Wednesday, November 25, 2009
I should probably make some kind of "hot air" pun here, but it's early and I can't think of one.
I'm going to take another break from 30 days of Debt Collection to mention a Wisconsin law that many people don't know about: The Wisconsin False Advertising law, section 100.18 of the Wisconsin Statutes.
This comes up today because last night I watched an episode of Channel 27's Call For Action, an investigative series presented by that news show. This episode was about a company called Great American Balloon Company, and detailed how various people had paid for hot air balloon rides, some as many as four years ago, and had never gotten the rides. In the course of the report, Dan Cassuto tracked down the company's owner (he refused to comment) and noted that the people had repeatedly been promised rides, only to have the rides cancelled. In some cases, the cancellation was made based on claims of anticipated bad weather, and in one case the claim of bad weather from Great American Balloon Company was made on a day when the reporter actually took a ride with a different hot air balloon company.
Many, if not all, of the people had complained to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection. But none of the people had, to my knowledge, contacted a lawyer or sued themselves (a review of court records shows no suits against the company that I could find), even though they could probably sue -- and do so for free, practically.
They could probably sue, and probably sue for free, under section 100.18. That law says:
100.18(1) (1) No person, firm, corporation or association, or agent or employee thereof, with intent to sell, distribute, increase the consumption of or in any wise dispose of any real estate, merchandise, securities, employment, service, or anything offered by such person, firm, corporation or association, or agent or employee thereof, directly or indirectly, to the public for sale, hire, use or other distribution, or with intent to induce the public in any manner to enter into any contract or obligation relating to the purchase, sale, hire, use or lease of any real estate, merchandise, securities, employment or service, shall make, publish, disseminate, circulate, or place before the public, or cause, directly or indirectly, to be made, published, disseminated, circulated, or placed before the public, in this state, in a newspaper, magazine or other publication, or in the form of a book, notice, handbill, poster, bill, circular, pamphlet, letter, sign, placard, card, label, or over any radio or television station, or in any other way similar or dissimilar to the foregoing, an advertisement, announcement, statement or representation of any kind to the public relating to such purchase, sale, hire, use or lease of such real estate, merchandise, securities, service or employment or to the terms or conditions thereof, which advertisement, announcement, statement or representation contains any assertion, representation or statement of fact which is untrue, deceptive or misleading.
Phew! Got all that? What it means is that companies can't make deceptive or misleading statements to get your money. If they do, the customer can sue the deceptive company, and be awarded their "pecuniary loss," the money they're out. And, better, (this is the free part) the customer can be awarded their attorney's fees if they win.
Most of the people, it seemed, paid about $200, which means they're out $200. If they hired a lawyer to sue, they'd pay a small claims filing fee of $94.50, and probably $30-50 to serve the company. If they win, they'd get a judgment for that money, plus the money they spent on the balloon rides, plus their attorney's fees. (For that reason, many firms, including my own, will sometimes take these cases on a contingent fee basis -- so you don't pay any fees if you don't win.)
I'm not saying for sure that Great American Balloon Company violated section 100.18; from what I saw, it sure looks like it, but I'd have to hear more from the individuals about what they were promised when they signed up, and what they were promised along the way that kept them waiting as much as four years for rides that haven't happened yet to be sure. (The law, by the way, requires that any suits be filed within 3 years of the violation -- but that may not prohibit someone who paid more than 3 years ago from suing, for a variety of reasons.)
What I do know is that for about $100, the people who haven't yet been taken for a ride could try to get their money back. At worst, they're out only another $100; at best, they get their money back and some satisfaction, too. But they haven't yet tried to do that, maybe because they didn't know about this law.
Which is why I always say: Consult a lawyer. You may not know your rights -- but the lawyers should know about them, and we're ready to help.