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Tarlow, Breed, Hart & Rodgers outlines the potential impact of upcoming Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling on the state’s Consumer Protection Act.

Monday, June 09, 2008

An upcoming ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) has the potential to be a very significant case not only for consumers, but also for the Commonwealth as a whole according to Attorney Lee M. Holland of Tarlow, Breed, Hart & Rodgers.

At issue in Joseph Iannacchino & others v. Ford Motor Company & another is the extent to which a plaintiff must sustain a demonstrable injury or loss before looking to the courts for relief from allegedly unfair or deceptive practices under Chapter 93A.  Once they clear this hurdle, for instance, they can access the statute’s powerful treble damages provisions.  Accordingly, the answer is important to anyone who does business in Massachusetts and may potentially face such claims.

The Case in a nutshell.
In the Iannacchino case, the plaintiffs are contending that the defendants violated the Consumer Protection Act by failing to recall and fix certain vehicles that allegedly have a defect in their door latching mechanisms that exposes consumers to the risk of serious injury or death. The defendants evaluated the latch mechanisms and decided against initiating a recall.

The Superior Court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claim since the plaintiffs had been able to use the allegedly defective vehicles, and had not suffered any direct personal or economic injury as a result of the alleged defect. In the pending SJC appeal, the plaintiffs challenge the trial court’s dismissal of the claim.

Pros and Cons.
Notes Holland, “Several strong but competing arguments exist for the SJC to consider. On one hand, consumer advocacy groups argue that the ultimate goal should be improved consumer safety, and that it would be perverse to interpret existing law to require a consumer to suffer physical injury as a prerequisite to bringing a claim where it can establish that a defect exists which reasonably poses an increased risk of causing harm to consumers.

Conversely, it can be argued that consumers are adequately protected under existing law, but even more so by demand for improvements in safety. Manufacturers have an economic interest in achieving safe products where the market demands them, such as in the consumer automobile industry. Litigation regarding an alleged safety defect that has not resulted in any physical injury consumes resources that manufacturers might otherwise invest in product research and development, thereby hindering efforts to advance safety.

Broader societal costs may exist as well. For instance, an unanticipated increase in the litigation risks to which corporations doing business in the Commonwealth are exposed could operate as a disincentive to economic growth . . . .”

Stay tuned for the verdict.
It is true that the Iannacchino plaintiffs have been able to use their vehicles and have not suffered any direct injury. Assuming a defect exists in the door latches, however, it is also true that the Iannacchino plaintiffs face an elevated risk of injury every time they go for a drive. Does that elevated risk mean they can sue under the state’s Consumer Protection Act? Stay tuned for the SJC ruling, expected in June 2008.


About Tarlow, Breed, Hart & Rodgers, P.C.

Formed in 1991, Tarlow, Breed, Hart & Rodgers, P.C. is committed to providing high quality, comprehensive legal services to its clients. Featuring a breadth and depth of experience and perspective usually found only at larger law firms, Tarlow, Breed, Hart & Rodgers. P.C. offers sophisticated legal counsel to entrepreneurs, businesses, individuals, families, and institutions.

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