COA affirms judgment against buyer of used SUV with faulty brakes

A man who bought a vehicle then sued the seller for damages because the brakes gave out while driving home from the sale will not receive any relief from the nearly $1,500 judgment against him.

In March 2021, James Ayers went to Jackie Stowers’ residence to purchase a 2002 Chevrolet Trailblazer. After a short test drive, Ayers asked about a rattling noise, which Stowers said was a result of the brakes not being bled when the vehicle was last serviced.

Ayers then gave Stowers a check for $1,800 and drove away in the Trailblazer.

But on his way home, while driving on a curve, Ayers experienced a loss of brakes. The Trailblazer left the road, traveled through an apple orchard and came to rest nose-down in a ditch.

Ayers and George Boyle, his employee, returned to the scene of the accident the next morning and called Stowers to inform him of the accident and the issuance of a stop payment order on the check. Ayers had the Trailblazer towed to a parking lot, where Stowers eventually retrieved it.

Later, Stowers filed a Notice of Claim for $10,000 in damages, including treble damages of $5,400, alleging that at the time of the sale, Ayers had issued a check for $1,800 for the purchase price but stopped payment on the check.

Following a trial, the Clinton Superior Court found no evidence to support Stowers’ claim that he was entitled to recover a multiple of his actual damages. However, the court entered judgment for Stowers in the amount of $1,456, representing the sale price of $1,800 plus a towing bill and minus a set-off for the salvage value of the vehicle and court costs.

Ayers moved to correct error, which the trial court denied.

On appeal, Ayers challenged several of the 17 findings and conclusions entered by the trial court. But the Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed in full.

“The evidence shows that Stowers had no reason to believe that the brakes were not working at the time of sale, and, accordingly, the facts do not support an inference that Stowers knowingly failed to disclose that the brakes were defective,” Senior Judge Edward Najam wrote. “Instead, the evidence supports a judgment that Stowers expressed an opinion to the best of his knowledge and belief that the brakes were working. Although the brakes failed, that fact alone does not establish that Stowers’ statement concerning the condition of the brakes amounted to a misrepresentation.”

The COA also found support in the record for the finding that Stowers did not conceal that the brakes had not been properly bled.

“When Ayers took delivery of the vehicle, he knew there was a noise in the braking system, which suggested that something was amiss. Nevertheless, he accepted the vehicle in that condition,” Najam wrote. “This was not a latent or hidden defect. Ayers was placed on inquiry notice and charged with knowledge of what a reasonable inspection would have disclosed.”

This article was first published in The Indiana Lawyer.

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