More than three decades after its passage, a modest New Jersey consumer-protection law has become an Internet scourge, at least in the eyes of some companies.
Passed in 1981 to ensure businesses did not mislead customers about their rights, the Truth in Consumer Contract, Warranty, and Notice Act helped eliminate confusing language in sales offers, store notices, and product liability statements. And then it sat quietly, a seldom-noticed piece of the state’s legal furniture.
“There has been a literal blizzard of demand letters that have gone out to businesses across the country,” said Edward Fanning, chair of the product liability group at McCarter & English.
Although the law’s penalties are slight — $100, actual damages, or both — they apply to each infraction, Fanning noted. That makes it a potentially devastating tool against the owners of heavily trafficked websites, he said.
The demand letters warn “hundreds of thousands or even millions of people may have been exposed” to multiple confusing terms, even if they were just casually browsing a website rather than shopping, Fanning said.