Illinois A.G. Notes Lawsuit Against Car Dealer

Using a provision of Illinois law normally used to protect consumers from fraudulent home repair and remodeling contractors, Attorney General Lisa Madigan has filed a lawsuit against Suburban Dodge of Berwyn for reportedly failing to notify a 78-year-old woman she had three days to cancel a car she was sold during an unusual house call by an aggressive dealership.

Madigan’s office responded quickly after receiving a consumer complaint. According to the complaint, the dealership called the woman – who has never had a driver’s license and is visually impaired – at home and asked if she would co-sign a loan for her granddaughter to purchase a car. She agreed, and a sales representative went to the woman’s home, presented various documents to her and asked for her signature on several of the documents. A review of the documents later revealed that the woman was not co-signing for a loan; she was actually the sole purchaser of the vehicle and also purchased thousands of dollars worth of unsolicited services.

Noting the unusually aggressive circumstances under which the car was sold to the elderly woman, Madigan’s office sued the dealership for violating Section 2B of the Consumer Fraud Act by failing to include in the contract a notice of the consumer’s legally-mandated, three-day right to cancel the sale and for failing to orally inform the consumer, when she signed the contract, of this right. This notice is required when a contract is signed in the consumer’s home and the consumer has not engaged in prior negotiations at the business’s retail establishment.

The three-day right of cancellation was originally enacted to protect consumers from fraudulent salespeople who might come door-to-door looking for customers. Car dealers generally do not include the three-day right of cancellation in their contracts because documents commonly are signed at the dealership. However, Madigan’s complaint states the right of cancellation must be used whenever the circumstances fit, as they do in this case.

The suit stems from a November 2003 incident when a salesperson from Suburban Dodge allegedly contacted the elderly victim by telephone to ask if she would be willing to co-sign a loan for a 2003 Dodge Neon that her 17-year-old granddaughter was seeking to purchase.

The same day, the salesperson visited the elderly woman’s Bridgeview home with prepared documents, including a Buyer’s Order, a Retail Installment Sales Contract and a credit application. The victim reportedly suffers from severe macular degeneration and can read only with the aid of a powerful magnifying glass.

According to the complaint, because the woman was solicited by the car salesman and the contract was brought to her home to be signed, these circumstances necessitate the inclusion of a three-day right of cancellation in the contract. However, no such notice was reportedly given to the elderly consumer.

The victim was not given the keys to the car and did not receive copies of any of the paperwork she signed. Only later, when the victim’s daughters received a bill from Bank One, did they realize their mother had been reportedly duped. According to the complaint, the Bank One bill showed the loan had been made solely in the name of the victim, not as a co-signer as she had allegedly been led to believe.

Additional charges stem from the salesperson allegedly listing the victim’s income as $3,100 per month on the credit application when, in fact, the victim stated her only income is the $513 per month she receives in Social Security benefits. Also, the contract allegedly had been “packed” with $2,000 worth of additional, unsolicited items such as “gap” insurance and a service contract.

The complaint charges Suburban Dodge of Berwyn Inc., also known as Suburban Dodge, Suburban Isuzu and Suburban Suzuki, with multiple violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act and the Motor Vehicle Retail Installment Sales Act. Suburban Dodge has been selling cars in Illinois since 1990.

Madigan’s suit seeks to permanently prohibit the defendant from engaging in the advertisement and sale of vehicles in Illinois.

The suit also seeks a court order declaring the victim’s contract null and void, as well as restitution to the victim, civil penalties of $50,000 for each violation of the Consumer Fraud Act, additional penalties of $50,000 for each violation committed with the intent to defraud and $10,000 for each violation committed against a person 65 years of age or older.