Have you ever clicked “shrink to fit” or “shrink one page” in order to save paper by printing out a document that is just over one page on a single sheet? If so, you may be in violation of New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act, which has very specific rules about appropriate font size. If someone successfully sues you over your green printing habits, you will owe them 3 times what they are claiming as damages, and you will have to pay their attorneys’ fees (as well as your own). Seems a bit excessive doesn’t it?
Every day businesses across New Jersey are threatened with lawsuits because they violated one of the Consumer Fraud Act’s many rules. Certain lawyers have discovered that bringing lawsuits over these violations is very profitable. Businesses are struggling to fight the tide of litigation they are facing because even if they didn’t mean to do anything wrong, and they have fixed the issue that was identified, the courts do not have the discretion to be lenient. This is not fair to businesses, and it is not good for consumers, who face rising prices driven ever higher by out of control compliance and litigation costs. The only people who really seem to benefit from the current system are attorneys.
Senators Oroho (R-Sparta) and Van Drew (D-Cape May Court House) and Assemblyman Webber (R-Parsippany) have introduced a bill, S1669/A2796, which is designed to make some much-needed changes to New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act. The bill would ensure New Jersey consumers continue to enjoy strong protections against fraudsters while also protecting our state’s businesses from costly CFA lawsuits filed by trial lawyers over trivial violations of the law that nobody actually considers fraud.
The substance of the CFA is in no way altered by A2796, so consumers retain all the protections they currently enjoy. What the bill does do is make a few common sense changes to the procedural elements of the CFA:
- Require consumers to ask for their money back or for the alleged fraud to be fixed prior to bringing suit.
- Allow the court discretion in awarding treble (aka triple) damages, as is common in other states.
- Require plaintiffs to prove that they relied on the misrepresentation they are suing over when they purchased the product or service.
- Limit the CFA to transactions occurring in the State of New Jersey or to transactions with New Jersey residents.
- Limit the award of attorney’s fees and costs to those fees reasonably attributable to the CFA claim.
- Limit the CFA’s applicability against industries that are already subject to the Federal Trade Commission and other regulatory structures.
These changes would go a long way towards protecting businesses from abusive lawsuits, but would in no way diminish the New Jersey’s ability to seek out and punish true fraudsters.