Cooper & Elliott Blog

An Uninsured Auto Dealer Is Held Accountable for Personal Injury

Posted on Thu, Mar 15, 2018 @ 3:37 PM

The purpose of test driving a car is to discover the truth about it before you make a purchase. In the case of this fateful test drive, multiple truths were revealed about the unscrupulous business practices of one Columbus auto dealer.

One day, a small, independent auto dealer sent a prospective buyer on a test drive. While out on that test drive, the driver T-boned another car, seriously injuring a young woman named Crysta*, a backseat passenger. Crysta sustained multiple injuries that required an extended hospital stay, months of physical rehabilitation, and resulted in significant medical bills. Her plans of soon starting school were dashed—as were any expectations for enjoying her early adult years in a normal fashion. Crysta came to us for help.

Because the driver was on a test drive, the liability issues became more complicated.  Normally, this kind of crash would involve negotiating with the driver and auto dealer’s insurance company. As the victim’s personal injury attorneys, we would soon learn that this case wouldn’t be that simple to resolve.

The dealer had been quietly operating without insurance.

Unethical practices lead to personal injury

There were many obstacles to getting just compensation for Crysta, who was dealing with a wave of medical bills she shouldn’t have to pay.

Not only was the dealership operating without insurance, but it had loaned out the automobile for the test drive without verifying if the prospective customer had a valid driver’s license (he didn’t). The immoral behavior didn’t stop there. After the accident, an employee of the dealership suspiciously whisked the driver away from the scene. Later, the dealership produced papers falsely documenting that the car had been sold prior to the accident, in an attempt to avoid liability.

After hearing testimony in a damages hearing, the Court entered a significant judgment against the dealer and the driver. However, the dealership was operating out of a trailer along with several other small auto dealerships. There were no real assets to pursue.

While we were able to reach a settlement with the driver, which was a start, it didn’t begin to cover the medical costs and economic losses Crysta had suffered.

A rare legal remedy for a personal injury victim

It felt wrong to end things there, with our client having suffered so much and the dealership having paid nothing for its actions. So we worked harder.

We dug further into Ohio law to find a meaningful path to justice for our client. Ultimately, we uncovered a possible remedy: an existing statute that was rarely invoked (and, to our knowledge, had never been applied successfully in court). The statute requires used motor vehicle dealers in Ohio operating in the same location to agree to be jointly and severally liable for any damages arising from the actions of any one of the dealerships.

The various dealerships in this case were legally bound to file certificates of compliance with the state, acknowledging and accepting their intertwined legal relationship. On behalf of our client, we sued all the dealerships operating at that location, as well as the individual members of the LLCs who owned them.

It turned out that none of the other dealerships had insurance either. The individual owners, however, had assets and businesses they wanted to protect. We therefore were able to negotiate a settlement (in lieu of going to trial) from multiple individual contributors.

Personal injury attorneys know where there’s a law, there’s a way

There are two points to this story.

Point #1: The law is full of remedies. Sometimes they are obvious. Other times, hard work and perseverance are required to discover an acceptable solution.

Point #2: Creativity should be part of a civil litigation attorney’s arsenal, both in the courtroom and outside of it. Sometimes that means finding a statute, however obscure, that provides the best possible remedy for a case.

The settlement has helped Crysta get out from under the mountain of debt and move on with her life. She has been able to resume her education and is on her way to recovering the quality of life that had been taken away from her.

If you or someone you know requires the legal assistance of a creative and determined team of personal injury attorneys, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re here to help.

 *Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy.

 The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

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