4/5/2012Oh my. When we didn't think things could get worse with Ohio's Republican-dominated General Assembly and its leader, Governor John Kasich, things just did. On Monday, April 2, 2012 (why couldn't this have been a belated April Fool's joke?), the governor signed into law, HB 275. With one swift signature, our governor gutted Ohio's model consumer law and placed our consumer protections at the bottom of all states. Even the usually business-oriented, pro-Republican newspaper -- The Plain Dealer -- in an editorial, begged the governor to veto the bill. It looks as if the governor did not hesitate for even a moment before placing his John Hancock on the proposed law.
David P. Miraldi
David P. Miraldi
So how did the Ohio Consumer Sales Practice Act turn into the Right To Cheat Law? Under prior law, if a business cheated a consumer, the business was held accountable. In most consumer cases, the amount in dispute works against a consumer. If the amount of the dispute is only several thousand dollars, the cost of proceeding against the business after payment of attorney fees and court costs, is just too expensive for the consumer. The consumer would likely spend in fees and costs more than what his or her claim was worth; and would, therefore, not pursue the claim. For that reason, Ohio's prior consumer law allowed the consumer to recover attorney fees against the business if the consumer were successful. It also allowed the consumer to get triple its damages as a way to discourage and punish unscrupulous businesses. Commentators hailed Ohio's former law as a model for the entire country -- a distinction it held for 40 years.
The new bill now allows a cheating company to "cure" its deceit by offering to give the victim his money back and a nominal amount --- capped at $2,500 --- toward attorney fees in exchange for dropping the suit. However, if the consumer rejects the offer and a jury awards a penney less than what he was offered by the business, the consumer loses the right to recover triple damages or his attorney fees. For most consumers, the risk will be too great. Who wants to go to court, win the case, and then end up paying fees and costs that are greater than the verdict?
It is too late to stop the law now. At this point, the people of Ohio have to ask whether its leaders are representing them or a few special interest groups. Please note that not one democrat voted for this bill.
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