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A valid contract requires a meeting of the minds

A man seeks to recover $1,492 from his opponent for damages obtained of his automobile while in their exclusive possession and control. The opponent then interposed an application, seeking dismissal to the complaint upon the sole ground of release of liability.

The matter started when the man was sleeping in his car while parked on the roadside. A county police officer arrested him under suspicion of DWI driving while under the influence of alcohol. The officer subsequently breathalyzed the man on the roadside and on the precinct with a 0.00 reading results.

The officer disputed the sufficiency of the breath samples provided and the accuracy of the <a breathalyzer results, and reported that the man refused to properly submit to a breathalyzer test.

Afterward, the man’s driver’s license was statutorily revoked and his vehicle was impounded. While not conceded, the county does not challenge the man’s assertion that he requested a blood test to confirm he was not drunk, and was refused.

During the man’s criminal refusal hearing, the police officer failed to appear and man’s license was reinstated. Subsequently, at man’s request, a vehicle seizure/return hearing was held.

Sources revealed that the parties could not reach a consent agreement for the vehicle’s return as the county insisted that the man install an alcohol ignition disconnect device in the vehicle which the man refused.

After an abbreviated hearing, the hearing officer ordered the county to return the vehicle to the man premised upon a finding of a defective complaint and the county’s failure to set forth probable cause for the arrest and impound.

The hearing officer also required the man to pay the county’s storage and towing charges. After subsequent prompting by the county’s attorney, the hearing officer also directed the man to sign a release to obtain the impounded vehicle.

Immediately after the hearing, the man signed a signature page for a general release offered to him. The statute of limitations for the county to seek forfeiture of the man’s vehicle has expired.

At some point, the man went to the impound lot to retrieve his vehicle. The man alleges that his vehicle was damaged while under their care and no longer was operable.

The man contacted the police department’s claims office and was directed to file a detailed claim which was done. After almost eight weeks, the claims department had not forwarded the claim to the risk/management department for an insurance policy review.

The claims department employee in charge of the matter admitted that, despite over a dozen telephone call assurances that the file was being investigated, the issue was not forwarded to the county’s risk management department. It was also admitted that the entire claim investigation consisted of only one telephone call to the impound yard.

Based on DUI records, the threshold dispositive factual issue involves the man’s contention that he did not actually sign a completed general release of claims form, rather he signed only a signature page which he believed was required to release his vehicle from the impound yard.

The man acknowledged his signature upon a single page affixed to the general DUI release, but asserts that he was never shown the previous page which contains the general release provisions. He further notes that nothing on the signature page indicates the existence of prior pages or that he is releasing the county from liability.

The opponent however maintain that the man was advised to retain his attorney and was given an opportunity to review all the release pages although it concedes that he was not provided with a copy to take home as it is the county attorney’s practice to mail the forms sometime thereafter.

The court then adopts the man’s recitation of the facts surrounding his signing of the release. The assistant county attorney also testified that many matters are scheduled on her impound calendar and that she is very busy and efficient in her approach to accomplish documents to release a vehicle which she undertakes immediately after the individual hearing.

Based on records, it is more probable than not that the man’s attention was not directed to the actual release provisions page. It is conceded that neither the county nor the hearing officer verbally advised the man that he was releasing them from liability.

The county contends that they advice the man to hire an attorney and it is sufficient basis to uphold the general release even if he did not understand it or see all its provisions. Sources revealed that a general release is a contract, arising out of a settlement and it is thus governed by the principles of contract law.

The court then stated that there must be consideration, and the man must have entered the contract voluntarily and with an understanding to the terms of the contract. A valid contract requires a meeting of the minds between the parties, and it applies to the general release. In that instance, the issue was not settled by mutual agreement as the vehicle release was affected solely via administrative determination.

The court also found that the hearing officer’s direction to sign a release was consistent with the man’s contention that it was a document to release the car not to release the county from liability.

The court also disagrees as the law avers that it is well settled that the meaning and coverage of a general release necessarily depends upon the controversy being settled and upon the purpose for which the release was given. A release may not be read to cover matters which the parties did not intend to cover.

Further, the man contends that his opponent was negligent in its seizure, towing and storage of his impounded motor vehicle. The county however produced no witnesses to disagree with the man’s negligence related testimony but avers that it does not know the pre-seizure condition of the vehicle and has no knowledge of what happen to it while in its custody and control.

The DWAI opponent also asserts that the man has not borne his burden of proof to prove the elements of a negligence cause of action. Moreover, they stated that such posture is also unfounded in fact and law.

The man further testified that his vehicle was operational though not optimally operable. The county’s agent, its police officer, formally charged the man with operating a motor vehicle on a public highway in an intoxicated condition.

The man’s establishment of damages is more difficult but he presented four paid bills. Two are for replacing two engine drive belts ($67.55) which were removed, ($175) for towing from the impound yard and ($20) transportation charge to retrieve the keys for the vehicle which were not sent to the impound yard.

The court awards the man for a total of $262.55. Pursuant with the law, the man also seeks recoupment of damage to the front end utilizing two estimates.

Consequently, the clerk is directed to enter a decision for $948.09 plus costs and interest from the complaint date for the man, as against his opponent. It is noted that the man would have been entitled to recover the towing and storage charges paid to the county, but at that same were not requested in his complaint or at trial.

Whenever you are charge of wrongful allegation and you want to contest it, you can seek help from the Nassau County Criminal Lawyer. You can also hire the Nassau County DWI Attorney or Nassau County Drunk Driving Lawyers when you want to keep your driver’s license from being revoked. Simply visit Stephen Bilkis and Associates for more information.

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