The Iowa Attorney General is pushing for a new law which would give individual Iowans better grounds to sue businesses they think have defrauded them. Bill Brauch heads the consumer protection division in the attorney general’s office.
"This is an important bill. This is a high priority for the attorney general," Brauch says. "….It’s been 10 years since Arkansas became the 49th state to enact this legislation." According to Brauch, individual Iowans who believe they’ve been bilked by a business have a very difficult time taking their case to court, whereas the laws in every other state, the District of Columbia and even the Virgin Islands allow individuals to sue and, if they win, the business pays all the attorney fees. That’s not the case here in Iowa.
"Iowans are really second-class citizens when it comes to consumer fraud," Brock says. Brauch testified today during a statehouse hearing on the bill. "Until you’re a victim of consumer fraud, you don’t know how awful it is in Iowa," Brauch said. Over a dozen AARP members were in the audience, wearing red, to signal their support. Anthony Carroll, an attorney for AARP, says he’s heard too many horror stories and it’s time to strengthen Iowa law and protect consumers.
"Just one example is a couple that had property damage because of a tornado in southern Iowa. They paid $55,000 to a local contractor and they got about $15,000 worth of service and the person just abandoned them," Carroll says. "The Adams County Attorney didn’t have enough to make a criminal case, but more importantly he said the facts of the situation would line up with this potential law that could have protected them, but because we lack this law they have no protection, so they’re out of luck."
Carroll says AARP is hoping to fight the tide of lobbyists who’ve lined up against the bill. "It’s absolutely ridiculous and embarrassing that we aren’t going to do enough to stand up for consumer because there’s apparently not a strong enough voice up here (at the statehouse) and we’re trying to change that," Carroll says.
Pamela Dowd of Des Moines was in the room, too, to voice her support to the bill, even though it won’t apply to her case. Dowd says after her mother died in 2005, she paid $12,000 to have a high-efficiency heating and cooling system installed in her mother’s home — in preparation for its sale — but the contractor didn’t install what she bought and she’s been fighting it ever since.
"I found out I didn’t get what I paid for. It was completely off. The local company made me promises that they didn’t keep," Dowd says. "…I still have no resolution and I don’t have what I contracted for and it’s been very expensive and this act would help people with my situation."
Critics of the concept say it should not apply to professionals, like lawyers and doctors and even hospitals and hospices, as already-existing state boards can yank their licenses if they’re guilty of consumer fraud.
Mediacom also objects to the bill, as it would allow individual consumers to sue the cable giant, while other communications companies like telephone and utility companies are on a list of businesses who could not be sued under the bill. The bill is currently being considered by a subcommittee in the Iowa Senate.