Since July 1, 2013, a dealer has 30 days to work on an issue with a customer before a civil lawsuit, including arbitration, can be filed if the customer signed a proper notice at the time of sale*. Dealers who wish to use this protection must provide their customers with a copy of the legally required notice which the buyer must sign at the time of sale (this language is already incorporated into page 1 of the FADA-Reynolds & Reynolds buyers orders rev 6/14). For service customers you may wish to provide the notice to your customers with their invoice, rather than when the RO is completed.
This demand notice is intended in cases brought under Chapter 501 where the statutes lay out 19 issues dealers could potentially violate. Other than these, you may get sued for a claim related to Chapter 559 and your service facilities, but this protection would be there if Chapter 501 was also cited.
The law requires that the consumer send you a simple demand letter detailing the nature of their claim and an estimate of the dollars involved. The letter will go to the store where the transaction occurred, or any store in the dealership group. Therefore, it is vital for your employees to forward all such letters immediately to the dealer owners.
When the dealership is notified, you have 30 days to pay the claimant the amount specified in the demand letter, plus a surcharge of 10% of that amount, not to exceed $500. This amount was included for consideration of the consumer’s expenses in sending the demand letter.
- If you refuse to pay the amount, you can indicate this to the customer and negotiate the terms, or they can provide a new demand letter for your review; triggering a new 30 day period to resolve the issue.
- If you refuse or the claimant rejects your offer, the claimant can still proceed to court after the 30 day period. However, the law has some protections regarding reasonable demands under this law. If a court or arbitrator determines in a subsequent lawsuit that the demand was not reasonable in light of the facts, the dealer may not be required to pay attorney fees of the claimant.
Lastly and most important, the entire protection is yours to choose.
(9) This section applies only to civil litigation, including arbitration, arising out of a transaction for which the dealer has provided the following written notice to the consumer, which must be acknowledged by the consumer, and which must be in a font size no smaller than that of the predominant text on the page in which the notice is disclosed, or if it is disclosed by itself, in a font size of at least 12 point:
“Section 501.98, Florida Statutes, requires that, at least 30 days before bringing any claim against a motor vehicle dealer for an unfair or deceptive trade practice, a consumer must provide the dealer with a written demand letter stating the name, address, and telephone number of the consumer; the name and address of the dealer; a description of the facts that serve as the basis for the claim; the amount of damages; and copies of any documents in the possession of the consumer which relate to the claim. Such notice must be delivered by the United States Postal Service or by a nationally recognized carrier, return receipt requested, to the address where the subject vehicle was purchased or leased or where the subject transaction occurred, or an address at which the dealer regularly conducts business.”
*This does not provide a demand letter for all types of suits.