Photo: Pasco County Sheriff’s Department
A Florida man was arrested in December for allegedly defrauding car owners by promising to do body work on their cars but then merely patching them up with Play-Doh.Nicholas Johnson, 33, of Port Richey, Fla., was charged with retail theft and scheming to defraud, according to a local news report. He reportedly roamed around his neighbourhood, scouting out cars that needed body work, then offering to fix them.
Johnson then allegedly used Play-Doh to make it look like preliminary body work, promising to return the next day, which he never did.
Possible Civil Remedies
The good news is that defrauded consumers do have civil remedies, says consumer lawyer Robert Murphy, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Under state law, Johnson would have had to register as a repair shop, provide an estimate and disclosure statements. By violating those requirements, he is open to civil liability.
He also likely misrepresented repairs, made false promises, and wilfully departed from accepted practices and professional standards, says Murphy. A consumer who sues under these laws can get damages, court costs and attorney fees.
“The unhappy consumer may also have a claim under the Florida Deceptive Trade Practices Act,” adds Murphy. That law covers a broad range unfair methods of competition, unconscionable and unlawful acts. A repair facility (or person) who violates any state law, as discussed above, would have a case under the DTPA.
“And if the consumer lives in a county that’s adopted the typical consumer protection ordinance, there is usually a specific section dedicated to auto repair shops,” Murphy says.
“Lastly, there are possible claims for fraud, misrepresentation, negligence misrepresentation, and fraud and inducement,” he says. Similar laws exist in all states.
Settle for Restitution
But the bad news? “It’s unlikely that an attorney would take a case against a guy using Play-Doh to fix cars who’s in the hoosegow,” Murphy says. Johnson won’t have any money, and there’s no bond or insurance, as there would be if the “repairs” had been done by a real body shop.
However, consumers can and should contact the local state attorney who is prosecuting Johnson criminally. “The state attorney is required to consider the interests of the victims,” Murphy says.
When Johnson is sentenced, a victim impact statement can provide for restitution for the victims. “So consumers should contact the local state attorney handling the matter, and forward evidence of their damages,” recommends Murphy.
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