AN 18.95 PERCENT interest rate is brutal, whether you are buying a car, applying for a credit card, or even paying off a loan shark. If you're being charged that interest rate because you're deaf, it's more than brutal - it's illegal.
A "special" interest rate for deaf people is one of the many insults John Adamson, a deaf Northeast Philadelphia man, claims he was hit with in South Jersey earlier this year during the most bizarre car-buying experience of his life.
His ongoing ordeal began last winter after he saw a television ad touting a low interest rate and an $8,000 trade-in credit, regardless of credit history. When his ordeal ends, it likely will be in a federal courthouse, and Adamson will drive his 1994 Buick Le-Sabre, closely approaching 250,000 miles, to get there.
Adamson, an accountant, says he has been too "frustrated and humiliated" to set foot in a car dealership again.
"I feel afraid that I will be ripped off again," Adamson wrote.
According to a complaint Adamson filed in federal court, he and his 8-year-old son, who is also deaf, drove the LeSabre from their home on Feb. 9 to Cherry Hill Dodge on Route 70 to buy a 2008 Dodge Caravan.
Once at the dealership, Adamson claims, he repeatedly asked for a sign-language interpreter to help with the transaction. The salesman said it wouldn't be necessary, Adamson claims, even though he told them it was the law.
"Don't worry about the law. I'll give you a better deal," the salesman allegedly told Adamson.
Rather than a 2008 Caravan, the complaint claims, the salesman talked Adamson into a 2007 model with 31,893 miles and a sticker price of $19,000.
The car didn't have the DVD player and the cruise control Adamson wanted, but it did have something he didn't want, according to the complaint: Enterprise Rent-a-Car documents, under the driver's seat. After being assured that the car hadn't been a rental, Adamson proceeded with the deal.
The advertised trade-in of $8,000, plus the $1,000 he was going to put down, meant that Adamson would be financing $10,000 for the used Grand Caravan. But after being told his that credit had been approved, the complaint alleges, Adamson was given only $1,000 for his Buick, something his salesman promised would be fixed with a $7,000 check later on.
And then came the special interest rate for deaf people. According to the complaint, the dealership's financial manager told Adamson that "New Jersey disability law required the imposition of an increased interest rate of 18.95 percent."
"The deaf interest rate didn't sound right, but I'm from Pennsylvania and do not know about New Jersey law," Adamson wrote when asked what his reaction was.
Cherry Hill Dodge denies all of Adamson's allegations, particularly the "special" interest rate.
"Mister Adamson failed to comply with the stipulations required by the bank for financing," attorney Laura Ruccolo said.
Sean Gerlis, president of the New Jersey Association of the Deaf, said state and federal laws had been created to protect, not punish, the disabled.
"If what he [Adamson] claims is true, it is very serious," Gerlis said, through a sign-language interpreter. "They are really trying to take advantage of the gentleman."
Ruccolo and attorneys for Daimler Chrysler have filed motions to have the case handled in private arbitration. They also claim that Adamson had signed documents that prohibited him from filing a suit.
Despite the interest rate, the deal went forward and Adamson signed over the title to his Buick. All told, he would have paid more than $30,000 for the car.
But that never happened, because Adamson reported the van stolen less than two months later. A week went by without any information, the complaint claims, but Cherry Hill Dodge later informed Adamson that it had repossessed the vehicle because Adamson's loan had not been approved.
Eventually, it appeared that things were going to work out, and Cherry Hill Dodge sent a car to pick Adamson up so he could reclaim the van, the complaint contends.
Back at the dealership, Cherry Hill Dodge gave Adamson a check for $1,000 and a set of keys. They were the keys to his Buick, though.
They then demanded that Adamson leave the property and told him to give back all paperwork pertaining to the Caravan, the complaint alleges.
Instead, Adamson got an attorney and eventually was referred to Philadelphia lawyer John Jacko, who had handled cases involving the deaf.
Jacko, whose parents are deaf, said the dealership had numerous opportunities to do the right thing.
"But they just don't," he said. "People shouldn't be taken advantage of just because they are disabled, and that's certainly what has occurred here."
Adamson said the ordeal has been mostly humiliating for his family, as they try to explain why they're back in the same LeSabre that has been hauling them around for years.