In this week's Troubleshooters Report, we talk with Wilmington woman who put $1,000 down on a used car at a local dealership. When she went back to get the car, she found it had been sold to someone else, and her salesman no longer worked there. When Pamela Pickett asked for her money back, Wilmington Nissan said no. "I liked the car, we test drove the car, and then he told me that other people may want the car, so he told me to put $300 down to hold the car, and that's what I did," described Pamela Prickett. It sounds like a typical experience for someone going through the ordeal of buying a used car, but Pamela Pickett's experience was anything but typical. After making 3 separate payments totaling a thousand dollars in cash on a 95 Honda Accord, Pamela went to Wilmington Nissan to pick up her car. But Leon Burwell, the salesman who had taken Pamela's down payment, was a no-show. "The other salesman came up to me and said, ‘You know, that car you were talking about, has been sold.’ He said we sold that car 3 days ago," Pamela said. The dealership did a little research, and realized Leon Burwell had pocketed Pamela's money. Even though she had receipts on Wilmington Nissan letterhead, the managers told her to take this up with the salesman, Mr. Burwell, because they were not giving her a refund. Pamela added, "I was very upset because they laughed. They thought it was funny when I was talking to them, and I said, ‘Well I don't have a thousand dollars to give away like that’, I told them I just wanted my money back." According to a Wilmington Police report, Leon Burwell admitted to taking Pamela's money, and they have taken out warrants for his arrest. But attorneys we talked to said Wilmington Nissan still shares some liability. "Even though the dealership is taking a hard line, saying we're not responsible for the wrongful acts of this employee, who is now gone and has criminal charges against him, there is a relationship created there, and there are potential causes of action for that customer," said attorney Chad Hogston. Hogston said Pamela has two legitimate legal claims against Wilmington Nissan. The law considers an employer responsible for the actions of their employee, if the employee wrongs a customer within the scope of their employment. While the dealership might not be responsible if, for example, an employee was dealing drugs on the clock, they could be liable if he committed fraud under the guise of a car deal. Secondly, Pamela may have a claim against Wilmington Nissan for negligent hiring, since Leon Burwell has a criminal record for fraud. But Hogston said above and beyond the legal arena, it just makes sense for the dealership to make things right with Pamela. "I would think that you want to make the customers happy. And we're not talking about a heck of a lot of money here, so because of that, the $1000, I think, is worth making the customer happy. The intangibles are huge there," said Hogston. The owner of Wilmington Nissan did not want to talk on camera. He is standing firm that the dealership did not do anything wrong, and they are not responsible for Leon Burwell's actions. Furthermore, he questions whether the money actually changed hands at the dealership. Pamela insists it did, and the receipts and police report support her version of events. Since hiring an attorney to fight for $1000 would be cost prohibitive, small claims court may be her only option for recovering her money. One take away point to keep this from ever happening to you: don't pay in cash, because it makes it a lot easier for someone to pocket your money.
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