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Consumers’ Rights Endangered Again

  Norman Taylor & Associates
  November 30, 2010

All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.
—Thomas Jefferson

Tyranny comes in many shapes and sizes. It is seen frequently in large organizations— governments and corporations—when they forget who they work for. That would be you and me, of course. If there were no consumer protections what would prevent the manufacturers of the world from selling cars and trucks they knew to be bad? Now there is the possibility of legal challenge and financial loss, also there should be a fear of bad publicity but peculiarly the big boys don’t seem to care about that all that much. Unwarranted, unearned arrogance is an ugly thing in a man or a corporation.

Working in the California lemon law business provides an unique insight. Our access to consumer protections defines our society as superior in all respects. There is no other country on the planet that has anything vaguely as effective. Americans care about the individual and their right to survive well without constantly suffering the cruelty of manufacturing organizations.

This is the game! This is what must be protected. In a recent Los Angeles Times article, “Consumer’s Right to File Class Actions is in Danger”, AT&T has a case before the Supreme Court of the United States which asserts that any business that issues a contract to consumers would be able to prevent them from joining class action lawsuits. This would take away one of the most powerful legal tools available to the average consumer. This decision could erode the protections of millions of Americans. From the viewpoint of lemon law all automobile, RVs, motorcycles and boat manufacturers could be affected by this decision as they are all purchased with a contract.

Remember the Ford Pinto? Hundreds of people killed on the highways in fiery crashes because a statistician told Ford management that it was more cost efficient to pay insurance claims than replace defective fuel system components. Numbers became more important than life, and it produced the ultimate corporate crime.

Attacks on the Lemon Law by lobbyists representing automobile dealers and manufacturers are common. It shouldn’t be a surprise. Manufacturers want to control costs without fear of reprisals from disappointed consumers. They want to be able to sell their products without worrying about unrepairable defects. If manufacturers could return to the days of Caveat Emptor their delighted cheers would ring throughout the Boardrooms of America and the rest of the manufacturing world.

Examples of this are numerous. A well known international manufacturer has been selling certain models in recent years with the full knowledge that it has a defective component which can cause the vehicle to fail catastrophically on the freeway with attendant fright and possible dismemberment. On the other side of the world, another manufacturer chose not to notify owners of millions of their cars about their problem vehicles even after fatalities occurred. Some manufacturers have to be pushed kicking and screaming like a willful child to even acknowledge that there is a problem.

These examples of irresponsibility and many others from many of the major automobile manufacturers make clear that even with federal quality controls, and other state and federal laws in place, manufacturers will attempt to by-pass these consumer protection laws. Furthermore, if consumers are foolish enough to take legal action or malign the manufacturers, they respond with righteous denial and regiments of attorneys to grind the consumer to silent insignificance.

The lemon law is a defense all of the states afford their consumers and it has been a source of several class action lawsuits. Some of these occurred when manufacturers through their agents, the dealerships, attempted to by-pass the “badging” (labeling as lemons) of persistently defective vehicles by engaging in the practice of “lemon laundering.”

This isn’t a perfect world, and it is essential that consumer protections remain in place as a check against the corporate willingness to forget common decency and abuse the public. If the Supreme Court votes with AT&T they might as well state publicly that they favor “let the buyer beware” and the advance of consumerism from the 1600’s till now, was a lot of nonsense. It is to be hoped that they will weigh this well. Going backward is seldom an answer to any problem.

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