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.
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