DC Pants Suit Needed Cap

Published July 26, 2007

In response to Alexander Tabarrok’s commentary (“Courts Gone Wild,” July 24, 2007), it should be noted the Pearson case differs in one significant respect from the other cited examples of frivolous litigation, such as the $50,000 in damages sought by the victim of a “rampaging squirrel” in a shopping mall.

The damages Pearson claims from his dry cleaners for his lost pants are primarily driven by the District of Columbia’s consumer fraud ordinance. The ordinance provides for damages of $1,500 per day for every day a violation continues. In his case, Pearson sought damages for seven violations of the ordinance times the 1,200 days the “Satisfaction Guaranteed” and “Same Day Service” signs remained posted at the dry cleaners, times three defendants.

So the problem here is not necessarily with the legal system, and no radical fix is required. The District of Columbia Council ought to amend its ordinance to cap damages available under the consumer fraud act at three times the consumer’s actual damages or some other reasonable amount. This would allow consumers a fair recovery for valid claims without leading to the outrageous abuse present in the Pearson case.

Maureen Martin ([email protected]) is senior fellow for legal affairs and editor of Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly for The Heartland Institute.