$65M Missing Pants Vendetta May Provoke Consumer Rights Backlash

It is not easy — actually, it is close to impossible — to find anyone who is sympathetic to Roy Pearson Jr.’s position. Pearson has made headlines in recent days for his eye-popping US$65 million suit against his dry cleaners. This is not a tort about, say, environmental negligence that caused Pearson injury or illness. No, the man is suing Custom Cleaners formisplacing a pair of his pants.

Pearson, a judge, is reportedly hinging his lawsuit on the promises expressed in two signs that used to hang in the Washington, D.C., store: “Satisfaction Guaranteed” and “Same Day Delivery.” He is taking advantage of Washington’s consumer protection laws, considered the strictest — or the best, depending on your point of view — in the country, which allow him to levy such huge fines.

Using the Legal System

Right now, though, the focus is on the judge himself. “Sixty-five million dollars! He is using the courts as a tool of legal harassment,” said Bonnie Russell, a spokesperson for USAJudges, an organization that provides reports on individual judges. Pearson is up for another 10-year appointment, she noted.

“It will be interesting to see if he gets it,” she told CRM Buyer. “His legal background shows that he is very clubby in an already clubby system.”

Sooner or later, the spotlight will move away from Pearson himself and focus on how he was able to get this far with his complaint. Then, consumer advocates — and, yes, litigators — worry that a public backlash could develop against the protections in place for consumers.

“Through his pleading, the judge’s stance appears to be that this suit is all about the betterment of customer service,” said Ian Friedman of Ian N. Friedman and Associates.

“People, though, I believe, will have a difficult time accepting that argument because of the amount of money,” he told CRM Buyer. “The money will shift the focus from a wrongdoing towards an individual attempting to get money.”

Human Errors

Errors always occur during the course of doing business. “A human rate of error is inevitable,” Friedman noted. That said, he does believe more accountability needs to be required of businesses that provide services to consumers.

The irony is that this lawsuit is likely to be used as a Trojan horse to dismantle existing consumer rights instead.

“As an issue, it would have been a good test case — but is it ever the wrong case,” he remarked.

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