Exploitation of Immigrants

January 16, 2008

Being an election year, immigration is a hot topic. Somewhat less discussed is the exploitation of non-English speaking immigrants as consumers. Mexican immigrants are now generally recognized as a significant market sector. Sometimes the efforts made to lure them into sales are not matched by the care to see that they are treated fairly. The disadvantage suffered by some immigrants in commerce is not just lack of familiarity with the language but more importantly — and quite independently — many are vulnerable to dishonest practices due to a lack of familiarity with customs and conventional practices.

For example Harris Ford in Seattle is a car dealership that employed a Spanish speaking translator who could not read English, so the non-English speaking Latino had no way of checking the language of a contract before signing. He or she was entirely dependent on the representations of the sales person.

Lorenzo Hernandez went to Harris Ford to see about getting a truck. He had a two year old car but was drawn to the dealership by advertising for a truck that cost only a few thousand dollars more than his car had cost. He was told that his car could be used as a down payment. Lorenzo who was working two jobs and whose wife was pregnant with their second child insisted that he had to have an automatic transmission so that his wife could drive up the steep downtown hills for her doctor’s appointments. The salesman said that there were no trucks on sale with automatic transmissions but that he could buy one with a manual gear shift then if after a month or so if it did not work out, he could bring it back and exchange it for one with an automatic transmission. This seemed fair to Lorenzo, and he bought the truck. It turned out that Harris Ford gave him only a fraction of the blue book value fro his tradein, resulting in a $5,000 deficiency on the trade in. This was added to the price and with all the add ins his truck cost more than $10,000 above the price he thought he was getting.

The truck did not work out and Lorenzo took it back to Harris Ford. Sure enough he got a truck with an automatic transmission but what he was not told was that the dealership had just sold him a new truck at a non-sale price and used his first truck as a trade in with a two thousand dollar discount on value from the advertised “drastic” sales price. He ended up with a debt more than twice the advertised sales price of the truck, and crippling monthly payments. After about a year he called the dealership and said that he could not — even with three jobs — continue to make the payments. The truck was taken from him and a few months later he was sued for roughly the full sales price of the truck that he originally inquired about. He found himself with about $15,000 of debt and without transportation.

Septic systems

January 16, 2008

In purchasing property in a rural area guess what is perhaps the leader in litigation inducing discord. Septic systems. People moving from urban to rural areas are particularly susceptible to this cause of emotional disruption. Also first time buyers and generally folks who have not lived on a septic system. By statute now the seller of a residence is required to answer several questions about the septic system if there is one. This requirement has curbed the problem somewhat but often the seller’s interest in selling seems to outweigh his interest in making full disclosure. Buyer’s real estate agents have not proven to be sufficiently informed or motivated to see that the buyer always avoids the surprise of discovering a nonfunctioning septic system. The consequences of this situation are potentially disastrous, as it is unlawful to occupy a building that is neither on a sewer system nor on a lawful, functioning septic system.

People routinely order home inspections before buying but ordering a septic inspection is for some reason not entirely routine. It should be. A home inspection does not include septic, so the two should be ordered at the same time. By law generally speaking a purchaser is entitled to rely on the statements in a seller’s disclosure statement but prudence recommends doing more. An inspection will inform you whether the system will soon need replacing or upgrading. You can also find out whether you need a new system in order to add on to the existing structure. As a responsible home-owner with a septic system you should try to learn as much as you can about it before buying.

Your Rights Regarding Wildland Fires

January 16, 2008

The spate of wildland fires in recent years has of course been followed by a spate of litigation. People who are involved with a wildland fire should consider that the governmental fire investigators are not necessarily the best and there is no substitution for retaining an expert whether you are accused of causing the fire or suffered damage from a fire. There are rather extensive federal standards for both investigations and fire fighting. Some of the more remote counties with volunteer staffs do not always make a serious effort to comply with federal guidelines and a some of the investigations depart surprisingly far from generally accepted standards. For this reason most litigation involves issues of causation and whether a portion of the damage is the responsibility of the local fire department.

The importance of the job done by the fire department in extinguishing the fire and the governmental investigator in determining causation is magnified by the fact that the County Prosecutor can bring a criminal action against the person labeled as responsible the fire. The Bureau of Land Management is very aggressive in pursuing lawsuits for the restoration of federal land damaged by fire. It claims advantage of a federal law giving it 6 years in which to sue. Otherwise the statute of limitations is generally accepted to be three years but there is authority that it only two years.

If you are questioned in connection with a fire, before answering questions you should ask for as much information as possible about the fire. Find out exactly who it is who is questioning you. (Usually there will be two people.) Find out the extent of the fire, the extent of the investigation so far and whether you are a suspect. Remember that you are not compelled to answer questions and you can schedule an interview for any time that is convenient for you. Washington has not yet held that you have a right to have a lawyer present, so if you answer questions without one, you do so at your peril. You can, however, insist that your lawyer be present before you answer questions.

It strikes me as anomalous that an investigation which can lead to criminal charges is not recognized as being within the scope of your constitutional protections but at least as yet that recognition has not occurred.

If you own land where there is a threat of fire, be proactive and do what you can to mitigate the risk. This will also serve you well if your land is damaged by a fire and you are required to bring a lawsuit. Also look at insurance and consider whether you can get a liability policy covering you if you are accused of starting a fire.