Dissatisfied ’Vette owner attempts misguided lawsuit
While surfing the Internet, I found a blog with a frantic plea from an obviously infuriated Corvette owner who wished to unite with other car owners to start a class action lawsuit against Maaco “for poor workmanship.”
Wait a minute — he wanted to file a class action lawsuit against Maaco for a paint job on a Corvette over poor workmanship? Something is wrong with this picture and I don’t think it’s Maaco.
After reading the Corvette owner’s account of what happened to him at a Maaco franchise and how he was “victimized,” I was left shaking my head in disbelief. I realized that this is why lawyers turn to drinking (at least that’s my excuse).
Here, a Corvette owner took his car to Maaco for a paint job where he paid $980 for its “top of the line” paint job and was disappointed in the quality of the services. From his narrative, it appears that his expectation was to receive a “Chip Foose”-quality paint job.
What comes to mind is the seminal line in the movie “Cool Hand Luke”: What we have here is a failure to communicate.
In the movie, Luke and the warden had different expectations for their performances: time served for not attempting escape. They failed to communicate the expectations that each of them had. Similarly, the Corvette owner and the Maaco manager had a difference of expectation for their performances of what $980 buys regarding a paint job on a Corvette.
Remember, in any contract formation, “mutual assent” — an agreement and understanding of both party’s performance and both party’s understanding of the contract terms — is necessary for a valid contract. The expectation of both parties must be fulfilled. A court will always use a “reasonable person” standard to see if there is a binding contract. That is, what a reasonable person should conclude from the words, conduct and terms expressed by the other party.
Maaco is a respected company. It has been around for decades and provides good quality services and fair value for the money spent. It is a mass production shop that counts on a volume of customers. Its franchise operations are nationwide, and one does not become a nationwide franchisor without repeated satisfactory performance.
One problem in this situation: Maaco is not the body shop of choice for most “normal” Corvette owners.
Most “normal” Corvette owners know that they need a specialist to handle fiberglass body and paint work. Most “normal” Corvette owners seek out a craftsman at a shop, not a mass-production facility.
Moreover, most “normal” Corvette owners know that a typical paint job for any Corvette can easily range from $7,500 to $12,000. Stripping and bodywork are extra. A check for $980 in most restoration shops may cover the cost of repairing a scratch on one panel.
Taking a Corvette to Maaco and expecting a job worthy of that car is like making reservations for a dinner date at McDonald’s and expecting a gourmet meal. Common sense tells me that going to McDonald’s and expecting them to cook a hamburger like you would cook a filet mignon dinner is an unreasonable expectation.
It is not Maaco’s fault and it is not McDonald’s fault; each is consistent in what it provides or they wouldn’t have survived. In this case, I blame the Corvette owner more than the Maaco. He came into the deal knowing that the price of $980 was too cheap and he chose to take a chance.
Most “normal” Corvette owners are astute enough to recognize the age old adages: You only get what you pay for, and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I submit that this Corvette owner was not “normal.”
Almost half of the collector car fraud complaints that come into my law firm from angry Corvette buyers are nothing more than a difference in expectation of the quality of the purchase. The communication between the buyer and seller was not clear.
So what is the reasonable expectation of this Corvette owner? Should he expect that for $980 he is going to get a “Chip Foose” paint job? I think not.
But what about Maaco – should it have liability for agreeing to paint a special car like the Corvette for $980? I think not. It has more than 30 years of continuous performance for which someone can gauge its workmanship.
So what should this teach us? Communication between the parties — both parties doing the best to spell out their expectations and their performances — is critical to mutual assent and therefore avoiding lawsuits.
I leave you with the following adages: You don’t always get what you want. You don’t always get what you need. Just hope you don’t always get what you deserve.
Bruce Shaw is an attorney specializing in collector car fraud. He is a former Bloomington Gold instructor and a former NCRS national judge.