Originally published on Sep 30, 2016
To be able to fully identify a case, it’s best to understand the different types of class actions that exist in today’s world.
Each and every one of us are also consumers in our day-to-day lives. We are subjected to marketing representations by retailers, they purchase products, and contract with service providers. We are almost always at risk of being the victim of unlawful activity at the hands of other actors in the marketplace.
Below are three different types of class actions.
“Snake Oil” Cases
One type of consumer class action is the so-called “snake oil” case. This term finds its origin to health products and “medicines” sold to unsuspecting consumers by hucksters in the 19th century. These snake oil salesmen would traverse the country claiming their elixir could cure any disease known to man. In our modern times, these cases center on products that claim to serve a purpose but are devoid of any benefit to the consumer. By marketing such products with overstated and false representations, sellers open themselves up to liability under state-specific consumer protection statues as well as common law causes of action such as fraud and unjust enrichment.
A great example of these so-called “snake oil” cases can be found in Rikos v. The Proctor & Gamble Co., (Case No. 1:11-cv-00226, S.D. Ohio) where Defendant’s probiotic supplement, Align, was marketed to consumers nationwide as a product that “naturally helps build and support a healthy digestive system, maintain digestive balance, and fortify your digestive system with healthy bacteria.” However, consumers disagreed and filed a suit alleging that the product provided no digestive benefit at all and was successful in certifying classes in five separate states.
As the Rikos case demonstrates, these “snake oil” cases can be boiled down to one specific question: does the product work? The defendant seller has made one single claim that their product can do one specific thing—provide digestive benefit. If the product cannot do that thing, then the seller is open to substantial class-wide liability as consumers would have uniformly relied on that singular representation.
Fraudulent Marketing Representations
While consumers are at risk on the front end when they face fraudulent marketing representations, once they choose to actually purchase a product or service they are at further risk of being charged duplicative or undisclosed additional fees. These cases are often contractual in nature and require a close inspection of any documents produced during the course of the transaction. For instance, a consumer may have contracted with a service provider for one level of service, but came to find that the service provider unilaterally decided to charge them for a higher level of service without warning.
As consumers become increasingly savvy in today’s tech-driven world, they have started to look at every facet of their lives to make sure that they are not the victim of an illegal scheme. One popular class action archetype that has flowed from this increased awareness are claims against retailers for deceptive advertising and pricing schemes.
Another of the different types of class action is the constant sale. We have all seen the signs while walking through the mall, “40% off everything!” But, consumers have started to question whether a sale really is a sale if that 40% off discount happens every day. Courts across the country are beginning to consider this very question. While these cases continue to make their way through the Courts, consumers have focused heavily on applying the consumer protection statutes available to them on a statewide basis. While courts continue to consider the ramifications of these practices, retailers across the country have chosen to settle such actions and return the discounts that should have been given to their consumers.
Class actions have also been filed against retailers for their use of “comparative pricing,” schemes where the retailer will list a “compare at” price and “their” price on the tag. However, consumers have discovered that the “compare at” price is simply made up. These false comparison pricing cases have started to pop up in consumer-friendly states and are likely to gain steam across the country as consumers continue to hold retailers responsible for unlawful pricing schemes.
If you question whether a particular business practice is harmful to a large group of people, call the award-winning class action attorneys of Dworken & Bernstein
In Lake County, call 440.946.7656
In Cuyahoga County, call 216.861.4211
Our review is free of charge and confidential.