DAMAGED AND FRAME-DAMAGED CARS
It is a common question that is asked frequently: does a seller of a motor vehicle or an automobile have the obligation to disclose that the vehicle was damaged even slightly, less than frame damage? Is there a separate obligation based on the nature and extent of the damage? Is it relevant that there was frame damage? The New Jersey law in the subject is mostly a matter of common sense. If the seller of an automobile or vehicle knows that a vehicle was damaged, he has the obligation to make material disclosures to the person to whom he is selling the car if he thinks that the disclosure of the information would make a difference in the purchasing decision. This is what makes a material disclosure relevant.
There are certain exceptions to this rule for the disclosure of damages on damaged cars where the legislator has promulgated or passed various laws requiring certain disclosures. As an example, New Jersey law requires disclosure of advertised automobiles where there is damage in excess of $1,000. This number varies by state. Nonetheless, the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act has taken the more ethical approach and applied it to the sale of goods. The law in the State of New Jersey is no longer buyer beware but rather seller beware. Therefore, the seller of an automobile has the obligation to make sure that all representations pertaining to the sale of specific automobile are correct. As an example, if the seller tells a buyer that a vehicle has not been damaged, has not been in an accident, is in good shape or makes certain representation as to the condition of the vehicle, he has an obligation to make sure that this representation is true and accurate. The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act does not have any intent requirement for affirmative misrepresentations. This means that if a seller of an automobile says the vehicle has not been damaged or has not been in an accident and ultimately it turns out that the vehicle was in an accident despite the seller of the automobile not being aware of same, there is liability under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act which applies triple damages, attorney fees and costs.
It is safe to assume that if you are not sure, do not state what the condition of the vehicle is, but if you do know you are obligated to make such disclosures. It would not be appropriate to intentionally look away from various portions of the car so as to hide relevant condition from the seller’s own knowledge.