Question: About three years ago, I was unemployed and did not have enough money to keep paying for the insurance, gas, and installment payments. I contacted the finance company and they told me to surrender my car at the dealership and they would take care of the paperwork. The car was in great condition and I got a notice from the lender after the drop off that they would sell the car at an auction if I did not want the vehicle back. I thought that it would be over, but it wasn’t. They sent me a bill for the unpaid balance, reported it on my credit reports as a repossession, and now they hired a debt collection law firm from Orange County, which is pursing me in court. I was served with the debt collection lawsuit yesterday.
Please review my legal guide on Avvo.com which explains the California consumer’s rights following repossession of a motor vehicle. The fact that you took it yourself to the dealership and voluntarily surrendered it during business hours rather than have a repo agent come to your home at night to seize it does not change the fact that it was a repossession and the finance company’s duty to give you proper notice before they may sell the vehicle at auction or private sale. Essentially, before the finance company may sell the vehicle and then have the right to the unpaid balance, they must send you a proper notice of intent to sell or dispose and then perform the sale in a commercially reasonable manner. More details are in my repossession legal guide.
Once you have an idea of the substantive law regarding repossession from my legal guide, now you can review my blog on your options and the civil procedure for defending a debt collection lawsuit, in my “Next Steps” blog posting. That blog posting provides guidance on the defendant’s options when receiving a debt collection lawsuit and how much time is appropriate to avoid a default judgment, as some people confuse a hearing date with the due date for a proper, written response. Usually, the defendant has 30 days to file the defense papers in court from date of personal service by a process server.
To reduce the risk of losing and a money judgment entered against you, I’d recommend hiring an experienced consumer attorney who handles debt collection lawsuit defense. Most of these cases are settled or dismissed, once the consumer and his or her lawyer see what documents the debt collection law firm has or is missing. Sometimes the notice of intent was missing a required disclosure or the amounts were not correctly stated or the vehicle was not sold in a commercially reasonable manner. These are challenging arguments to present in court and not for the do-it-yourself types, even if you’ve been in a courtroom before.