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KEITH MARTIN’S Sports Car Market is an entertaining and informative magazine, even if, like me, you’re not into buying or selling collector cars at auction. In this magazine’s July 2017 issue, the one currently on newsstands, its monthly “Legal Files” column warranted a startling cover blurb: “The True Twisted Tale of the Terrorist Truck.”
Lamentable could also describe what happened to Mark Oberholtzer and one of his company’s vehicles. Here he is, owner of a successful Texas firm, Mark-1 Plumbing. Back in 2012, a company Ford F-250 got traded in on a new one. However, fourteen months later, Oberholtzer’s life got complicated indeed, including a grilling by the Department of Homeland Security. Matters were finally resolved, and there’s a moral to the story that applies to anyone selling a used vehicle.
The crisis arose when the ex-Oberholtzer truck appeared in international news as a jihadist anti-aircraft vehicle in Syria, still retaining its Mark-1 Plumbing livery including the company’s phone number.
Before Oberholtzer traded in the F-250, he intended to strip off the company signage, only to be told by the dealer rep that they had a solvent capable of doing the job better.
However, the dealer decided not to keep the truck in inventory and sent it, livery preserved, to a local auto auction. There, it got passed on to another Texas dealer listing it on its website.
A buyer in Turkey responded to the website, bought the truck along with another, and had them exported from Texas to Mersin, Turkey.
“From there,” Sports Car Market’s John Draneas writes in his “Legal Files” column, “it’s about a five-hour drive to Aleppo.” The truck still displayed its original livery but soon also sported anti-aircraft armament in its bed. Its photo shown on “The Colbert Report” had Colbert quipping that Syria “is going down the toilet, but for the first time, they know who to call to unclog it.”
Once Homeland Security cleared him, Oberholtzer sued the original dealer for damages of more than $1 million. The suit alleged negligence, fraud, misrepresentation, libel, appropriation of trade name and violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
Draneas describes why Oberholtzer and his attorney avoided “what would pretty clearly be” a breach of contract suit: With this, there would have been legal intricacies involving limits of damages and a mandatory arbitration provision.
In time, Draneas notes, a confidential settlement was reached before trial, “a good idea for both parties.” At its core, he says, is the legal matter of forseeability: whether someone could have predicted, at the time of failing to remove the signage, what actually happened afterward.
Draneas concludes with advice to anyone selling a vehicle: “When we sell a car, we should remove everything we can from the car that identifies us in any way.” Succinctly, a seller has no way of knowing the car’s future.
I close with a first-hand tale involving Daughter Suz: She inherited a high-mileage Toyota Camry that reached the end of its useful life while in her care. Suz donated it to a favorite college radio station, which arranged third-party flatbed removal.
The guy loading the car “forgot” to remove its license plates. When Suz reminded him, he offered her the rear plate only. She had to jog his memory once more that California is a two-plate state.
Whoever could foresee the future of these “forgotten” plates? Daughter Suz could. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017