Florida dealer sues another for selling cars with recalled Takata airbags

October 31, 2016

The long, sad saga of Takata and its fatally flawed airbags recently took a strange turn in Florida, which has been known to corner the market on strange news.

It involves West Palm Beach used car dealer Earl Stewart, who's decided to sue a competing dealership called Arrigo Enterprises--not because Arrigo did anything to Stewart's company, but because it's continuing to sell used vehicles affected by the Takata recall that haven't had their airbag inflators replaced.

Confused? That's not surprising. The situation is more than a little complicated. 

Used cars and the law

For starters, understand that it is perfectly legal for used car dealerships to sell vehicles with open recalls. New car dealers can't--though many vehicles have been equipped with Takata's ammonium-nitrate inflators since the scandal first broke, and if they've not officially been recalled, dealers have legally been able to sell those vehicles.

Legislators have tried to change the law and force used car dealers to have recalled vehicles repaired before selling them, but due to opposition from the National Automobile Dealers Association and other groups, those efforts have been unsuccessful.

Now, Stewart is taking matters into his own hands following a recent CBS news investigation. During that probe, reporters noted that cars on Stewart's lot had notices informing shoppers that the vehicles were under recall. When asked about how he might feel if someone were injured or killed in one of those cars, he admitted that he'd feel "absolutely terrible".

Soon afterward, he stopped selling cars with open Takata recalls.

But that wasn't enough for Stewart. He wants other dealerships to stop selling those vehicles, too. And that's where his lawsuit of Arrigo Enterprises comes in.

Caveat emptor

In his suit, Stewart says that Arrigo has violated Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. Specifically, he alleges that the dealership has avoided telling shoppers about outstanding recalls on the cars it sells, and in some cases, Arrigo staff have lied about the cars' recall status.

It's unclear what sort of evidence Stewart might have to support his claim, though secret camera footage of sales staff at Arrigo and elsewhere suggest that his allegations might be accurate.

Whether a court might find in Stewart's favor is a different matter. Used car laws place a big burden on consumers, expecting them to have done the legwork and researched their potential buys. If staff simply failed to mention that a vehicle had an open recall, that probably wouldn't be enough to sway a jury.

If sales staff knowingly misrepresented a vehicle's recall status, though--and if Stewart could show that sales of vehicle's like that had a negative impact on his dealership's own sales--then he might have a chance at winning his case. A slim chance, but a chance nonetheless.

Our advice? Before you buy any used car, you should run a search on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's recall lookup tool using the vehicle identification number. For a complete list of vehicles affected by the Takata recall, click here

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