Kelly’s family was put in danger with no alternative in sight.
Representation can make or break the outcome of a client’s legal battle – regardless of who’s truly at fault. Kelly Smith’s case is a great example.
Kelly and Jamal Smith are the parents of four beautiful children. When the Smiths discovered they were pregnant with their fourth child, they decided to buy a car that would serve their whole family well. Because her children’s safety was her top priority, Kelly conducted weeks of research to find the safest car within her budget and then visited a dealership that she knew and trusted.
At the dealership, their salesman quickly found a car that matched her requests. He assured her that the car, while older, was in mint condition. With full faith in the dealership, Kelly and Jamal drove the car home that night.
However, the car began to break down almost as soon as they drove it out of the lot. Within six months, the gas cap, the engine, an electrical chip, and the brakes gave out. After spending close to $15,000 on repairs, Kelly’s mechanic advised her to never drive the car again. It was a death trap.
It was so confusing. I didn’t know what to say, because I’m not a lawyer. I couldn’t figure out how to interject.
Kelly and Jamal felt betrayed. The dealership had knowingly put their family in danger. Now they were without a car and had spent more than the car was worth on repairs. They decided to return the car to the dealership and request a replacement. Upon hearing their story, the dealership apologized and assured the Smiths that they would find a replacement within a week.
A week passed but with no word from the dealership. Because Kelly could not get the kids to school or to her job without a car, she was forced to pay out of pocket for a rental car while she waited. After two months, the dealership simply stopped answering Kelly’s calls.
The Smith’s expenses were getting out of hand. At the advice of family and friends, Kelly decided to take legal action to encourage the dealership to make good on their promise. Since she couldn’t afford an attorney, she found an investigator that agreed to advise her and help her file the necessary forms for free. The investigator helped Kelly find an Arbitrator, file paperwork, and assemble evidence. One piece of evidence included a recording taken by Kelly’s son of the dealership verbally promising to replace the car.
When the dealership learned that Kelly had sought legal advice, they hired their own attorney and denied that the offer had ever been made. The dealership’s attorney also claimed that Kelly could not be accompanied in Arbitration by someone without their law degree. As a result, Kelly lost her investigator a week before her scheduled arbitration.
I will never forget the smirk on the opposing attorneys face when he saw us enter alone.
Kelly knew she would be vulnerable without representation. Her former investigator advised her to not attend arbitration at all. She was equally worried, however, that not attending would encourage the Arbitrator to rule in the dealership’s favor. Scared but determined, Kelly and Jamal decided to attend arbitration together.
“I will never forget the smirk on the opposing attorneys face when he saw us enter alone,” Kelly recalls. The smile transformed when she brought forward a binder full of evidence. The opposing party immediately objected and requested more time to review Kelly’s evidence. “It was so confusing. I didn’t know what to say, because I’m not a lawyer. I couldn’t figure out how to interject.” The Arbitrator consented, forcing Kelly and Jamal to turn over the recording. They would meet again in a few months time.
Kelly now knew that she needed an attorney, but paying for one wasn’t an option. Their services would cost even more than buying a new car. She felt stuck. She wanted to give up.
It became bigger than me. My number one goal was to prevent them from selling another lemon to a pregnant woman. If I did nothing at the end of the day, at least I could say that I fought.
Meanwhile, friends and neighbors started telling her about similar experiences they had with the same dealership. “Nobody else fought. It became bigger than me. My number one goal was to prevent them from selling another lemon to a pregnant woman. If I did nothing at the end of the day, at least I could say that I fought.” So, she persisted.
That’s when her former investigator told her about Open Door Legal. That week, Kelly scheduled a meeting with our consumer law team. The team quickly agreed to champion Kelly and Jamal’s position free of charge. Over the six months that followed, Open Door Legal’s team convinced the dealership to not only pay off her remaining car loan, but to also pay for a new car that would fit her families needs. Today Kelly’s family rides to school, work, and home in safety.
I took a stand, and thanks to Open Door Legal, you can too.
Looking back, Kelly remembers her legal battle with pride and gratitude. “No matter how many times I thought about giving up, [the Open Door Legal team] encouraged me that we were going in the right direction. I tell my friends, you need a lawyer. You think you don’t, but you do. The quality of the work that they do doesn’t subside just because they aren’t being paid. They never wavered.”
Kelly feels that the experience was personally empowering. “It feels great to know that I could be the one to fight,” she says. “People have the right to put their money towards something that they can depend on. It feels great to have not given up even when I wanted to. It feels great to be a woman of color who was not intimidated.” She now tells her friends, “I took a stand, and thanks to Open Door Legal, you can too.”
You can join Kelly and her neighbors as they fight for justice in San Francisco. Donate to Open Door Legal today to ensure that everyone has access to legal representation.