Articles Posted in Consumer Law

A jury ordered Wells Fargo Bank to pay $1.25 million in damages for allegedly targeting low-income minority customers for loans they could not afford. One million dollars of the award was punitive damages.

I hate when people comment on verdicts when they really don’t know the evidence. Well, unless those “people” are me. I cannot imagine facts that would lead me to award punitive damages in a case like this. I’m not a huge fan of punitive damages anyway but, in this case, regardless of the facts, this woman took out a loan that she could not pay back. Maybe the facts are such that she deserves something. But not $1.25 million.

In a Howard County case against local car giant Antwerpen (“Jack says yes!”), the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled that a purchaser of a used car must offer expert testimony as to causation where she claimed that the repairs to her car were needed based on defects in the car at the time of sale in violation of the Magnuson-Moss Act.

Plaintiff advanced two arguments on why an expert was unnecessary. First, she argues that, under the Magnuson-Moss Act, a consumer need not prove a specific defect. Second, she argues that Maryland law does not require expert testimony where, as here, the particular product requires so many repairs. Interestingly, the Plaintiff’s lawyer had named an expert but then withdrew the expert in response to a motion in limine to exclude the expert.

Writing for the majority, Judge Harrell rejects both arguments. In perhaps a sign that Judge Murphy will be a voice for the rights of consumers (and presumably injury victims), he wrote a concurring opinion agreeing that although an expert was needed in this case because there was evidence that work was done on the car outside the defendant’s control; he wanted to clarify that an expert is not needed in every breach of warranty claim involving a product defect. Specifically, Judge Murphy wrote that if a plaintiff testifies that, “I bought the car new, it’s still under warranty, it hasn’t been stolen or broken into, I have complied with all of the manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations, I have made no modifications to the car but it won’t go more than 15 miles per hour,” then a jury question is generated even in the absence of expert testimony.

The Maryland Daily Record published a story today about a St. Mary’s County, Maryland man who is suing and three anonymous users of the site for defamation and false light invasion of privacy over the posting of sexually explicit pictures of his wife.

I hope more information comes out about this story because I have a lot of questions. First, the man claims that his reputation as a monogamous spouse has been smeared because of the inference that he is a swinger. This is nonsense on several levels. As a service to you, the loyal Maryland Lawyer Blog reader, I went to this website. There is no presumption that everyone on the site is part of a swinging couple. In fact, I think the major purpose of the site is to give couples a chance to pick up a third if you will. This might cast some unfavorable impressions of his wife, who is notably not a plaintiff, but it says very little about him and whether he has been faithful to his wife.

I would also be curious to know exactly where sexually explicit pictures of his wife of 22 years came from in the first place. Three different users apparently have these pictures. There does not appear to be any suggestion that the pictures were stolen or unlawfully obtained.

The Baltimore Sun reports that the Maryland Court of Appeals suggested during oral arguments in a foreclosure case Monday that the court may change with the times and alter notification procedures for foreclosures, which have been on the rise in Maryland and around the country as many of us have taken out loans we cannot afford. At issue, in this case, is the rule that allows that a home can be sold about two weeks after notification is sent to the homeowner. As in most states, there is no requirement that the notification actually should be received by the homeowner.

In a separate but related story, the Baltimore Sun reports that Baltimore has filed suit against Wells Fargo Bank alleging that the bank violated federal housing law by specifically luring blacks into high-interest mortgages.

Interestingly, the city chose Relman & Dane, a Washington based law firm, to bring suit on Baltimore’s behalf. Now, I realize from my 10-second review of their website to provide a link that they have a great deal of experience in this area of law. Still, are there no lawyers in Baltimore, who help support the city’s tax base, that could have handled this case? Peter Holland, albeit in Annapolis, is quoted in the Maryland Daily Record about the case. He is one of the leading consumer rights advocates in the state. Did anyone ask him? I have no idea what the selection process was and I know little about this area of the law. But it would make sense to have someone from Maryland representing Baltimore in these kinds of cases.

Wednesday, a Cecil County judge awarded the plaintiff in a settled “lemon law” case more than $12,000.00 in attorney’s fees. The case involves a complaint filed by the plaintiff which stated that her 2005 Hyundai was a “useless” vehicle and was brought into the dealership where she purchased it over four times in one year for dashboard light problems. She claimed that Hyundai violated Maryland’s Automotive Enforcement Warranty Act and Consumer Protection Act, as well as the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act.

Apparently, on the morning of trial, Hyundai offered the plaintiff a new vehicle, and she accepted. Plaintiff, in asking for attorney’s fees, alleged that she was the “prevailing party” and therefore eligible to receive attorneys’ fees. Hyundai, of course, disagreed, claiming that the settlement was not an admission of liability.

I don’t appreciate the nuances of consumer protection law but I am pleased that Hyundai’s offer to settle for what was apparently full value on the courthouse steps led this Cecil County court to find that she was the “prevailing party.” We often have the same problem in personal injury cases when the insurance company makes the personal injury lawyers jump through hoop after hoop only to settle the case for the policy limits just before trial. A lot of time and money can be saved for everyone by offering fair value from the beginning.