New York Auto Sale Goes Nuclear (And The Fallout), Part 1

“Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus…” Homer, The Iliad

The following is a true-life drama involving one of our clients. (We’ve decided to call him ‘Mr. X’ here.) It’s based on his own account of his misadventures, much of which was later confirmed by a prosecutor who became involved. We took a look at relevant law-enforcement and administrative records, as well.

Both protagonists in this drama were eighteen. The age is relevant, if only indirectly: some of the things described will make more sense to the reader if an eighteen year old is pictured doing them. It’s not that older people don’t do things like this. It’s just that kids of eighteen will do things like this sober.

Our story begins with Mr. X, who had a car to sell. The car had some problems, and Mr. X had “taken it off the road:” the plates had been surrendered, the insurance canceled, though not in that order, apparently.

As might be predicted from our last entry, this will have consequences. It can make a big difference to DMV and ultimately to law enforcement and the courts whether a car is (1) unregistered simply because the plates were surrendered or (2) unregistered because the registration has been suspended or revoked for an insurance lapse.

Be that as it may, a friend of Mr. X offered to buy the car. (We’ll call this friend ‘Mr. Y’.) He didn’t have the purchase money yet, but Mr. X, in a gesture of good faith, had the car towed to Mr. Y’s house anyway. He made it clear, of course, that he would hold the keys until he was paid.

Apparently, raising the money was more difficult than anticipated. As days turned into weeks, the car became a fixture in Mr. Y’s drive. He began to treat it like his own, in fact – he even painted it. (In doing so he obscured the vehicle identification number, and a car without a readable VIN is liable to be confiscated; but that’s a story for another day). The fact that he couldn’t use the car wasn’t ideal, but Mr. Y was not only broke, he was patient.

Mr. X wasn’t.

Mr. X, in his mind’s eye, hadn’t seen himself waiting weeks for the money. He let his displeasure be known, and a coolness entered the parties’ relationship.

After a month or so, Mr. X decided he’d had enough. He arranged to have a tow truck meet him at Mr. Y’s, then drove over there himself. He announced that if he didn’t get his money instantly he would reclaim the car. Mr. Y, of course, wanted to keep the car, but had no money. So he did the only thing he could do – he got mad. A shouting match followed.

The argument came to a sudden end when Mr. Y grabbed the keys out of Mr. X’s hand and took off – at high speed, in the uninsured car with no plates. Mr. X naturally drove after him. Soon, with Mr. X in pursuit, Mr. Y could be seen tearing down the back roads of their rural neighborhood. He seemed to be headed toward Mr. X’s house. He never reached it, though. Failing to negotiate a sharp turn, he lost control, and the car flipped. Mr. Y wasn’t badly hurt, but he’d completely destroyed the car.

He’d also made a fine legal mess for himself (and, incidentally, for Mr. X), which we will discuss next time.