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A lawsuit alleging that AutoNation deceived people who bought used cars from its now-defunct megastores can go forward as a class action, Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal ruled Wednesday. The suit, filed in Palm Beach Circuit Court in August 1999, was given class action status last October. It alleged Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based AutoNation Inc. duped car buyers by first assuring them that they had been unconditionally approved for financing, only to tell them, once they drove their vehicles off the lot, that they had not been approved. Though buyers were given written contracts, AutoNation never signed them, allege those who filed the suit. AutoNation allegedly then forced buyers to sign new deals with less favorable terms or alternatively turn back in their cars, according to court documents. Two of the name plaintiffs, who went to purchase a used car in May 1999 in West Palm Beach, say they originally were told the down payment would be $2,000. Several hours later, they say that figure jumped to $4,000. They then claim a week after buying the car, the dealership called and told them there was a problem with their loan and they needed to come up with yet another $2,000 or bring the car back. What AutoNation allegedly did violated Florida consumer protection statutes, said C. Oliver Burt III of Berman Devalerio Pease Tabacco Burt & Pucillo, who filed the suit on behalf of car buyers. Though he could not predict how many Floridians would be included in the class action claim, Burt said that given the fact that AutoNation’s practice allegedly took place between 1995 and 2000, it’s expected to be in the thousands. “We are committed to defending ourselves vigorously,” said Oscar Suris, director for corporate communications for AutoNation. He declined to comment further.

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