Do you know your rights when having your car repaired?

This past week I took my wife’s car into a Honda service center located in a Maryland suburb of Washington D.C.  My wife is completing a fellowship in the D.C. area and I had come up for a visit her over the July 4th holiday.  I brought her car into the Honda service center and briefly discussed with an employee the need for scheduled maintenance, including an oil change, before walking into the lounge area to wait.  Sitting in the waiting area I realized that I did not receive the written estimate that I’m so used to from my experiences in Florida.  Unsure of the laws governing auto repairs in Maryland, I said nothing to the repair facility.  When the service was completed I was presented with a modest bill. I paid the bill and was given a receipt for.  A few days later, as I was driving the car, I noticed the maintenance light came on indicating that the car was due for an oil change.

This experience got me thinking about automobile repairs and the consumer protection laws in Florida that govern vehicle repair facilities. Awareness of the laws governing automobile repair can be a valuable asset when dealing with a repair facility.

Motor vehicle repairs in Florida are governed by the Florida Motor Vehicle Repair Act, which is found in Chapter 559 of the Florida Statutes. The law in Florida requires that a consumer be provided with a written estimate prior to any repair that is expected to cost more than $100.00.  A customer can waive this requirement, or modify it by authorizing repairs up to a certain amount without a written estimate, but such waiver must be done in writing.  Additionally, if there is a charge for providing a written estimate, this must be disclosed in writing and authorized by the customer prior to the imposition of any charge.

The law also requires that at the completion of the repair work the customer must be provided with an invoice that: details the work done; and itemization of all parts and labor involved; a statement identifying any used, reconditioned, or recycled replacement parts; a description of any warranty; and states the date and odometer reading for the car.

It is a violation of the Florida Motor Vehicle Repair Act for a business to recommend repairs that aren’t needed, or to claim to have done repairs that weren’t really done.  The statue also prohibits other misleading or deceptive acts such as making or charging for repairs that weren’t expressly authorized or misuse of a customer’s credit card.

Although state law prohibits dishonest or deceptive acts by repair facilities, I doubt that you’ll see very many claims litigated under the Florida Motor Vehicle Repair Act.  The act does allow an injured consumer to recover their actual damages, along with costs and reasonable attorney fees.  However, litigating these claims also puts a consumer at risk for paying the costs and attorney fees of the repair facility if the consumer looses the lawsuit.  Few people are willing to risk liability for thousands of dollars in attorney fees in order to recover the costs of a faulty or unneeded repair.  This is both understandable and unfortunate.  Dishonest repair facilities not only rip off the hard-earned dollars of individuals and families, but they put honest repair facilities at a competitive disadvantage through deceptive pricing practices.  The only winner is the dishonest repair facility.  I admire those who are willing to take a stand to protect their rights and the integrity of our marketplace.  As for my wife’s car and her oil change light, the service center told us they just forgot to reset the light, but reassured us that they had done the oil change.  We’re both skeptical and will probably pay for another oil change at another facility just to make certain.

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Milk. Does it really do a body good?

Interesting op-ed piece in the NY Times today on why drinking milk may not benefit us as much as we’ve been led to believe.  My wife, a board certified pediatrician with over 20 years experience, has been saying this for years.

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C. Zadick Shapiro discusses the Supreme Court decision regarding life without parole for juveniles prosecuted as adults.  This is a significant ruling for Florida because historically, Florida has sent more children to adult prison than all other states in the nation combined.


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Firearm dangers in Tallahassee student housing

The Tallahassee News has published a commentary I wrote on the dangers of firearms in student housing.  The story is available at:

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Keeping the Vision of Freedom Alive

Today, July 4th, we celebrate the birth of the United States. This is, of course, the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.  That today is our national birthday is a little odd to me simply because the Declaration of Independence has no legal effect in modern American law.  Modern American law looks to the U.S. Constitution, which went into effect in 1789, after the Revolution had ended and the essential failure of the first independent American government which was formed by the Continental Congress and the Articles of Confederation.

When our founding fathers drafted the Constitution they did so based upon their experiences with injustice.  For instance, if we were to draft a Constitution today it is unlikely we would think to prohibit the quartering of soldiers in private homes in peacetime.  However, I believe, this provision is reflective of the framers’ experience with European rule.

The US Constitution contains a number of provisions that are relevant to the economic and property rights of the American people.  For instance, the “Takings Clause” contained in the 5th Amendment prohibits the government from taking private property for public use without just compensation of the owner. There is also a provision that provides for access to the federal courts and a right to trial by jury for disputes contained in the 7th Amendment.

Of great interest to me, as a Bankruptcy attorney working in 21st Century Tallahassee, Florida, is the provision contained in section 8 of article I of the Constitution that grants to Congress the power to establish uniform bankruptcy laws throughout the United States.  What is notably absent is the power to create any form of debtors’ prison.  I believe this again speaks to the experience and interests of the founding fathers and framers of the Constitution.  Our Constitution was written on the brink of the industrial revolution and at a time of great economic and social change.  In Europe, those who took economic risks such as creating a business, and failed, were often ruined for life.  It was common for people to be incarcerated for being unable to pay their debts.

The idea of America as a place where a person can start anew remains within our bankruptcy code.  Our nation was built by risk takers who envisioned new businesses and industries; and who were not afraid to try, fail, and try again.   In my own practice I have often been amazed at the renewal that can occur when people are freed from the burden of unmanageable debt either through direct discharge or through restructured repayment.  I am very proud that the promise of renewal and justice lives on in America, and I feel very fortunate that I have the opportunity in my work to help others make their American dream come true.

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Moving Forward Towards Improving Our Healthcare System

The big legal news this week is the decision by the United States Supreme Court finding that the individual mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act does not violate the provisions of the United States Constitution.  Legal analysts and bloggers of all persuasions are weighing in and giving us their interpretation of what they are claiming to be a landmark decision.  I’ve been listening to the press,  looking  over the opinion, and wondering what I might be able to add to the discourse on the decision.  Ultimately, I’ve decided not to try to analyze the decision or tell you what is important about it.  From a legal standpoint, I don’t think the decision is going to have a significant impact upon American jurisprudence or the law as it exists today.

The overall effect of the decision is to return the issue of our national healthcare system to the political arena, where some are vowing to uphold the decision and others are vowing not to sleep until every last piece of the Affordable Care Act is done away with.  In other words, we can count on continued political fighting.

For me, as a nurse attorney who has provided care at the bedside and now works with families to create economic and social justice, I’ve see a close up view of what happens in a family when a major health care crisis hits.  Even with insurance, many families loose their life savings and are forced to seek bankruptcy protection.  The average American lives in constant vulnerability that all they’ve ever worked for could be lost in the event of a catastrophic healthcare event.  I have even witnessed instances where physicians, who normally function as our caretakers, have had their lives devastated by illness.  We all need to remember that injury and disease can impact any of us at any time in our lives.

It is very important to me that my clients, friends, and family members all have access to affordable healthcare.  I do not want to see an America where people are left to die in the streets, or people with treatable healthcare problems are turned away from receiving the care they need.   I am not satisfied with our current healthcare system that has the greatest technology in the world available, but produces results that are among the lowest in the industrialized world, and are often no better and are sometimes worse than third world countries.  We need to all ask ourselves what good is technology if so many can’t access even the most basic forms of care?  What are we doing wrong?

As individual human beings and as a nation, I believe we have an obligation to take care of each other.  I fear that a nation which turns her back when her people are suffering will not last long.  I am always dismayed whenever I hear a person say that their neighbors should go without healthcare if they can’t afford it.  I often wonder where such an attitude comes from and how can anyone really be so indifferent?

As we move forward with fixing our healthcare system we need to move beyond the idea that there are two competing sides and that one side will win and another will loose. The truth is that no solution will ever bring us a perfect healthcare system.  However, we must always strive to improve and do better.  To create an improved healthcare system it is important that we open our minds to new ideas and ways of delivering care to our people.  We have to try a variety of different approaches and carefully measure what works and what doesn’t, not just economically, but also in terms of outcomes.  We need to ask ourselves why, despite having the highest per capita healthcare spending in the world, we have very modest results on measures such as life expectancy and infant mortality?  What can we change to improve those statistics?   These are not just questions for our healthcare professionals and politicians, but for all of us.  We have to work together.

The struggle to find a way to repair to our healthcare system will not end with the next election, or Court decision, or session of Congress.  We all need to be invested for the long haul in making whatever changes are necessary to build the very best health system in the world.  Our friends, neighbors, and family members deserve nothing less.

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An Exciting Day Of U.S. Supreme Court Decisions

Today has been an exciting day for Supreme Court watchers like me.  I must admit, I’m surprised by today’s rulings.  For me, as a lawyer, a Supreme Court decision is not just about the individual case at hand, but also about how that decision might change the legal landscape within the nation.  For instance, with the healthcare decision I was concerned that finding the individual mandate unconstitutional might give a precedent to attacking other social programs such as Social Security Disability (which is really a national insurance policy that Congress has mandated we all pay into).   Can you imagine the impact upon people’s lives if suddenly the Social Security Disability were gone?  I shudder to think of it.   I don’t like the image of America as a nation that doesn’t take care of it’s children, elderly, or infirmed.  Thankfully, it appears the Constitution does allow us to take care of each other.

The Edwards case that I wrote about yesterday turned out to be a non-event.  The Court issued a one-sentence decision that affirmed the appellate Court decision upholding standing for claims seeking statutory damages.  The Court appeared to say that it regretted even accepting review of the case when it wrote: “The writ of certiorari is dismissed as improvidently granted”.  I’m glad to see they didn’t see merit to the standing argument.

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