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Article by Mohan Babu

‘Caveat emptor’, warn US consumer courts

A consumer who has been wronged has recourse to the legal system in the US and should not hesitate to use it, writes Mohan Babu

In my earlier column, I talked about how the small-claims legal system in the US is designed to protect the rights of individual consumers, and provide a mechanism for aggrieved customers to put forward their grievances. Following is the continuation of my saga.

In order to pursue the case against the travel agent, I called up the county clerk’s office in Skokie Illinois and requested them to send me the necessary forms. The forms were quite simple — requiring less brainwork than filling up a simple EZ Income Tax form. I also had an option of having the Sheriff’s office, deliver a copy of the case to the defendant.

About six weeks after I had mailed my documents, I received a postcard from the court saying that a hearing had been set for my case on November 9, and that I was required to present myself along with all the documentation and evidence. I went about preparing for the hearing right in earnest, filing all the documents, tickets, copies of credit card bills, invoices etc. I also took care of all the logistics — took a day’s leave, booked the air-tickets to Chicago, hotel stay, rental car etc. Initially, the wife and I were a bit jittery about flying from Colorado to Chicago, especially in the current travel scenario.

The court

The Circuit court of Cook County, Skokie is a huge, nondescript building. We reached there by about 12.15 pm for our 1.30 pm hearing. There were about a dozen cases listed for hearing that afternoon. The courtroom opened promptly at 1.30 pm and the clerk, a pleasant lady of Indian origin sorted the files in the order in which the litigants presented them. A sheriff, responsible for maintaining the decorum was also present in the courtroom. The judge soon arrived, and without much fanfare, the clerk started calling out individual parties. When our case was called, the travel agency — represented by its director, and I went before the judge. The judge, a brusque lady of sharp intellect, who had probably heard hundreds of cases like ours, asked me if I was prepared to proceed with the case. I replied in the affirmative. When the same question was put to the representative of the agency he started blabbering something about not having my tickets. I knew right away that he hadn’t come prepared for the hearing. The judge asked us to sit down and wait for our turn.

The wife and I were engrossed in observing the proceedings of the court. The first to come up for hearing was a landlord-Vs-tenant case, with the landlord claiming damages for a soiled apartment. Each case was taking fifteen to twenty minutes and I decided to take a break. On my way back to the courtroom, I found the director of the travel agency waiting for me outside the door. He

asked me if I had the unused portion of my ticket with me. I replied I did, I also added that no one had ever asked me for it! He said that if I would give him the unused original tickets, he would ‘settle out of court’. I was speechless! Here I was after ten months of trying to contact his agency, being told that all they needed to settle the matter with me, were the tickets. I pointed out that we had a hearing in a few minutes, and after presenting my evidence to the judge, she would probably award me the amount owed to me, along with the costs that I had incurred. I gave him the option: pay what was due to me, along with the costs, and I would settle. After thinking for a few minutes, he agreed. By then, a representative of the court, sensing that we had come to a ‘settlement’, came out and advised us of the option available if we wanted to settle. I went in and had a word with my wife, who was thrilled that we had a settlement - all that we had asked for, right from the beginning.

The director of the travel agency tried to worm his way out of the court without his agency’s name appearing in the settlement document; but the judge would have none of it. She signed an order stating, “settled and dismissed with prejudice. The court retains jurisdiction to enforce this settlement.” I was thrilled by the outcome and said a small prayer to the lord. Later that evening, I dropped by the travel agency to collect our cheque.

The moral of the story: There are some businesses and service providers who try to bury their head in the sand. By ignoring their customers’ problems, they hope that the customers would forget about them. Law of probability is at their side since most of the people I know would not dream of taking a business to task. As savvy customers, we probably should. A persistent customer, who has been wronged, has recourse to the legal system and should not hesitate to use it. Caveat emptor - Buyer Beware. One does not require an advanced degree in law to know one’s rights. On this note, I rest my case.

Post script: The author has deliberately omitted the name of the airline and travel agent so that he is not accused of slander.





About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    For FAQ, Trivia and Information on Life in America, visit the Ask-A-Desi section

    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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