Americans are known for their love affair with automobiles. The wide fins associated with cars from the 1950s. The muscle cars of the 1970s. The introduction of minivans for soccer moms in the 1980s. Cars today have better braking systems, more safety measures, better fuel economy, and more bells and whistles than ever. Yet there are still lemons out there. Florida had an Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices law addressing vehicles on the books, but the most recent legislative session has updated that law.
Florida law works to protect consumers from unfair or deceptive acts or practices. The law has a specific section relating to vehicles. That section was recently updated during this past legislative session. If a person buys a defective car from a dealer, House Bill 55 requires that “a claimant provide a demand letter to the motor vehicle dealer as a condition precedent to initiating civil litigation, including arbitration, against such dealer under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.”
Before a person can sue a car dealer for a vehicle problem, that person must deliver a demand letter to the dealer. The demand must be delivered by the United States Postal Service or a nationally recognized carrier with return receipt requested at least 30 days before filing a lawsuit. Fla. Stat. s. 501.98(3). The demand letter must include:
- The name, address, and telephone number of the claimant.
- The name and address of the dealer.
- Describe the problems with the vehicle and each item the claimant is requesting money damages for.
- State the amount of money damages the claimant is seeking, or the claimant’s best estimate of money damages.
- Copies of any documents the claimant has related to the problems with the vehicle must be included with the demand letter.
Fla. Stat. s. 501.98(2).
“In any challenge to the claimant’s compliance with [Florida Statute section 501.98(2)], the demand letter shall be deemed satisfactory if it contains sufficient information to reasonably put the dealer on notice of the nature of the claim and the relief sought.” Fla. Stat. s. 501.98(2).
What happens next?
Once the dealer receives the demand letter, they have 30 days to respond. The dealer can pay the money amount stated in the demand letter, “plus a surcharge of the lesser of $500 or 10 percent of the damages claimed.” Fla. Stat. s. 501.98(4)(a). The dealer can also respond in writing that the money damages the claimant asked for are “not reasonable in light of the facts of the transaction or event described in the demand letter or if the demand letter includes items and amounts not properly recoverable under this chapter.” Fla. Stat. s. 501.98(4)(b)(1). If the dealer sends such a letter, then the dealer will not be required to pay the claimant’s attorneys fee if the case goes to trial.
If a claimant does go to trial or arbitration, the claimant is not limited to the damages claimed in the demand letter. But if the claimant files a lawsuit before following the requirements of the new law, then the judge or arbitrator is required by the law to pause the lawsuit until the claimant follows the law.
If you believe you have been a victim of unfair vehicle trade practices, contact our knowledgeable attorneys to help you navigate this new law. At Hoffman, Larin and Agnetti, PA we offer a free consultation so that you can learn your rights. We have offices throughout south Florida in Dade, Broward and Monroe Counties for your convenience. We can be reached at 305-653-5555 to answer your questions.