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Proposed Bill Would Restrict Consumer Class Action Lawsuits

By: Rebecca Zepick Email
By: Rebecca Zepick Email

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Imagine buying a car and it turns out to be a lemon. Imagine a debt collector calling at all hours of the night. Under the current law, the Consumer Protection Act allows people to hire a lawyer and sue to get their money back or stop the bad business practices.

A new bill would change that, allowing only government regulators to prosecute the businesses.

The Kansas Chamber of Commerce, a group that represents businesses across Kansas, introduced the bill saying frivolous lawsuits are a problem across the country.

"If there's merit to the case, then we obviously want the consumer to have the right to go after that claim through the Consumer Protection Act, but if there's no merit to the court case then we feel it shouldn't be allowed to go forward, Eric Stafford of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce said.

The proposed bill would remove class actions, or lawsuits brought by a group of people, and would grant greater authority to the Federal Trade Commission in Washington.

Supporters say the law will protect businesses from spending time and money in court. But opponents say the bill will undermine the Consumer Protection Act, taking away the power to protect Kansans from scams and unscrupulous businesses.

The bill removes financial penalties against bad businesses, takes away protection from the agricultural buyers and other business consumers, and if passed, would be retroactive applying to all cases currently pending.

"Russell Hazelwood, a consumer law attorney and a spokesperson for the Kansas Association for Justice, said the bill would federalize consumer protection and leave victims with few good options.

"Currently I can say either way you should call the district attorney or the attorney general and we will look at perhaps pursuing a case for you," Hazelwood said. "Now I'll say, 'Here's the 800 number for the FTC in Washington, D.C. Give them a call and I'm sure you won't here back.' "

Testimony on the proposed bill will continue Thursday at the Kansas Statehouse. For more information go to http://stateofstateks.com or just click on the words "Related Links" beneath this story.


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