Tort Reformers Aid D.C. Dry Cleaner Sued Over Misplaced Pants

July 31, 2007

Wearing a bright green protest button, American Tort Reform Association president Sherman “Tiger” Joyce last Tuesday evening joined small business advocates in denouncing the now notorious multimillion-dollar lawsuit, Pearson v. Chung, brought by an administrative law judge against a Washington, D.C. dry cleaner in connection with a misplaced pair of suit pants.

Joyce spoke at a fundraising reception, co-hosted by ATRA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform, benefiting the defendants, Jin and Soo Chung, the owners of Customs Cleaners in Northeast Washington, D.C.

“Even though the trial judge last month ruled overwhelmingly in favor of the defendants, the stubborn plaintiff is expected to appeal,” an incredulous Joyce explained. “So this two-year legal nightmare that rudely interrupted the Chungs’ American Dream continues to cost them a small fortune in legal bills and business losses.”

He said the fundraiser is primarily an effort to offset some of those losses. But he also acknowledged the public relations value of the event to “speak out on behalf of small business owners just like the Chungs who are regularly targeted by personal injury lawyers because, unlike large companies, they often don’t have the resources to defend themselves.”

He noted that the Chungs were sued under D.C.’s Consumer Protection and Procedures Act, which he said is like laws in other states that are “particularly attractive” to plaintiffs’ lawyers because they typically provide for minimum statutory damages or the tripling of actual damages, and for an award of attorneys’ fees.

“Some judges also have begun interpreting these laws rather loosely, wherein plaintiffs don’t even need to claim an injury or loss, much less knowledge of or reliance on the allegedly ‘unfair or deceptive’ commercial practice,” he told the crowd.

He urged D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, Council Chair Vincent Gray and other City Council members to change the law by requiring plaintiffs to prove that they actually relied on a supposedly fraudulent or deceptive advertisement or representation.

“After all, Roy Pearson’s claim against Custom Cleaners alleged that the display of a basic ‘Satisfaction Guaranteed’ sign somehow constituted a willful fraud punishable by a mind-boggling, potentially bankrupting civil damages award,” he added.

He also recommended that policymakers limit plaintiffs’ claims for damages to out-of-pocket costs, except in cases when it can be proved that a defendant’s actions were knowingly and willfully fraudulent or deceptive.

“If Pearson had simply limited his claim against the Chungs to the cost of a new suit, alterations and any reasonable legal expenses, we wouldn’t be here right now and this case wouldn’t have become internationally infamous,” Joyce concluded.

Source The American Tort Reform Association

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