When a competitor sues you for violating the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA), that lawsuit has the potential to be very damaging for your business. Among other problems, a successful verdict against you may mean a judgment forcing you to pay a large sum in damages. Obviously, your goal is to fight back and to achieve success. As with any type of commercial litigation action, there are varying degrees of success. One of the highest forms of success is persuading the judge hearing your case either to dismiss the action or to grant summary judgment in your favor. Knowing how to perform the right kind of discovery to get helpful information, and then putting that information to use to get the summary judgment you need, is one aspect among many where having a skillful South Florida commercial litigation attorney on your side can go a long way toward getting your that total success you need.
A recent South Florida FDUTPA case was an example of effective pre-trial litigation by a defendant to achieve that high level of success. The case was a dispute between two auto dealerships over the replacement of defective air bags. The plaintiff was a Toyota dealership in West Palm Beach and the defendant sold Fiat Chrysler automobiles in West Palm Beach and Fort Pierce. Both dealerships sold used cars.
The problem arose after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ordered a regional recall of certain airbags in Florida. The Toyota dealership continued to accept as trade-ins used vehicles with those airbags, but then replaced the airbags before offering them for sale on its used car lot. This allegedly caused it to incur substantial expenses for storage and airbag replacement.
However, the Fiat Chrysler dealership, a direct competitor of the Toyota dealership with regard to used vehicles, allegedly did something different. Allegedly, it simply accepted vehicles with the defective airbags and offered them for sale in its used inventory without replacing the problematic airbags. For this, the Toyota dealership sued the Fiat Chrysler dealership, asserting that the defendant engaged in deceptive and unfair trade practices by selling the vehicles without first replacing their airbags.
In this case, the Fiat Chrysler dealership decided to pursue summary judgment and was successful in obtaining that judgment. The key was the effective discovery it had done prior to filing its motion for summary judgment. As a result of the discovery it sought, the Fiat Chrysler dealership found out that the Toyota dealership had been selling used vehicles with the defective airbags (the exact conduct that formed the basis of its suit against the Fiat Chrysler dealership) until the spring of 2016 and only stopped after its employees were questioned about the practice by a local television reporter.
The Plaintiff’s Own Admissions Provide Strong Evidence for the Defense
Another tool in a litigation attorney’s discovery toolbox is the “request for admission.” These devices have the potential to obtain vital information secured directly from the “mouth” of the opposing party. In the vehicle dealership case, the Toyota dealership admitted, within a “request for admission” document submitted to it by the defendant, that the defendant was not the cause of the Toyota dealership’s ceasing the sale of used vehicles with the defective airbags and that it would not sell used vehicles with the defective airbags regardless of whether the defendant did or did not continue selling them.
These admissions were very important to the success of the Fiat Chrysler dealership’s defense. In any deceptive/unfair trade practices action against a competitor, the plaintiff must show that it suffered actual damages and that the defendant’s conduct was the “proximate cause” of those damages. The responses the Toyota dealership gave in the “request for admissions” document revealed that the Fiat Chrysler dealership’s action had no impact on the Toyota dealership’s decision to incur the expense of replacing the airbags. In other words, the evidence was undisputed that the Fiat Chrysler dealership was not the cause of the Toyota dealership’s damages.
Without that essential element of causation, the Toyota dealership had no case and the Fiat Chrysler dealership was entitled to summary judgment. The defendant got to that successful juncture by conducting wise and thoughtful pre-trial discovery. Wherever you are in your case, your odds of success can be bettered by having a skilled commercial litigator working for you. The insightful and experienced South Florida commercial litigation attorneys at Stok Kon + Braverman are here to help, having successfully represented business clients, and protected their interests, for many years.
Contact us online or by calling (305) 935-4440 to schedule your consultation and find out how this firm can help you.
More blog posts:
How the Failure to Seek the Proper Remedy Can Hurt Your Cause in Your Florida Commercial Litigation Action, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, March 14, 2019
Deposing Your Opponent’s Corporate Officers in Your Florida Commercial Litigation, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, Feb. 3, 2017