Consumer & Personal Injury Litigators

Unlawful Repossessions: Holding the Vehicle Hostage

I see this scenario fairly frequently. Whatever the reason that the repossession was unlawful, the repossession company will not release the vehicle to the consumer, unless the consumer pays its fees and/or signs a Release. This happens even where the bank has instructed the repossession company to release the vehicle to the consumer. Unlawful repossessions are sticky this way.

Let’s back up just a bit. Repossessions, including unlawful repossession, start with a bank at least thinking that the consumer has defaulted on the finance agreement (finance purchase agreement, Title loan, etc.). Often this is not true.

But once the bank thinks there is a default, it will hire a repossessor to take the vehicle. Sometimes the bank hires a middle-man, called a forwarder, who then hires the local repossessor. In any event, the repossessor then takes the vehicle.

Putting aside whether the manner by which the repossessor took the vehicle, and whether it was lawful, the underlying agreementis often is unenforceable for some reason. For instance, because it was obtained through fraud. Therefore, the repossession was unlawful from the get go. The bank had no right to take or keep the vehicle.

If the repossession was performed unlawfully, if there was a breach of peace, then neither the bank nor the bank had no right to take or keep the vehicle.

Sometimes, not frequently, but sometimes, the bank will agree to return the vehicle and will instruct the repossessor to release the vehicle. The bank rarely states that it had no right, but will say that it is releasing the vehicle out of the goodness of its heart. Like a bank robber returning the money out of the goodness of his heart.

The problem arises where the repossession or repossession company will not release the vehicle unless the consumer pays its fees and/or signs a Release. It has not right to do so. It’s only claim for fees is as against the company that hired it – either the bank or the forwarder. It has not right to have the consumer to sign a Release or waiver of claims either.

The banks rarely will intervene. The banks are happy for someone else to pay its fees. The banks are happy for someone else to trick or intimidate a consumer to sign a Release or waiver that the bank thinks it may be able to use later if a lawsuit arises.

It should surprise no one that the banks have outsized influence in our society and over the creation and enforcement of our laws. But they cannot directly influence our juries – juries of our peers. They cannot bribe them. Thank goodness.

If you run into this situation you should call a qualified attorney immediately. Wrongful repossessions can be stopped, but only if they are prosecuted and substantial damages and punitive damages are assessed against the banks and repossessors. They only understand money.

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