Legal-Ease: Basic consumer protection law


By Lee R. Schroeder - Guest Columnist



There are several Ohio and federal laws that protect consumers’ rights. Of course, a consumer in the general sense is anyone who buys something. However, the typical, legal definition of “consumer” is someone who is being asked to purchase or who has purchased a good or service other than real estate.

Ohio’s most commonly known law that protects consumers is the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act (CSPA). Generally, the CSPA is designed to protect non-business buyers of goods and services from dishonest sales practices and obviously unfair business transactions, especially if/when the transaction is blatantly inconsistent with what was promised by the seller of a good or service.

The goods and services covered by the CSPA include cars, appliances, many home improvement contracts and other residential service contracts like landscaping or yard maintenance as long as the buyer is purchasing the good or service for personal, family and/or household purposes. In other words, the sale of appliances or cars by or between businesses are not consumer transactions covered by the CSPA.

Certain professional services (like accounting, legal services, work by veterinarians and medical services) are not covered by the CSPA. The CSPA is also not the Ohio vehicle “lemon law,” which specifically deals with brand new vehicles.

Specifically, the CSPA requires that the sellers not knowingly take advantage of a buyer’s illiteracy or other inability to understand the terms of the “deal.”

And the CSPA also requires sellers to avoid making a sale if the seller knows that the purchaser clearly cannot afford the purchase or if the seller knows that the purchaser will not substantially benefit from the purchase.

Sellers are also not allowed to mislead consumers as to the identity, character or quality of an item. Thus, a vacuum sweeper that is only a vacuum sweeper cannot be marketed as a leaf blower and hair dryer. Similarly, a seller cannot advertise a product as “new” if the product is “used.”

Sellers must honor all warranties and guarantees and must also disclose any exclusions or limitations as to warranties/guarantees or the item itself. For instance, a business may not advertise a brand new, popular lawnmower as only costing $10, if the business only has one lawnmower to sell at that price. If there is a limit on quality, quantity or a warranty/guarantee, that limit must be included within any advertising.

Closely related to what has already been mentioned, the CSPA specifically prohibits using “bait and switch” marketing, which is marketing of an apparent bargain when the seller has the intention of ultimately substituting a lesser quality item (at the advertised price) or more expensive substitute (at a higher price).

The Ohio Attorney General has expansive powers to investigate allegations of violations of the CSPA and can issue orders against certain sellers to prohibit unfair consumer acts and practices.

Additionally, if a seller violates the CSPA, the aggrieved purchaser can go to court to recover his or her attorneys’ fees as well as extra damages in addition to rescinding (cancelling/undoing) the purchase.

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By Lee R. Schroeder

Guest Columnist

Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.

Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.

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