DC Pants Suit Won’t Fit Wisconsin

Published August 6, 2007

Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt’s column on ways to avoid lawsuits like the $54 million suit against a D.C. dry cleaners over a lost pair of pants (“Insurance is crucial to protect business,” July 28) contains excellent advice. Small businesses may be comforted to know some protection exists under Wisconsin law.

The D.C. pants suit was brought under the District’s consumer fraud ordinance. This ordinance provides for mandatory daily damages. Wisconsin law limits consumer fraud damages to twice the amount of the actual loss plus “reasonable” attorney fees. If Pearson lived in Wisconsin, he would have been limited to damages of about $2,000 – twice the alleged cost of the pants. He claimed attorney fees of more than $500,000.

Nothing limits customers to filing under Wisconsin consumer fraud law. Anybody can sue for anything, and someone like Pearson probably would have found a way around Wisconsin’s damages limitation.

Maureen Martin ([email protected]) is an attorney and senior fellow for legal affairs at The Heartland Institute.