It is possible to sue a private owner two days after purchasing a defective automobile from the seller. The Federal Citizen Information Center, a part of the U.S. General Services Administration, reports that lawsuits are possible against private sellers who lie about the condition of the automobile while selling it.
A buyer who feels duped should contact an attorney to investigate legal grounds for a civil lawsuit in small claims court. Allegations of fraud are a possibility, with the buyer suing for the entire cost of the car, plus legal expenses. However, the Federal Citizen Information Center reports that to win a lawsuit the buyer must produce evidence showing the deception. That could be difficult because few private sellers offer written warranties. The buyer could build a case in other ways, such as having a mechanic testify that the seller manipulated the car's odometer.
It is not unusual for private sellers to deceive buyers. According to the Federal Citizen Information Center, damaged and stolen cars, and cars still under finance agreements, could be advertised by private sellers. Such sales are fraudulent if the facts are not disclosed by the seller.
Filing a lawsuit against the seller is simple -- if the buyer has the correct name and address for the seller. Some private sellers who use online sites to advertise cars may use phony names and addresses. Even the Federal Citizen Information Center notes that finding a private seller after the sale can be difficult. That's not always the case, but it is one reason why the center recommends people purchase used cars from reputable dealers. Dealers will try to make as much as possible off a deal, but a reputable dealer is unlikely to engage in clear-cut instances of fraud.
A buyer filing suit against a seller incurs all of the costs of the legal action until winning a court judgment. An attorney preparing the lawsuit could charge a few hundred dollars, and the filing fee in small claims court may cost a similar amount. There's also a small fee for having the lawsuit delivered by a courier. Depending on the circumstances the entire process could take several months to resolve if the seller contests the charges by filing legal motions of his own.
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