CONSUMER & SMALL CLAIMS
The types of sales listed below are often associated with the abuse of consumers. Therefore, special consumer laws have been enacted to deal with the abusive and high-pressure situations. For example:
- Door-to-Door Sales – Door-to-door sales require written notice of a three-day cooling off period, during which you can cancel the purchase without penalty.
- Mail – A mail order company has 30 days to send you your order unless when you placed your order you were informed of a back order such as when an item is out of stock or out of season. You have a right to cancel your order.
- Telemarketing – The National Do Not Call Registry prevents telemarketers from contacting you if you are registered; register at (www.donotcall.gov) or by a toll-free number (888-382-1222.)
- Pets – Some states have specific protection for consumers buying pets such as the requirement of health history disclosure or lemon laws; if your state does not have such specific laws, you can recover under a legal theory of general warranty.
- Funeral Homes – The Federal Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to give pricing information over the phone; funeral homes must disclose what expenses are legally required and which are optional.
- Travel – If you pay for a hotel room ahead of time, it must be available to you; otherwise, reservations are a courtesy. Shocking to most people, prepaid tickets are not a guarantee for a seat on a particular flight. The ticket is simply a contract for the airline to get you from one place to another. If you get bumped, the airline is required by law to provide a written explanation of your rights such as financial compensation or overnight accommodations.
- Home Repairs – Read the written paperwork that a home repairman provides; it will outline your rights to rescind a contract within a three-day cooling off period. It is in your best interest to hire a home repairman from a referral and not the yellow pages.
A contract is an agreement, which two or more adults enter into voluntarily to act or not act, which is legally enforceable. There must be an exchange of consideration –this means each party must either give or give up something. For example, Frank and Jeremy agreed that Frank would pay Jeremy $25 to mow the grass.
As this example illustrates, contracts can be oral, but it is prudent to have a contract in writing, because it is much easier to enforce.
Breach of Contract
A “breach of contract” occurs when one or more parties to a contract fails to perform as promised. In the above example, if Jeremy mows the lawn and Frank refuses to pay him the $25, Frank is in breach of contract.
Breach of Contract Remedies
A legal remedy is a way of putting the injured party in the place he or she would have been but for the breach of contract. So, in our example, the court would make Frank pay Jeremy the $25.
If it was Jeremy who breached the contract and Frank found a replacement lawn mower for a fee of $45, Jeremy would have to pay Frank the $20 difference (between what Frank had to pay and the fee Jeremy promised to accept for the same work.) A court will not order specific performance for personal services; in other words, a court would not force Jeremy to mow Frank’s yard.
Where to Get Help with Consumer Law Matters
If you have questions or concerns over consumer law matters, consult with a qualified consumer law attorney. If you suspect foul play or you have been the victim of a fraud, can also contact West Virginia’s Attorney General. The West Virginia Attorney General’s Office has a division dedicated to consumer protection, that may be able to help you. (http://wvgov/residents/pages/consumerprotection.aspx).