If you ask most lawyers if it’s a good idea to loan a friend money to buy a car, you’ll probably hear a line from Shakespeare: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”
The second part of that famous quote is less often heard: “For loan oft loses both itself and friend.” If good old Willie were alive today, given our fractured sense of morality, he would have added: “Lender, prepareth thyself to be sued by friend.”
30 months ago I loaned Sam money to buy a car
“About 30 months ago I loaned “Sam,” $2,400 to buy a car because he lost his job, then his vehicle and without transportation was unable to find employment. He agreed to pay $100 per month after he got a new job,” Tim’s email stated.
“Within a month he found employment, faithfully paying until his marriage to a young lady with two small children. Sam was having a hard time but promised he would eventually pay me. The balance at this point was $378.
“I have the pink slip to the car and am listed as legal owner. I’ve been cutting him some slack and do believe he will eventually pay the debt. But this is not the problem.”
Tim gets huge bill for towing, storage
A frequent consequence of marriage to a woman with children is that a lot of men lose all sense of responsibility to their friends. Sam lost his, as Tim explained:
“Something happened to the car and Sam left it parked on the street, where it was eventually towed away. As legal owner, I received a notice about the situation, called Sam, he said he was going to take care of it.”
So, did Tim verify that Sam would keep his word? Of course not.
“My wife and I then went on an Alaskan Cruise and when we got home there was a bill in my mailbox for $1500, a $200 towing fee plus $65 per day storage charge! I learned that after 30 days the car could be sold and I would then be sued for the balance owed.“
A warning to others
You and the Law was not present when Tim and Sam had their “Let’s get real” discussion, but are informed that, Sam ‘suggested’ the best thing to do at this point was to give the tow company the title and negotiate the storage fees, which is what I did, with amazing results!”
Tim was lucky. The owner of the towing company, “Was very accommodating and said he would waive the storage fees if I would provide the signed pink slip, the keys and the $200 tow fee. I couldn't comply fast enough, walking away feeling like I had dodged a bullet. I shook his hand and thanked him. I had the feeling that doesn't happen too often in his business.”
“I am writing you so that others will understand the consequences of being a legal owner of an automobile. It could be very expensive,” he stated, happy with result and not realizing that he was standing in quicksand.
“Forced to lose the car”
I phoned Tim. As it turns out, I had met him when visiting Hanford for its Thursday Night Marketplace, which is a combination Farmers Market and Street fair. I come up several times during the spring and summer Marketplaces season to meet readers at the Sentinel’s booth.
“I’ll wager that you and Sam attend the same church, right?” I asked. “Yes, we do,” he replied. Regardless of the flavor, all churches are magnets for hypocrites and cons, believing themselves ‘forgiven’ then immediately repeating their same behavior.
“Yeah, that’s Sam,” Tim admitted.
“Was Sam eager and truly willing to lose the car, or do you think he caved in feeling pressured, forced to, I asked.
“Of course he felt pressured!! I was sick and tired of his irresponsibility and what it cost me,” Tim admitted.
“I will also bet that, because Sam attends your church and you trusted him, and felt there was no need for a written agreement dealing with your right to repo the car and sell it if Sam quit making payments.”
“You’re right again,” Tim admitted, slowly sinking into a quicksand of his own creation, beginning to get my drift.
“Could he sue us?” Tim and his wife now on the line, asked.
What could Tim be sued for?
“While I think it would be immoral – as Sam created the problem - he could go to small claims court and sue Tim for breach of contract and the civil tort of Conversion. This is wrongfully – under duress – taking property from another person,” Hanford attorney Bob Zumwalt commented.
If you were the judge, how would you decide the case?