Kokua Line

By June Watanabe

Sunday, September 9, 2001

Lawsuit against auto dealers
nets about $40 per customer

Question: Do you have any information about the state having a settlement regarding car dealership fees?

Answer: The state Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) recently settled a lawsuit filed against the Cutter Automotive Team and various Cutter dealerships on Oahu and Maui, which will result in refunds to more than 15,000 customers who purchased or leased new or used vehicles from certain Cutter dealers between Feb. 2, 1999 and Dec. 31, 2000.

Cutter did not admit any wrongdoing, but agreed to pay $600,000 in restitution, plus $100,000 to the state for administrative expenses to settle the suit. The refunds will amount to about $40 or more per customer, said Stephen Levins, acting executive director of OCP.

In the lawsuit filed in 1999, the state alleged that Cutter had overcharged some customers on fees for licenses, registration and title transfers. As part of the settlement, Cutter agreed that it will itemize "the total of any actual transfer fee and/or registration fee and/or certificate of title costs for the vehicle, separate and apart from the optional service or other fees charged by the dealer for assisting the consumer in the licensing and/or registration process."

Cutter is providing the names of customers to OCP and to a third-party restitution administrator in California, who will be mailing the refund checks later this year, Levins said. The restitution administrator will contact all eligible consumers, he said.

For details, call the Consumer Resource Center at 587-3222.

Levins also said OCP is looking at other dealerships in light of this case.

Q: After a year and a half of waiting, I was awarded Social Security disability payments by a judge. Four months later, I am still waiting for my payments to begin. Social Security headquarters in Washington say they are waiting for my paperwork from the Honolulu office. Repeated calls and messages to the local office in Honolulu are never answered or returned. What can be done to speed up the process?

A: You may have gotten an answer by now, since four months is the typical amount of time it takes to process such awards.

Disability awards determined by an administrative judge are sent to the Office of Disability Operations in Baltimore, Md., said Tim Walsh, local spokesman for the Social Security Administration. It then takes about four months to process the awards, he said.

You did not leave your name so he could not comment specifically about your case. However, if you still haven't received your check, Walsh said it's better to call the toll-free number, (800) 772-1213, since the SSA's resources have been dedicated to providing answers through that national line.

But with 76 million calls to the 800 number annually, he acknowledged it may be tricky to get through. Walsh has these tips: Call late in the day -- between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. is best. The first week of the month and Mondays tend to be busy so generally, it's best to call late in the day, later in the week and later in the month.

In addition to the toll-free line, you can obtain information on the Internet, at "Once in there, it's fairly easy to navigate," Walsh said.


To the family who led us all the way to Moanalua Park from the Kaiser hospital parking lot as their brand new baby was discharged on Aug. 4. Thank you for helping us when we got lost. Your kindness is one of the greatest memories of Hawaii that we will always treasure. -- Sachiko, the girls and Grandpa from Japan

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