Friday, November 28, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Time to fix a law the courts have mucked up

elias column sig

By
From page A11 | April 19, 2014 |

Talk to corporate executives and they’ll often say California is a difficult place to do business, in part because consumers can file class action lawsuits willy-nilly, even when their companies haven’t screwed up.

But it ain’t necessarily so. Yes, the Consumers Legal Remedies Act, a 44-year-old law, lets customers sue for damages even after a warranty has expired and even when there’s been no risk to health or safety. They’re supposed to be able to do this if the maker of a product knows it has a major defect but does not reveal it to prospective or existing buyers.

Consumers could sue under those conditions, that is, until a pair of court decisions seriously limited the law and its intentions. For now, state and federal appeals courts have decided, product buyers can only sue manufacturers for post-warranty problems if their health or safety was at risk.

That’s why consumers might benefit from passage of a new bill being carried in the Legislature by Democratic state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara which aims to restore the 1970s-era law to its original broad coverage.

“Consumers have a right to expect a product to last a reasonable length of time, even after a warranty has expired,” says Kristen Law Sagafi, a partner in the San Francisco law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein. “Without it, we return to a caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) marketplace.”

Expect restoration of any rights consumers have lost to be contested strongly by industry lobbyists.

“Current California law allows suing during the warranty period of a product if a manufacturer won’t fix it,” said Kimberly Stone, president of the Civil Justice Association of California, an industry lobby representing companies ranging from Allstate and Apple to Chevron, Toyota, Intel, Oracle and many more. “The courts have said people can also sue after a warranty over safety and health. Our fear is that if this is expanded, we will see many more class action lawsuits and that plaintiff lawyers will hold manufacturers to unreasonable time standards.”

In fact, the original law prohibited that. Said Sagafi, who helped craft the Senate proposal, “It would be up to the judge in each case to determine how long is reasonable. You would expect that the time a product can reasonably be expected to last after a warranty expires will be longer for a high-end product that a cheaper one. If someone has defrauded you, your right to sue should not expire with the warranty.”

Under current law, established by courts and not by elected lawmakers, a company could theoretically design products from computers to cars and dishwashers that would fail deliberately the day after their warranty expires. Unless the failure is dangerous – involving risk of accident, injury or fire – consumers would have no recourse if that happened.

“The best industry actors make a fix available to customers when a product is defective,” said Sagafi. “But if they hide a defect and fraud is demonstrated, consumers should be able to ask for punitive damages, just as the original law provided” before the courts emasculated it.

Consumer lawyers still would have a difficult time proving that a company deliberately hid a known defect, unless handed internal documents by a whistleblower. “It’s an incredibly high hurdle,” said Sagafi. “But the only concealed facts we can act on now involve safety, which is not what the law says.”

All of which raises the question of exactly what disclosure or repair obligation a company has when it gets numerous complaints about a single problem. “We have no answer to that question,” said Stone. “But our organization believes California already has too many class-action lawsuits, and this will just make them easier. We have a bunch of crazy class-action lawyers here. Class actions should exist to right tremendous wrongs. If there’s no fruit in Froot Loops or no raisins in raisin bran, that’s just not a tremendous wrong.”

That sort of corporate belittling of class actions doesn’t help, as one example, someone whose cellphone becomes just a paperweight soon after its warranty expires.

Corporations may not like it, but what’s wrong with preventing them from knowingly building products that won’t outlast their warranties?

Thomas Elias is a California author. Reach him at tdelias@aol.com.

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 1 comment

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

 
Solano Turkey Trot draws 2,600 to college

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
 
Solano College student body to mark World AIDS Day

By Maureen Fissolo | From Page: A3

 
Il Fiorello schedules olive milling day

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

Movies just another course on Thanksgiving

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Early Black Friday shoppers take advantage of deals

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
.

US / World

‘Guardian angel,’ community join to give man home

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
US celebrates Thanksgiving with parades, turkey

By The Associated Press | From Page: A3 | Gallery

Tons of marijuana seized in Central California

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4, 4 Comments

 
Gorilla death prompts San Francisco Zoo changes

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

Health agents still unpaid after plan’s rollout

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

 
California Burger King employee finds $100,000

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

At 1 month, US Ebola monitors finding no cases

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Families asked to host visitors for pope’s US trip

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Researchers discover ‘pre-cancers’ in blood

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
35 arrested in Oakland after protest march

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

A glance at Ferguson: Then, now and the future

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

 
For some, location of Brown’s hands irrelevant

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6, 2 Comments

Ferguson gives thanks after a quiet night

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
Colorado mastodon bones show ancient warmer Earth

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7, 1 Comment

Queen of crime writing PD James dies aged 94

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Ebola aid dogged by coordination lags in Guinea

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Taliban attack rocks upscale Kabul district

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Small quake rattles California wine country

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

.

Living

Today in History: Nov. 28, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: Nov. 28, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

Poor health is no excuse for not behaving like a caring person

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: A9

 
Horoscope for Nov. 28, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: A9

.

Entertainment

Week in preview: Nov. 28 to Dec. 4, 2014

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

 
Prison theater transforms Colombian inmates

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Singer John Mayer among ‘Late Late Show’ subs

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Review: ‘Horrible Bosses 2′ doesn’t work

By Jake Coyle | From Page: B2

Review: ‘Madagascar’ spin-off hatches family fun

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Reading Harry Potter gives clues to brain activity

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Talking songs with She & Him

By Kim Durbin | From Page: B3

 
Entertainment calendar Nov. 28, 2014

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B4

 
Cosby testimony describes accuser’s spiked story

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

.

Sports

College notebook: Many happy returns for Arizona’s Bondurant

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B7 | Gallery

 
Sherman’s big night leads Seattle past 49ers again

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7, 1 Comment | Gallery

Rookie quarterback Carr is Raiders’ silver lining

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

 
US cities urged to keep price tags down for 2024

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

Eagles roll over Cowboys 33-10 for NFC East lead

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

 
5 investigated in FIFA WCup bid corruption probe

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Johnson shines in Detroit’s 34-17 win over Chicago

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Signups for Friday, Nov. 28, 2014

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B10

No. 9 UCLA must overcome Stanford for Pac-12 title

By The Associated Press | From Page: B10

 
.

Business

Kia’s ‘Soulful’ first electric car

By Ann M. Job | From Page: C1

 
Automakers aim to drive away car computer hackers

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

OPEC keeps oil output on hold despite low prices

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

 
Google’s latest: A spoon that steadies tremors

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

3 Reasons holiday shoppers will spend cautiously

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

 
.

Obituaries

Deanna L. Haines

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Esther Ringler

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

.

Comics

Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9