NJ Consumer Protection: Reading the Fine Print
Only in New Jersey is there a law tough enough to take on the “fine print.” You have heard it before. Something does not go as expected in a transaction and inevitably someone says, “I guess I failed to read the fine print.” Merriam-Webster defines “fine print” as “a part of an agreement or document spelling out restrictions and limitations often in small type or obscure language.” Just go ahead and find out what happens when those restrictions and limitations violate NJ consumer protection law. The TCCWNA, or the Truth-in-Consumer Contract Warranty and Notice Act, is good place to start. The twenty-six year old statute was created because provisions in consumer contracts, warranties, notices and signs that clearly violated consumer law were being perceived as enforceable when in fact they violated the statute.
According to an article in The Columbus Dispatch, a lawsuit was filed barely two months ago in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey against the Victoria’s Secret because its website contained a legal disclaimer with language that violated the TCCWNA. In fact, the very placement of the language in the middle of a paragraph was deemed not clear or conspicuous and thus in violation of New Jersey law. That is just one example of how precise and exacting New Jersey consumer protection law can be, thanks to statutes like the TCCWNA. On the other hand, cases like this are unusual because litigators tend to ignore the TCCWNA when it comes to individual plaintiffs. After all, the Consumer Fraud Act can award a plaintiff with three times the amount of actual damages whereas the TCCWNA provides for actual damages only. It also charges a penalty of $100.00 per violation and renders the contract void and unenforceable. The TCCWNA tends to enter the picture with class action lawsuits when that actual amount is multiplied by however many plaintiffs are involved in the case.
Aside from the class action lawsuit example, it is important to note that the primary purpose of the TCCWNA is to back up its “big brother,” the Consumer Fraud Act or CFA. It augments rights and responsibilities already spelled out by other statutes. A defendant in a consumer protection case will often be held liable under TCCWNA if the defendant is already in violation of the CFA or a similarly established law. So what are some examples of the sort of language that may trigger a claim under the TCCWNA?
- A contract that waives your right to attorney’s fees or requires you to split the costs of litigation.
- An agreement releasing a company from personal injury or property damage suffered on its premises.
- A company that makes sales pitches claiming its rates will be competitively priced on a monthly basis despite evidence to the contrary.
Those of us who do bother to read the fine print when doing business probably think to ourselves at least once: “Geeze, only a lawyer could understand this.” There may be some truth to that statement and this office would be glad to assist you. If you have a question regarding consumer law, contact the Law Office of H. Benjamin Sharlin LLC for a free consultation.
Please be advised that this blog is for informational purposes only, is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.
The Law Office of H. Benjamin Sharlin LLC
is owned and operated by H. Benjamin Sharlin and serves all of Mercer County, New Jersey and the surrounding areas. Mr. Sharlin is a bilingual Spanish-speaking attorney who vigorously represents the interests of all his clients.
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