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Illegal tranfer of a car title

Baltimore, MD |

I recently purchased a car that was Titled with a mother & daughter. The daughter signed the mothers name as she lives in another state. I purchased the car "as is", had it inspected and mechanic said she totally ripped me off. The cost of the repairs exceed the cost of the car. I tried to work something out with the daughter and her attitude is "oh well, buyer beware". Is there any recourse due to the daughter forging the mothers name?

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Attorney answers 3


You had it inspected after you paid? First, you bought it "as is." Whatever condition it is in is what it is; no remedy. Daughter is correct. Where is the rip off?

Second, you do not know for fact that mom did not authorize the signature, in which case it is no forgery. Nor would forgery help you--just get daughter jailed. Mom is not going to do anything to get a junker back.

Licensed in Maryland with offices in Maryland and Oregon. Information here is general, does not create a lawyer-client relationship, and is not a substitute for consulting with an experienced attorney on the specifics of your situation.


"Caveat emptor" or "buyer beware" is the exact phrase used to describe "as is" or "no warranty" purchases. I suspect you received a discounted rate on the care exactly because of the defects.


A threshold issue in your case is the wording of the actual language found on the car’s title. If there are two names on the car’s title, and the names are separated by the word "and'' (i.e., ‘mother and daughter’), then the car is owned by both named parties, and likely cannot be sold without the signature of both named parties. If there are two names on the car’s title, and the names are separated by the word "or'' (i.e., ‘mother or daughter’), then your recourse based on a faulty transfer of title may be more limited.

The issue of whether the daughter “forged” the mother’s signature relates to principles of agency law. Namely, the issue boils down to whether the daughter had authority to sign the mother’s name. If the mother consented to the daughter signing on the mother’s behalf, then the daughter would have been acting as the mother’s agent. This would have created an agency relationship, with the mother as principal and daughter as agent. Typically, the existence of an agency relationship does not have to be evidenced by a writing. However, some jurisdictions will apply the “equal dignities rule,” which mandates that certain agency relationships be evidenced by a writing. The equal dignities rule relates to the Statute of Frauds.

Before explaining the equal dignities rule, a short explanation of the Statute of Frauds is appropriate. In Maryland, many oral contracts are binding. However, the Statute of Frauds is a defense to the enforcement of certain oral contracts. The Statute of Frauds requires that there be one or more writings, signed by the party sought to be liable on the contract, containing material terms of the contract. One such contract that is covered by the Statute of Frauds is the contract for the sale of goods for a price of $500 or more. You stated that the daughter “signed the mothers name,” which would indicate that there exists a written contract for the sale of the car. If you purchased the car for $500 or more, then a closer inspection of the contract by an attorney, to ensure that all the material terms appear, is advisable.
Even if the contract satisfies the Statute of Frauds, you may have recourse by applying the “equal dignities rule.” When the Statute of Frauds applies (as it would here if you purchased the car for $500 or more), some jurisdictions applying the equal dignities rule will require a written agency arrangement. That agreement would expressly give the agent authority to enter into an agreement on behalf of the principal. Accordingly, even if the mother consented and granted authority to the daughter to sign in the mother’s name, jurisdictions applying the equal dignities rule would require that authority be in writing. Courts in Maryland have not clearly adopted or rejected the equal dignities rule.

Another important factor in your case is whether the daughter had your permission for her to sign on the mother’s behalf.

As you can see, there are many issues implicated by this transaction. Although you purchased the car “as is,” that is not necessarily fatal to your case. I would highly recommend that you seek the advice of an attorney, so the two of you can discuss this, and other, issues presented by your case.