Man sued for $30K over $40 printer he sold on Craigslist

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    INDIANAPOLIS --- Selling a used, black-and-white printer through Craigslist seemed simple and straightforward to Doug Costello.

    It wasn't.

    What the 66-year-old Massachusetts man didn't know then is that he would spend the next 6 ½ years embroiled in a complicated and confusing legal dispute in Indiana over that printer, which, according to its buyer, was broken.

    He would find himself liable for about $30,000 in damages. He would pay a lawyer at least $12,000 in his battle to escape the legal mess.

    And it all started with a piece of hardware he sold online for about $40 in 2009. With shipping and other costs, the total was less than $75, according to court records.

    The printer's buyer was Gersh Zavodnik, a 54-year-old Indianapolis man known to many in the legal community as a frequent lawsuit filer who also represents himself in court. The Indiana Supreme Court said the "prolific, abusive litigant" has brought dozens of lawsuits against individuals and businesses, often asking for astronomical damages. Most, according to court records, involve online sales and transactions.

    Zavodnik, a native of Ukraine who moved to the United States in 1987 under a grant of political asylum, sued Costello, accusing him of falsely advertising a malfunctioning printer with missing parts, and pocketing Zavodnik's money. According to a complaint filed in Marion Superior Court, Zavodnik tried to resolve the issue with Costello to no avail, leaving him with no other choice but to take legal action.

    Zavodnik declined to speak with IndyStar. In an earlier interview, he said his motivation for filing lawsuits is simple: to seek justice from people who, he said, stole money from him.

    According to court records, Zavodnik initially filed a lawsuit in Marion County Small Claims Court, where he asked for the maximum damages of $6,000. Zavodnik lost because he had thrown away the evidence (the printer), court records said.

    Costello said he thought that was the end of the legal fight, but Zavodnik filed another lawsuit in Marion Superior Court, where he requested damages for breach of contract, fraud, conversion, deceptive advertising and emotional distress.

    "I figured that's it," Costello said of his victory in small claims court. "But no, no, no. Now I'm in another twilight zone."

    In 2010, Zavodnik sent Costello, who also was representing himself in the lawsuit, paperwork asking him to admit that he was liable for more than $30,000 for breach of contract, fraud and conversion. The trial court dismissed the case, along with 26 others filed by Zavodnik, who appealed all of those dismissals, court records state.

    The Indiana Court of Appeals in March 2012 revived the lawsuit against Costello and sent the case back to the trial court, where it remained stagnant for another nine months until a hearing was scheduled later that year.

    Zavodnik also had sent Costello two more requests for admissions. One asked Costello to admit that he conspired with the judge presiding over the case, and that he was liable for more than $300,000. Another one requested Costello to admit that he was liable for more than $600,000.

    Because Costello did not respond to all three requests for admissions within 30 days of receiving them, and did not ask for an extension of time, as required by Indiana trial rules, Costello admitted to the liabilities and damages by default. He also did not appear at a July 2013 hearing, according to court records.

    Costello said he never received the requests for admissions and was not notified of the hearing.

    The case overwhelmed him so much, Costello said, that he finally decided to hire an attorney. In fall 2013, Indianapolis attorney Chad Wuertz, who represents other defendants sued by Zavodnik, filed a motion to withdraw the admissions.

    The case lingered again — this time for more than a year — without any significant action.

    Wuertz said the case went through several Marion County judges, many of whom recused themselves. At one point, Zavodnik sought to have a judge removed, and the Supreme Court appointed a special judge from Boone County.

    Finally, in March 2015 — six years after Costello sold the printer — Special Judge J. Jeffrey Edens issued a ruling. He awarded Zavodnik a judgment of $30,044.07 for breach of contract.

    Edens acknowledged the amount is "seemingly high" and the judgment "may seem extreme for the breach of contract for the purchase of a printer." But he wrote that he's constrained by how the Supreme Court had previously interpreted a state trial rule, called Rule 36, which sets the 30-day deadline for responding to requests for admissions.

    "What kind of reality am I in now?" Costello said of the ruling. "I don't know what's going on. Why don't I know what's going on?"

    Costello, who owns a forensic accounting business, appealed the ruling. On March 23, the appeals court issued a sharply worded 13-page opinion in his favor.

    The $30,000 in damages "had no basis in reality," Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote.

    Zavodnik misused the Indiana trial rule, which was meant to more quickly and efficiently reach a resolution, Vaidik wrote.

    "He did not send requests claiming $30,000 and $300,000 and $600,000 in damages because he believes those figures are legally justified and thought Costello might agree," Vaidik wrote. "He sent them because he hoped Costello would not respond, rendering the matters admitted..."

    "Zavodnik used the rule as a way to avoid such a resolution," Vaidik wrote.

    Costello was on a business trip in Ontario, Canada, when his attorney called him to tell him the news. He said he almost broke down while sitting at a diner.

    "I've had this huge weight, this financial and emotional weight for 6 ½ years," Costello said.

    Zavodnik likely does not see it that way. A colleague of Zavodnik's who's also a pro se litigant — legal jargon for someone who represents himself or herself in court — spoke on his behalf.

    Jesse Clements, who said he and Zavodnik are members of a group of pro se litigants whose purpose is to "end Marion County judicial corruption," said the appeals court ruling was "ridiculous," "irrational," and "opposite to the law."

    Clements describes himself as a highly skilled litigant , and Zavodnik sometimes uses Clements' research for his cases. He said the appellate judges "misrepresented" and "cherry-picked" the issues and facts that support their opinion.

    Zavodnik likely will ask for a re-hearing, Clements said.

    Costello said he will no longer sell anything online. He also said he has no plan to pursue any legal action against Zavodnik.

    "I've had enough," he said. "I don't need him in my life anymore."

    But the case is not yet over.

    The appeals court ordered the trial court to hold a hearing to determine whether the case should be dismissed "based on Zavodnik's repeated, flagrant, and continuing failure to comply with Indiana's rules of procedure."

    That hearing won't be held before Edens, the special judge from Boone County. He, like many others before him, recused himself.

    Special Judge Christopher Burnham, of Morgan County, is now on the case.
  2. This is really sad. I hate people who abuse others and abuse our system.
  3. What a freaking waste of money and time.

    This crap wouldn't happen in the plaintiff's native country! I wonder if that's why he came to the US.
  4. He needs to be labeled a vexatious litigant and all future complaints thrown out when he files them. They did that to a woman in California that sued tons of companies - now she can't file complaints at all.
  5. I remember there was a man in Texas that did this too.
  6. I heard about this earlier!
  7. FTLOG...every member of that "pro se litigants" group should have their names published as a public service to warn individuals/companies.
  8. Oh my, what a nightmare, over a $40 printer. A person should not be allowed to file a lawsuit like this and have it drag on for over 6 years over such a tiny amount. What a waste of so many people's time and money, dragging this through courts that are already over-crowded.
  9. How can he have any damages in excess of the original purchase amount? This is absolutely crazy!
  10. So many people like him, so sad that you can sue anyone here for anything.
  11. #11 Jun 10, 2016
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2016
    Well because, if someone sells you something which is SNAD, that may well (and normally does) cause you unnecessary time, stress, inconvenience and other (financial) expenses to try to sort out.

    If the only possible consequence of selling any old, broken junk, as if it's in good, functioning condition (in the hope that people won't bother to complain), was refunding the original purchase price, there would be very little to put people off trying their luck.

    Obviously, in this case, the amounts asked for are utterly insane; but, you can't remove the rights of people to seek damages, altogether, just because some people take it to extremes.

    Of course, this particular buyer claims he is doing this, precisely, to punish mis-selling, as well.

    Whether that is really the case, or not, who knows?

    I'm kind of curious to know whether the printer was, actually, broken, or not?

    If it was, although I obviously wouldn't condone the extent of what the buyer did here, it does kind of send a message out that honesty is always the best policy, when selling.

    Or, should be, at least.
  12. Note to self.......stay away from Craigslist.:tdown:
  13. It doesn't really matter (at this point) whether the print was really broken or not. The buyer could have requested and received a full refund and would have been made whole.

    When buying online, one can get a great deal on items that either aren't available elsewhere or are more expensive elsewhere.

    But even if the facts of this dispute are accurate, this is one of the risks of buying online. Sometimes you don't like what you get, sometimes what you get doesn't fit, doesn't work or otherwise isn't right for you.

    However this particular buyer is one of a type we often refer to here on the ebay forum; one who shouldn't be buying online. You'd think that someone who is so fussy and has that much "bad luck" and that many bad experiences would be turned off from CL, ebay or any other non-B&M purchases.

    But no, this buyer doesn't have bad luck --- it's his sellers who have the bad luck of dealing with a litigious buyer who enjoys suing people. When someone is (from the ariticle) "known to many in the legal community as a frequent lawsuit filer *snip*. The Indiana Supreme Court said the "prolific, abusive litigant" has brought dozens of lawsuits against individuals and businesses, often asking for astronomical damages. Most, according to court records, involve online sales and transactions."

    IMO, no one has this many bad experiences unless he's looking for them or manufacturing them himself.

    And although OT (and I'm considered to be very liberal), this is another example of someone coming to the United States presumably to seek asylum and takes advantage of the system and the people who saved him!

    In reference to the above comment, this is from the article:
    Zavodnik, a native of Ukraine who moved to the United States in 1987 under a grant of political asylum
  14. #14 Jun 13, 2016
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2016

    Well yes, in this case the buyer may just be a litigious type, who is trying to make money from suing people, who may not have done anything wrong.

    However, I think it still matters very much whether the printer was broken, or not.

    Not that we will ever know whether it was, or not.

    Although, I do find it rather interesting that the seller doesn't even seem to be trying to say it wasn't...

    If I was the seller here, that is exactly what would be saying (if it was the truth, obviously) and saying repeatedly.

    It's not "fussy" to expect a printer to arrive unbroken and with all its parts; unless the description stated otherwise.

    Sellers can't just stick stuff on sale, either knowing it's damaged/broken/has parts missing, or not bothering to check, not mention any of that and then expect no possible repercussions, other than the occasional request for a refund (minus shipping fee).

    They run the risk of this sort of thing happening to them, from time to time, if they do.

    The fact that some seem to think they can is the cause of many of the problems encountered on forums like this.

    The "You pay your money and you take your chance." kind of attitude.

    Buying stuff online is not supposed to be a lottery.

    The story even says: "Zavodnik tried to resolve the issue with Costello to no avail, leaving him with no other choice but to take legal action.".

    Why didn't the seller just offer to refund him, if he knew the printer was (or could be) broken?

    Because he didn't think the printer was really broken, despite him not even trying to claim it wasn't (as far as we know), or because he simply didn't care?

    So, yes I think it still matters very much.

    Re. the buyer's nationality: I don't really think that is particularly relevant, at all.

    It's only, even vaguely, relevant if you assume he is lying about his printer being broken with parts missing and then being ignored, when he tried to resolve the issue.

    ...and frankly, it looks to me from the story (from the seller's lack of clarification on the matter) that he is probably not lying.

    Could just be incomplete reporting, I guess? Maybe the seller did say the printer was definitely not broken, with missing parts, when he shipped it and it just didn't get printed?

    Odd thing to leave out, though.

    Yes, as I say, the amounts involved here are clearly ludicrous, but that doesn't mean that buyers shouldn't ever be able to claim damages, at all.

    Because you have not been "made whole" if you had to spend hours arguing with a seller directly and/or through a dispute centre and/or (heaven forfend) are forced to take the matter to court.

    Unless you consider your time, energy and mental health (and possible legal expenses) to be worth nothing.
  15. I agree with BB. This is an aggressive and abusive litigious buyer as characterized by the Indiana Supreme Court. It doesn't matter if the printer was broken or not. In any event, I don't see anywhere in the story that says seller sold a working used printer but rather that he sold a used printer.

    Moreover, after doing very minor research, I found out that this seller appeared in small claims court during the first lawsuit and defended this case on the merits, presented facts relevant to this transaction and prevailed outright. Presumably questions relating to the condition of the printer, buyer's efforts to work out a resolution, etc. were addressed during the small claim trial and those facts found in seller's favor. All subsequent litigation was based on the buyer's manipulation of a procedural rule.

    I think we all agree online buyers should have some recourse when products are misrepresented or they are being taken advantage of. However, this Indiana buyer should not be looked to as a champion of wronged buyers anywhere.