LISBON - State Rep. Craig Newbold was among those who voted in favor of changing Ohio's consumer protection law to limit the amount of damages that can be received from a lawsuit if the consumer rejected a settlement for more money.
"It's a pretty common sense piece of legislation, it seems to me," said Newbold, R-Columbiana, of the bill passed by the state legislature and signed into law last week by Gov. John Kasich.
Prior to the bill, a person filing a lawsuit under Ohio's Consumer Sales Protection Act could seek triple damages if they won their claim. The bill includes a provision that still allows the business being sued to make a monetary offer to settle the lawsuit. But if the plaintiff rejects the offer and wins at trial, but for a lesser amount than was originally offered, the consumer would be barred from seeking triple damages. The consumer would also be prohibited from asking the business be ordered to pay their attorney fees and court costs.
Newbold favored the changes because it encourages a fair settlement and, in doing so, speeds up what are often lengthy court cases, saving the consumer the cost of continuing to pay attorney fees.
"It's a way to shorten the process and take the risk out of it for the consumer if they don't want to go to trial," he said.
The National Consumer Law Center disagreed, saying the changes have turned Ohio's consumer protection law into one of the weakest in the nation by tilting the playing field against consumers and reducing the monetary penalties needed to persuade offending businesses to change its behavior.
Columbiana County Treasurer Nick Barborak, who is the Democratic nominee for state representative, said that as an attorney he has filed lawsuits on behalf of clients who were the victim of unscrupulous business practices. He said triple damages and awarding attorney fees serve as incentive for businesses to cease engaging in such practices.
"It seems to me Ohio's consumer protection act has been an invaluable tool" in leveling the playing field, he said. "I think that this takes some of the teeth out of the law and make its more difficult for people who have been wronged to be made whole."