Appellate court upholds judgment for auto dealership

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   A three-member panel of the Tennessee Court of Appeals has upheld a summary judgment granted in a lawsuit filed in Carter County Circuit Court against a local automobile dealership.
   A lawsuit brought by David W. Vaughn named Daimler Chrysler Corporation and Grindstaff, Inc., as defendants seeking damages in connection with his purchase of a 1994 Chrysler LHS automobile, which was manufactured by Chrysler and sold to him by Grindstaff. Vaughn's complaint alleged violations of Tennessee's "Lemon Law."
   In the opinion filed Wednesday, the appellate court ruled a concession by Vaughn's attorney, Lon V. Boyd of Kingsport and the lack of an expert witness to speak to the "impairment" of the automobile were reasons to affirm the lower court rulings. Presiding Judge Houston M. Goddard delivered the opinion of the court, in which Judges Herschel P. Franks and Charles D. Susano ruled.
   In the original complaint, Vaughn contended that on Dec. 15, 1996, he experienced a problem with the emergency brake of the vehicle and the automatic transmission mechanism. He manually released the emergency brake while the car was in neutral and parked on a steep incline causing it to roll downhill and strike a pile of railroad ties, which caused damages to the automobile of approximately $2,275.
   The vehicle was then towed to Grindstaff in Elizabethton where, according to a representative of Grindstaff, Mr. Vaughn refused to authorize repair until July 2, 1997, and according to Mr. Vaughn Grindstaff refused to repair it.
   According to the case background detailed in court documents, Vaughn brought the vehicle to Grindstaff one month later complaining of brake vibrations. An inspection disclosed that the brakes and rotors were worn out and needed to be replaced. The car was repaired and returned to Mr. Vaughn within hours.
   Approximately one year later, on July 7, 1998, Mr. Vaughn again brought the vehicle to Grindstaff, contending there was smoke coming out from under the hood and that the engine had stalled. A subsequent inspection disclosed a broken alternator belt, which was replaced under warranty at no charge.
   Some two months later Mr. Vaughn again brought the vehicle to Grindstaff, complaining that the transmission was "uneven." The court opinion reads that " ...proof showed the car had been driven only five miles since the brake replacement two months earlier, and only one hundred miles in the 21 months since the vehicle rolled down the hill and struck the railroad ties."
   The Circuit Court in Carter County sustained a motion for summary judgment in August 2002 filed by the attorneys representing Daimler Chrysler and Grindstaff.
   In Judge Jean Stanley's order, both parties in oral arguments agreed that the vehicle has not been subject to repair four or more times for the same alleged defect. The parties disagreed on whether the vehicle has been out of service by reason of repair for an accumulative total of 30 calendar days and whether the subject vehicle is "substantially impaired".
   Boyd conceded that the remaining issues require expert testimony, according to the court documents. Stanley's order gave the plaintiff until Aug. 1, 2002 to file an affidavit of an expert witness setting forth the opinion that the vehicle is substantially impaired.
   In the opinion, the court stated that Vaughn never produced an expert witness in support of his contentions relative to " ...a defect or condition substantially impairing... " the vehicle.
   The court opinion stated that in lieu of the Boyd's concession of the need for expert testimony in impairment of the vehicle " ...there is no material evidence to contradict not only the defendants' expert, but also an expert who examined the vehicle for Mr. Vaughn, that there was no defect or condition which substantially impaired the vehicle."