or even if the dealer later admits to having engaged in fraud!  If a cheated consumer cannot recover their attorney fees – which a court has to conclude are reasonable – many consumers will be unable to find attorneys willing to represent them; this is exactly what the dishonest car dealers are trying to accomplish.  Essentially, this gives shady car dealers a “get out of jail, free” card – courtesy of the Tallahassee politicians.

These are only some of the reasons that consumer advocates, including me, have roundly criticized this bill and travelled to Tallahassee to express our concerns.  Click here to read a news story about those concerns.  I am also including below the text from my submission to the local newspaper about this bill. 

Bills Hurt Consumers Ripped Off by Car Dealers

The Florida Legislature is considering bills that would sacrifice important consumer rights for those ripped off by dishonest car dealers.  As an attorney, I have witnessed first-hand how deceptive practices by some car dealers can ruin a family financially and emotionally.  Senate Bill 292 and House Bill 55 essentially give those dealers a “get out of jail free” card!  They allow the dealer to wait 30 days before making things right; during that time, consumers left without a car can lose their job.  The bills do this by adding confusing layers of red tape before a consumer can sue for deceptive and unfair practices, far beyond what is now required under the Lemon Law.  The current law already allows severe penalties for frivolous lawsuits.  Under the new proposals, if the consumer doesn’t document everything just right, they can still lose.  For example, even if a court agrees that a dealer engaged in illegal conduct, the consumer may not be able to recover their attorney fees.  This is despite the fact that the intent of the current law is for the wrongdoer to pay the consumers they have victimized.  The present Florida law is already one of the worst in the nation from a consumer standpoint: we should be fixing it to better protect Florida consumers, not making it worse!