Information on Ohio's Consumer Laws from Attorney Daniel Myers, Myers Law, LLC, not legal advice
In case you missed these from the Myers Law Facebook page, these are the top ten myths concerning your Ohio consumer and tenant rights. These were created after hearing about a lot of misinformation given to clients from the courts, businesses, their friends, their families, and even other lawyers.
Myth #1: You can never sue the business that took advantage of you if you wait a year: No, most claims last longer than a year.
While it is true that some legal claims may be lost if you wait a year or more after you knew about them or after the other person committed the bad act (e.g. medical malpractice, legal malpractice, false imprisonment), most of your consumer claims can still be brought to court after two, four, or more years. You may still be able to get a full refund, plus attorney fees, from a company that violates the Home Solicitation Sales Act because it failed to give you a required 3-day notice of your right to cancel an agreement. You may be entitled to cancel your contract and receive a refund six or more years after the agreement was entered into. You may still be able to sue a company for damages suffered from negligent construction work ten or eleven years after the work is performed. Each situation is different, and it is important to contact an attorney ASAP when you think you might have a problem–but don’t write-off your claim as too old before you talk to a lawyer and discuss your options.
Myth #2: You need to move out of your apartment before you can file a lawsuit against your landlord: False.
Tenants do not need to be evicted before they can file a lawsuit for their landlords’ breach of the lease, failure to pay interest on security deposits, failing to perform their duties under the Landlord-Tenant Act, or for engaging in retaliation against a tenant reporting issues to the landlord or health department. This is why it is important to first speak with an attorney. Many of these claims can be brought while living in your apartment. Other claims, for wrongful eviction or refund of security deposit, may require you to move out, but not always. If a landlord takes away a portion of your rental unit for the landlord’s use, you have been evicted from that portion and are due a reduction in rent. Sometimes you need to have an attorney file a lawsuit for you before your landlord takes you seriously.
Myth #3: If the contractor performs bad work but has no money, there is nothing you can do: There is usually something you can do.
Simply because the contractor has no money to pay you for the damages you suffered does not mean you cannot recover your damages. One of the first things an experienced and knowledgeable lawyer looks into is whether a contractor had insurance coverage or a contractor’s bond. In the City of Cleveland, a contractor’s bond could cover up to $25,000 in some damages suffered by the homeowner, even if the contractor has no money. Insurance may cover some of the damages as well. Even if a contractor goes bankrupt, there may be damages that will survive the bankruptcy and entitle you to recover money when the contractor goes back to work in the future. Do not write off your rights simply because the person that ripped you off is broke–you may have some options with insurance and bonding companies. A lawyer can help you determine who to work with and how to do it.
Myth #4: A lawyer will charge me too much, I can do this on my own: False.
There are only a few lawyers that actually focus their practices on protecting your consumer law rights under the Consumer Sales Practices Act. Although I cannot speak for all of these lawyers, I can say that there are many fee options available, such as contingency fee (lawyer receives a portion of the recovery), flat fees (one set amount paid up-front with no risk of owing the attorney more than that amount), or hourly fee work. Depending on your situation, one of these options may make more sense than the others. The law even requires the other side to pay your attorney fees in many cases if you win at trial. These laws are very technical and very complex–many attorneys who dabble in this area part-time do not know how to bring these consumer claims. An experienced attorney will know how to argue your case before the court. If you try to take on a well-funded insurance company, business, high-powered attorney, or wealthy individual on your own, you do that at your own risk.
Myth #5: The police will get my money and property back from the contractor that stole it: probably not.
Many clients come to me after they feel they have nowhere else to turn–their own attempts to get their money back failed, the Attorney General’s office gave up on them, and police refuse to get involved. Sometimes waiting on all of these other steps to fail means a potential client lost their right to sue for damages.
While some police departments may look into contractor fraud and theft because it could be a felony under Revised Code section 2913.02, I normally hear from my clients that the police used their favorite mantra “it’s a civil matter, we won’t get involved in it,” or “we have more important things to investigate.” It is a criminal matter in most if not all cases, but many police departments want to ignore that fact. Even when the police do perform an initial investigation, and even if it is a felony, many county prosecutors will not file charges because they have murders and violent crimes to contend with. While it is important to call the police and report the crime, and I encourage you to always do so because it is unlikely to hurt you, do not expect the police to take action on your behalf. In all likelihood you will still need to contact a civil attorney, and do so quickly, to have someone stand up for your rights.
Myth #6: The other guy’s insurance company told me they won’t cover this or won’t pay for certain damages, so there is nothing left to do: absolutely not.
Insurance companies did not become the subject of much ridicule, hate, thousands of government regulations, and many lawsuits because they are always right and offer to pay what is true and just. I have dealt with insurance adjusters, and even other attorneys, who insist that an insurance policy excludes coverage for my client’s damages. Sometimes they are right, but most of the time they are wrong. At best, the adjusters may simply be mistaken about the language in the policy, at worst, well, they are living up to their reputation. Do not take their word for it–insurance companies make money by not paying your claims. Contact an attorney who can read through the policy language, cut through the resistance of the insurance company, and attempt to get you what you are owed. You wouldn’t trust a fox to guard the hen house, why trust the other person’s insurance company to protect your interests?
Myth #7: I’m a bad person if I sue someone: No.
Our views on the justice system have been influenced over the years by millions of dollars of lobbying from business groups, insurance groups, and others to make us think that it’s wrong to sue someone. These same companies and associations stand to make more money when individuals do not stand up for themselves and do not retain advocates to fight for them–they get to pocket the money the wrongfully took or avoid responsibility for the real harm they caused to someone else. You perform a moral act by suing a bad company. You stand up to deceptive and dangerous business practices. You can only get what you are owed, as determined by a jury of your peers. Sometimes the business has to pay more as punishment for being malicious. Hopefully your act not only helps yourself obtain the outcome that you deserve, but it also makes the person you sue think twice before they take advantage of, or hurt, someone else. Lawsuits have caused many companies to improve their products and services, and they have saved lives. You are not a bad person if you file a legitimate lawsuit against someone else; you are someone to be commended, you are taking the first step to making the world better or safer for yourself and others.
Myth #8: If I don’t have a written contract, I don’t have a contract: False.
A contract comes in many forms. It can be written, oral, emailed, or even implied from the circumstances. Sometimes a written contract is required in order for there to be a contract, but that is the exception, not the rule. It is usually easier to prove the terms and conditions of a written contract, but if someone offers to perform work for you or accepts an offer from you, and you accept their offer or perform your promise to them, you probably have a contract. It does not normally require magical words (“I accept your offer”) or a handshake.
Sometimes a contract exists even without an oral promise or handshake. If someone walks up to your door, you see a sign on their truck saying “we shovel driveways for $100” and after that you tell that person to shovel your driveway, you probably entered into a contract and agreed to pay them $100 for the work. If the work is done poorly or not done at all after you pay someone to do it, they breached the contract, and you can take steps to get your money back or make them pay for the damage they caused. It may be harder to prove that an oral contract or implied contract exists, but it is possible, and you may still be entitled to damages at trial without a written contract.
Myth #9: I signed a terrible contract and now I am stuck with it: Maybe not!
Sometimes consumers, and specifically homeowners, are permitted to cancel a contract and no longer be bound by it. In Ohio, the Home Solicitation Sales Act allows homeowners who are solicited by a contractor/sales person to buy consumer goods or services, or who do business in certain conditions where the contractor/sales person does not have a place of business open to the public, to cancel their contract by midnight of the third day after the contract is signed.
What if it’s after those three days? If the contractor fails to give you the legally required notices about this right to cancel, your cancellation right may never expire, and you can cancel the contract, demanding a full-refund, even years later–one court even allowed someone to do this six years after the contract was entered into. In order to determine if this law applies to your situation or can help you, you need to talk to a lawyer. Additionally, you may have other options available in some cases to void a contract, but they are very complicated and very fact-specific. An attorney’s advice is critical.
Myth #10: If I don’t show up to Court, they’ll stop bothering me: False.