– The case is tricky: fraudsters are reselling a car they don’t even have. The original owner wants the car back from the buyer – after paying a lot of money for it. And now?
Anyone who falls for a scam when buying a used car and unsuspectingly buys someone else’s car has a good chance of still being able to keep the car. If the original owner, who was also defrauded, later turns up and wants to get their car back, they face significantly higher hurdles. He must be able to prove that the new owner was not “in good faith” in the purchase, as the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) ruled on Friday. This also applies when there is a dispute as to whether the vehicle registration document has been forged.
“In good faith” is a term from the German Civil Code (BGB). There is actually a separate paragraph (§ 932) dedicated to the complex situation. According to this, “the person who acquires becomes the owner even if the thing does not belong to the seller” – with one condition: he must be “in good faith”. On the other hand, this is not the case “if he knows or is grossly negligent in not knowing that the thing does not belong to the seller.”
It simply means: you shouldn’t let the car start completely naively. According to previous BGH decisions, when buying a used car, for example, it should be a matter of course that you are shown the vehicle’s registration document. If you don’t even pay attention to this, don’t be surprised if you fall for scammers.
And one more limitation: “acquisition in good faith” does not include “if the item was stolen from the owner, lost or otherwise lost.”
Who is the rightful owner?
But that was not the case here. The car dealership, whose CEO was later investigated for fraud in more than 100 cases, leased Mercedes on a fairly regular basis, meaning for a certain period of time. Only the leasing company did not recover the car from Mercedes-Benz: the car dealership sold it to an unsuspecting car dealer from Italy for 30,800 euros.
The big question for the top civil judges in Karlsruhe: Who is the rightful owner? The Stuttgart District Court awarded the Mercedes to the leasing company. The Superior Regional Court (OLG) for its part stated: the car belongs to the buyer.
This is how the BGH now sees it, as the chairperson of the trial, Bettina Brückner, explained after the verdict. In fact, the obstacle here is the vehicle’s registration document, or as it is officially called today, part II of the registration certificate. The man who took the car to the Italian dealer says he was presented with a registration certificate that looked genuine. The original Mercedes-Benz leasing company disputes this. So the statement contradicts the statement.