Saturday, April 25, 2009

Indiana Consumer Law: Are We Seeing a Trend to a Pro-Consumer Law?

It may be so. I am speculating whether or not it has to do with our recession.

This came in yesterday from The Indiana Lawyer, COA invites high court to revisit Indiana law

In a case involving the purchase of a home, Indiana Court of Appeals judges today disagreed as to whether the home sellers should be granted summary judgment in a fraud suit. The judges unanimously did agree to encourage the Indiana Supreme Court to re-evaluate a rule that protects a seller from a lawsuit, even if he lies about a property, as long as the prospective buyer had a reasonable opportunity to inspect the property.

At issue in Drew and Donna Dickerson v. Donna Strand and Gloria German, No. 54A01-0807-CV-334, is whether Donna Strand and Gloria German can be held liable for fraud arising from the sale of their house to the Dickersons.

When Strand and German bought their home, it had termite damage, which the seller paid to treat. When Strand and German went to sell the home five years later, termite damage was found again and disclosed in a home inspection report. They claimed to have fixed the issue and said there were no structural problems with the building. The Dickersons bought the home, relying on disclosures and documents from Strand and German and never had their own inspection done.

After discovering more termite damage than what was revealed to them, the Dickersons filed a complaint against Strand and German alleging they falsely represented the property hadn't suffered structural termite damage. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Strand and German.

Under Indiana law, the appellate court didn't need to decide whether Strand and German's representations in the documents were fraudulent because the Dickersons had no right to rely on those representations, wrote Judge Patricia Riley. The majority relied heavily on the Indiana Supreme Court ruling in Cagney v. Cuson, 77 Ind. 494, 1881 WL 6689 (1881), in which the high court held even as to fraudulent representations operating as an inducement to the sale or exchange of property, a purchaser has no right to rely on those representations when he has had reasonable opportunity to examine the property and judge for himself its qualities.
I had already seen Indiana Consumer Fraud from Robert E. Duff's Indiana Consumer Law Blog (good to see Duff writing again):

The case was tried to the Court without a jury and the judge found for the defendant. The Court of Appeals reversed and directed the trial court to enter judgment for the Plaintiff on the fraud claim, citing it as a "textbook case" of fraud. The lesson we are reminded of is summarized in two important sentences from the opinion: "[F]raud is not limited only to affirmative representations; the failure to disclose all material facts can also constitute actionable fraud. When a buyer makes inquiries about the condition, qualities or characteristics of property 'it becomes incumbent upon the seller to fully declare any and all problems associated with the subject of the inquiry."

This is great, very broad language for Indiana consumers. It will be very rare indeed that a consumer will purchase a vehicle without making at least some inquiry as to the condition, qualities or characteristics of the car. Once this inquiry is made, the dealership has an affirmative obligation to disclose all material facts about the car.

This could be a good change, giving us more of a balance in Indiana.