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Jury returns $4.1M verdict against Kansas City car dealer

Kelly Wiese//June 5, 2012//

Jury returns $4.1M verdict against Kansas City car dealer

Kelly Wiese//June 5, 2012//

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A Clay County jury has returned a $4.1 million verdict against Chad Franklin and his car dealership in a state Merchandising Practices Act case.

It’s the latest – and the largest – in a series of verdicts reported in cases brought by consumers against the Kansas City dealer alleging he duped them into buying cars at low rates with promises of trade-ins, but didn’t hold up the bargain later.

Lillian Lewellen alleged that she responded to an ad offering $49 per month payments on a used Lincoln Town Car, with the chance to trade it in after a year and keep that rate. But Lewellen claimed Chad Franklin’s dealership in North Kansas City didn’t hold up the deal after 10 months, and her payments ballooned to more than $387 per month. Lewellen, of Excelsior Springs, was then 82 years old and on a fixed income, her attorneys said, and she ultimately couldn’t make the payments and lost the car.

Lewellen was among hundreds of customers with similar complaints. Franklin and his dealerships in North Kansas City and in Kansas City, Kan., have faced massive litigation from both private attorneys and from the attorneys general in Kansas and Missouri. The dealerships went out of business.

The verdict is the second-highest from Clay County among cases in Missouri Lawyers Media’s V&S Search database. It’s also the second largest reported plaintiff’s jury verdict statewide this year.

Lewellen’s attorneys at the Noland Law Firm in Liberty pursued claims of fraudulent misrepresentation and violation of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act.

A jury heard the case last week and returned verdicts of $25,000 in actual damages on each claim against both Franklin and his dealership, Chad Franklin National Auto Sales North, plus punitive damages of $1 million on each claim against both defendants. Missouri’s law capping punitive damages likely will reduce the ultimate judgment.

Plaintiff’s attorney Douglass Noland handles many consumer cases and said this marks the largest Missouri punitive award against a car dealer to his knowledge.

Kevin Case, an attorney for Franklin and his dealerships, said the judge sanctioned the defendants because Franklin didn’t appear for depositions. So he wasn’t allowed to put on a defense for the jury. He only could argue about the amount of damages.

“This time I had no client and no story to tell,” he said. “It’s a difficult dance to dance on the head of a pin and expect to come out like I’m dancing with the stars.”

In other cases, the defense has argued that the low monthly payments were for a promotional period, and after that a more traditional loan agreement took over, and buyers should’ve read the documents they signed more closely.

Case expects to file post-trial motions soon seeking to reduce the amount of punitive damages.

Noland also handled a case against Franklin that resulted in a $1.3 million verdict in 2010. As Missouri Lawyers Media previously reported, the Missouri Supreme Court in January upheld the court’s judgment, which knocked down one count of the punitive award by $500,000 to comply with a statutory cap.

Noland said the Lewellen case made additional claims, and this jury perhaps was even more concerned by the defendants’ conduct.

“That probably is based on the client, who made such a credible appearance, and the sheer volume of other people that have had complaints with Chad Franklin and Chad Franklin National Auto Sales North,” he said.

The case is Lewellen v. Chad Franklin et al, 10CY-CV12398.

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