We are seeing an increase in court claims against dealers. In fact, many customers when they fire off a complaint letter, will threaten court action. This is sometimes more to do with using a cut and paste advice letter from the internet rather than any actual intent to issue a claim. However, these all need to be dealt with as ignoring complaints can be expensive.
From a customer service and reputation point of view, if a deal can be struck, even if it means going above and beyond, this can be the best way to handle a threatened court claim. Firstly, it keeps the customer happy and secondly, in situations where the customer is an utter pain, it can get them out of your life quickly so you can get on with selling cars to customers who are not perennial complainers.
That said, of course, there will be instances when the customer is just being unreasonable, and you need to stand your ground. This is where getting the letter or court claim over to us as soon as possible will mean we can give you the appropriate advice and support you through the entire court process. Members can use the legal helpline to discuss any matter on which they are unsure of or want an expert legal opinion on.
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If you are issued with a court claim, you will only have two weeks to respond, so send it over to us as soon as possible. If you fail to respond in time, you will end up with a County Court Judgement (CCJ) in default which could lead to an unwanted visit from the bailiffs (we can help with this too but it is obviously better to not let it get to the bailiff stage).
We sometimes find putting in a strong defence will mean the consumer withdraws their claim. This happened twice recently, once where the consumer was using a PO Box which is not allowed under the court rules and once where the claim was issued out of time. Both claims required the specialist legal knowledge we hold to put forward the right technical argument when creating the defence.
In other instances, the consumer, having paid their court issue fee (or having not paid anything because they are on benefits or a low income), will keep the claim alive hoping you will fail to respond to a court order. And this is why it is important you send over to us, all documents you receive from the court as soon as they arrive with you.
It is equally important that the consumer also follows court orders to avoid their claim being struck out which happened this week, when the consumer failed to submit their witness statement and so the court threw out their claim. In another case this week, the other side made a sensible offer to settle the day before the hearing which meant that the dealer did not have to give up their time to go to the hearing and/or pay a legal advocate to assist them in court. Of course, not all claims will be resolved before the hearing. I have one claim on my desk which has been going on for over three years, but this is the exception rather than the rule.
In short, ignoring a threatened court claim can cause all sorts of extra costs and issues, so take advice from us early and we can steer you and your claim in the right direction. We cannot guarantee a win if it goes to court, no lawyer can, but we do have the unparalleled specialist motor trade expertise and legal experience to give you the best chance.