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$1,750,000

18-Wheeler Collision

Settlement

$1,467,000

TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY

Jury Verdict

$1,070,000

AUTO ACCIDENT 

Jury Verdict

Dealership allegedly made mistake in reporting truck as stolen

Harris County

Consumer protection

False Imprisonment (Non-Governmental) — Deceptive Trade Practices Act

Dealership allegedly made mistake in reporting truck as stolen

Verdict

$122,400

Actual

$104,040

Case

Genaro Martinez v. Charlie Thomas Chevrolet, Ltd d/b/a Champion Chevrolet Gulf Freeway, No. 2012-27666

Court

Harris County District Court, 164th, TX

Judge

Alexandra Smoots-Thomas

Date

11/29/2016

Plaintiff Attorney(s)
Eric D. Nielsen, The Nielsen Law Firm P.C., Houston, TX
Defense Attorney(s)
Phil Griffis, Griffis Law Firm, Houston, TX
Facts & Allegations

On Dec. 22, 2011, plaintiff Genaro Martinez was at home when police came to his house, handcuffed him and questioned him about a report of a stolen pickup truck. A couple of weeks earlier, Martinez had purchased a black 2011 Chevrolet Silverado from Champion Chevrolet Gulf Freeway. Unknown to anyone, the dealership wrote the wrong vehicle identification number on the sale documents. Later, when an inventory showed the truck was not on the lot, and there appeared to be no documentation that it had been sold, the dealership contacted police and Onstar on Dec. 22 and reported the truck as stolen.

Onstar deactivated the ignition system and activated the truck’s GPS, which police then used to locate it. They questioned Martinez for about an hour. When the dealership realized its mistake, Martinez was released.

Martinez sued Charlie Thomas Chevrolet Ltd., operating as Champion Chevrolet Gulf Freeway, for false imprisonment and violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The DTPA allegations included false, misleading and deceptive acts and unconscionability, in connection with both the sale of the truck and the reporting of it as stolen.

The defense denied the allegations. Dealership employees testified that, when they called the police, they simply gave the police a VIN and said that the truck with that VIN had been stolen. They did not tell police that any particular person, let alone Martinez, had stolen it. The defense pointed out that police located the truck by simply following the GPS signal.

The defense alleged negligence on Martinez’s part, as well. When the dealership first thought that a vehicle was missing, the salesman called and asked Martinez to read him the VIN. According to salesman, he asked Martinez to read him the VIN on the truck itself, and he did not realize Martinez was only reading him the VIN from the paperwork. If Martinez had read him the VIN from the truck itself, the salesman would have realized that the paperwork was wrong and Harris County consumer protection False Imprisonment (Non-Governmental) — Deceptive Trade Practices Act Dealership allegedly made mistake in reporting truck as stolen April 17, 2017 as published in Texas would not have reported any vehicle as stolen, the defense argued.

Injuries/Damages

Police came to Martinez’s house just as he was trying to figure out why the truck would not start. (Onstar had deactivated the ignition system.) He had gone inside his apartment to get the spare key to the truck, and when he came back out, several police cars and police officers were there. An officer told him to put his hands in the air and that the truck was stolen, and Martinez was handcuffed. Martinez testified that an officer pointed a gun at him, as well. Martinez complied with the officers’ orders and answered their questions, but said they were verbally abusive and humiliated him. He testified that many neighbors and family members, including his young grandchildren, were watching.

After police let him go, the dealership sent a tow truck for the pickup, which was still disabled. Martinez rode to the dealership in the tow truck, and he said that, when he got there, the salesman and other dealership employees laughed about the incident.

Martinez sought past and future mental anguish, past loss of use of the truck, and additional damages under the DTPA. His attorney fees were stipulated at $21,900.

Result

The jury found false imprisonment by Champion. As to both the sale of the vehicle to Cisneros and the reporting of it as stolen, the jury found false, misleading or deceptive acts or practices; unconscionability; and that Champion’s conduct was knowing and intentional. The jury also found negligence on the part of Martinez and assigned comparative responsibility of 85 percent to Champion and 15 percent to Martinez.

The jury awarded Martinez $100,500 in actual and additional damages. Martinez’s attorney fees were stipulated at $21,900, which brings the total award to $122,400, but comparative fault reduced it to $104,040.

Genaro Martinez
$25,000 past mental anguish
$500 loss of use
$75,000 additional damages under DTPA
$100,500
Demand

$25,000

Offer

$5,000

Trial Details
Trial Length: 2 days
Trial Deliberations: 3 hours
Jury Vote: 12-0
Post-Trial

The plaintiff’s motion for judgment and the defendant’s motion for JNOV are pending as of April 3, 2017.

Editor’s Note This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff’s and defense counsel. –John Schneider