A Fairfax County jury, in what lawyers said may be a precedent-setting victory for consumers, has ordered a car dealer to pay $25,000 to an Arlington woman as punishment for selling her a second-hand car she thought was brand new.
The verdict ordering Koons Ford, one of the area's largest auto dealerships, to pay Marcella Jordan punitive damages in highly unusual and may be unprecedented nationally, lawyers said yesterday.
Archie Richardson, director of the Washington-based Automobile Owners Action Council, a consumer advocate group that filed legal briefs in the case, said it is the usual practice to order a dealer to pay damages that compensate a consumer for specific expenses rather than to award damages designed to punish.
Jordan, who works as a technical editor in Reston, was awarded $430 in compensatory damages by a jury in 1976 to make up the difference between the value of a new car and the gold For Pinto she had purchased as new from Koons in 1973 for $2,450. It was determined that the car had been owned by another person for eight days before Jordan bought it. See CONSUMER, Al Col. 1>
The judge in the 1976 caseruled that the jury could not award punitive damages, but that ruling waa overturned by Virginia Supreme Court and Jordan took her case back tothe Fairfax County Circuit Court.
The $25,000 punitive award by a seven-member jury in that court came Wednesday after a one-day trail and two hours of deliberation.
Koons attorney Richard E. Dixon, who said he was "extremely surprised" by the verdict, said the firm will appeal.
Jordan recalled yesterday that when she bought the gold pinto in 1973, she "asked the salesman why the odometer had 201 miles on it, and he told methe mileage was put on moving it from lot to lot. When I noticed therewas no sticker price on it, he told me it had fallen off."
Several days later, Jordan said, she called Koons officials to complain that the car had no power front disc brakes, an option she had ordered. She said she was told those brakes were unavailable for 1973 Pintos and that she couldn't return the car "because the paperwork had already been processed."
Shortly thereafter, Jordan said, she found a state inspection sticker in the car and discovered that the car had been previously owned by a Falls Church woman. That woman testified she had driven the car 200 miles before returning it to Koons after eight days because "she couldn't adjust to driving a car with a manual transmission."
Koons attorney Dixon said yesterday the firm admitted in court that a salesman gave Jordan "anoffhand answer" about the car's mileage. "He shouldn't have said that, since he didn't know how the mileage was put on," Dixon said.
"The salesman testified that he didn't know why he ordered the power front discbrakes, since he knew they were not available," Dixon added.
"Our position was that Miss Jordan was not really hurt and that punitive damages were not justified," Dixon said, noting that Jordan still owns the car"We sell about 4,000 cars per-month and with that volume and human communication being what it is you're going to have some misunderstandings."