I recently bought a car without the seller disclosing that the car was salvaged. Wasn’t it his obligation to tell me?

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I recently bought a car without the seller disclosing that the car was salvaged. Wasn’t it his obligation to tell me?

I helped my mother buy a car from a supposed ‘friend’ of the family. He never
disclosed that the vehicle was salvaged. He wanted the high blue book value
and requested a cashier’s check. When we had the check in hand, we sat down
to fill out the paperwork. I never noticed the the title said damaged on it, trusting
this individual. My mother is 83 years old and has lapse of memory. When she
went to register the car, she found that it was salvaged, I did not go with her.
She did not understand too well as English is not her primary language. She
did what she was told, including going to get it smogged because that was not
done either. She then registered the vehicle. When she told me, I immediately
called the seller. It’s been almost a week now with me going back and forth with
the seller. He is using excuse after excuse to not pay the full amount even
though he agrees to one thing and then comes back trying to negotiate the price
down. We paid 5,000 for a 2006 Cadillac STS plus 50 for a smog certificate
and 403 for the registration. We’ve gone back and forth over the registration.
I’ve tried splitting it in half, then just agreeing to 5,000 plus 50 smog
certificate. He instead is accusing my mother of causing 2,700 in damages to
the car which he says that he’ll overlook so long as we pay to register the car
back in his name. Do we have a case? I cannot trust what this man is saying at
all nor agreeing to since he seems to keep on trying to lower the amount that he
has to return to us. The car is worth at most 2,500 being that it’s salvaged.
Help!!!

Asked on April 26, 2018 under Business Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

Fraud is when someone misrepresents (including by omission, or failing to state) a material, or important fact, upon which you reasonably rely in deciding to enter into the transaction. He should have disclosed that the car was salvaged, and a failure to do so *could* be fraud. The issue is whether your reliance on what he said was "reasonable." You write that when you filled out the paperwork, you never noticed that the "title said damaged." If the title clearly said "damaged" and was in front of you (i.e. not hidden or concealed from you), then it would not necessarily be reasonable to rely on what the seller did or did not say, since you had access to a document stating the true state of affairs. That you did not "notice" this is not relevant if a reasonable person *could* have seen that the title said damaged--you are held to the standard of what a reasonable person would do, not you in fact did in this case. 
Based on what you write, you *may* have a fraud case--a case for monetary compensation  (such as in an amount equal to the difference between what you paid and what the car would be worth with damage) or even possibly recission (return car, get money back)--based on his misrepresentation; but it's also possible that having had a chance to see on the title that the car was damaged, that a court would hold that you could not reasonably rely on what you were told and should have relied on the title instead, negating the fraud. It depends on how prominent the indication of damage was on the title and how a given judge (if you were to sue) views the situation. So all we can say is that you might have a viable case--but we can't say for certain that you do.


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