Sunday, February 1, 2015
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 [email protected]

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

 
Police make 2nd arrest in deadly Thanksgiving Day shooting

By Glen Faison | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Fire Department honors top firefighters

By Bill Hicks | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Everything you need to know about Super Bowl

By Brad Stanhope | From Page: A2

 
$340,688 brick replacement for Texas Street complete

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3

 
4th annual Health and Wellness Fair a big success

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Banish dry skin this winter

By Sarah Porkka | From Page: C4

 
Chocolate: A long journey to deliciousness

By Karen Metz | From Page: C4

 
County board to consider DA reorganization plan

By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A5

Eurozone offers lesson in debt

By Mark Sievers | From Page: B7

 
Rodriguez graduate completes basic training

By Nick DeCicco | From Page: B10

 
Suisun City police log: Jan. 30, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Fairfield police log: Jan. 30, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
.

US / World

Video: Islamic State group beheads Japanese journalist

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
NASA launches Earth-observing satellite

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

From ocean to ocean, through the Panama Canal

By The Associated Press | From Page: C1

 
Scientist considered father of birth control pill dies

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

‘Rolled Sleeves Bandit’ tied to 7 bank robberies in custody

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Bay Area agency accuses former official of embezzling $1.3M

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Los Angeles female-only mosque may be first in US

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
California health care contract fight resolved

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Man arrested after body parts found in suitcase

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Letter with suspicious powder received at Samaritan’s Purse

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

Snails slither into spa scene in Thailand and around world

By The Associated Press | From Page: C6

 
Not so ‘Good to Go’ when man gets $18,000 toll bridge bill

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

Balloon pilots make history with trans-Pacific flight

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
Whitney Houston’s daughter found unresponsive in tub

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

Drivers: Return to your dealers for a 2nd air bag recall fix

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Hatfields, McCoys make moonshine legally in southern W.Va.

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Airport authorities: Traveler beats homeless man with chair

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Kerry: ‘Enormous interest in new relationship with Cuba

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Fire devastates major Russian library, threatens rare texts

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
Swiss police: 4 dead after avalanche hits group of skiers

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

Fire at Bangladesh plastics factory kills at least 13

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
Vatican investigates 2 cases of child porn possession

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

Islamic State fighters admit defeat in Syrian town of Kobani

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
From car lots to city budgets, cheap oil means change

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

Africa agrees to send 7,500 troops to fight Boko Haram

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
5 given preliminary charges over jihadi network in France

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
Civilians flee east Ukraine town as fighting intensifies

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

British actress Geraldine McEwan dies at age 82

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Greek leader tamps down rhetoric, vows to pay off debts

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Iraqi libraries ransacked by Islamic State group in Mosul

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11

 
.

Opinion

 
Sound off for Feb. 1, 2015

By Daily Republic | From Page: A8

 
Good old days weren’t as good as we remember

By Megan Mcardle | From Page: A8

Editorial Cartoon: Feb. 1, 2015

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
.

Living

Community Calendar: Feb. 1, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
Today in History: Feb. 1, 2015

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

Sundance doc pulls back curtain on Scientology

By The Associated Press | From Page: C3

 
Prayer, commonly misunderstood

By The Rev. Rick L. Stonestreet | From Page: C3

Mormon leaders call for measures protecting gay rights

By The Associated Press | From Page: C3

 
Horoscopes: Feb. 1, 2015

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: C4

Volunteer or visit because February is National Salute to Veteran Patients

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: C4

 
.

Entertainment

 
Lorrie Moore nominated for short story prize

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

New book to feature unpublished Hemingway conversations

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

 
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY BEST-SELLERS

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

Review: ‘First Bad Man’ is Miranda July’s debut novel

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

 
TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B11

.

Sports

Mustangs win the whole Encalada

By Marcus Lomtong | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Super Bowl the final act of the NFL’s worst season

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Lowest prices on last-minute Super Bowl tickets near $9,000

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Laird takes a 3-shot lead in Phoenix Open

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Seau, Bettis, Brown, Haley, Shields voted into Hall of Fame

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Rodgers wins MVP, Watt unanimous top AP defensive player

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Lydia Ko takes No. 1 spot at 17, Na Yeon Choi wins opener

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

.

Business

On the money: Low gas prices, incentives change math for electric cars

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

 
Small talk: NFL players find second careers as entrepreneurs

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

Recalls this week: space heaters, orbital sanders

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Sumptuous seaside hotel sells for record-shattering $360M

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Review: Open e-book format comes with headaches

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

 
.

Obituaries

Flora Mae Brooks

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Otilia (Tela) Quinn

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

Lester Singer

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
WillIiam “Bill” Hunter

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

Garry A. Britton

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Anthony Neal Hunley

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

Frank Z. Perez

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Joe Lambert Robinson

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

.

Comics