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Dangers in Contract Negotiations With Non-English Speaking Consumers

Aug 17, 2007
California like the rest of the country has many non-English or limited English speaking residents particularly within the Latino population. To capture these markets many companies often employ bilingual individuals. Sometimes these bilingual individuals chose to take advantage of the limited English speaking for greater profitability to the business and to line their own pockets.

While limited English speaking customers may seem like easy targets, California law provides for tough sanctions and expansive protection of these customers.

Under California law any person engaged in a trade or business who negotiates primarily in Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, or Korean, orally or in writing, are required to deliver to the other party to the contract or agreement and prior to the execution, a translation of the contract or agreement in the language in which the contract or agreement was negotiated, which includes a translation of every term and condition in that contract or agreement, among other types of goods and services , this is true if entering into one of the following contracts:

(1) Retail installment sales, defined as the sale of goods or furnishing of services by a retail seller to a retail buyer for a deferred payment price payable in installments;

(2) a loan or extension of credit secured other than by real property, or unsecured, for use primarily for personal, family or household purposes;

(3) a lease, sublease, rental contract or agreement, or other term of tenancy contract or agreement, for a period of longer than one month, covering a dwelling, an apartment, or mobilehome, or other dwelling unit normally occupied as a residence.

(4) A contract or agreement, containing a statement of fees or charges, entered into for the purpose obtaining legal services, when the person who is engaged in business is currently licensed attorney.

In a recent case in imperial county, (Alba Graciano v. Robinson Ford Sales, Inc., Superior Ct. Case No. L-01452) a non-English speaking person bought a car from a car dealer. The salesman apparently attempted to take advantage of the buyer and the buyer proved in court that the deal was for 0% interest loan on a $12,000 car.

The documents were prepared in English with no Spanish translation and the salesman increased the price to $17,865.00. The car buyer filed a lawsuit for violation of consumer laws.

The jury made a modest award and was to decide on punishment, but a settlement was reached with the buyer for $45,000.00, but the court still had to award attorney fees and costs which were at $249,365.36. The court reduced the attorney fees to $27,570, but on appeal the Court or Appeal held that the attorney fees cannot be reduced, because it would be going against the intent of the legislature which is to protect consumers.

On top of approximately $235,000.00 in attorney fees the Court of Appeal also ordered payment of the costs and attorney fees associated with the appeal itself. One salesman's error over a $17,865 care cost the dealer about $300,000.

There is an exception for persons engaged in a trade or business who negotiate primarily in a language other than English, but has his or her own interpreter. To qualify for the exception the interpreter must not be a minor and must be able to speak and read fluently with full understanding both English and the other language.

If failure to comply the person aggrieved may rescind the contract or agreement in the manner provided by California law. In addition to these remedies other remedies may also apply depending on the goods and services and applicable statutes.
About the Author
Arnold Hernandez, represents clients primarily in San Marcos, Escondido, Vista, Oceanside, and throughout the Counties of San Diego, Imperial, Riverside, Los Angeles, and Orange in overtime clams, car accidents, dog bites, and truck accidents http://www.arnoldhernandez.com
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