Buyer beware vs. public safety

Buyer beware vs. public safety March 21, 2012

This is my first March in many years in which I didn’t work in a newsroom, so I’ve been out of the loop as far as March Madness goes. As a result, I neglected to remind everyone of Consumerist’s annual March Madness ritual — voting on the Worst Company in America.

Here’s the Sweet 16.

Also from Consumerist, Chris Morran asks “Who Is to Blame When Car Dealer Sells $62K Nissan to Man With Dementia?

A woman in California has a brand new, extras-packed Nissan Murano convertible worth a whopping $62,130 sitting unused in her garage. Why? Because she says the car dealership should never have sold the vehicle to her husband, who has been diagnosed with dementia.

The woman, who has power of attorney over her husband’s finances, had actually been meeting with his brother to discuss long-term care options when he drove himself to the dealership and traded in his Altima Hybrid for the new car. She claims he didn’t attempt to negotiate with the salesman on anything, including the more than $10,000 in options.

That brings to mind a comment a while back from Robert S. Adler, Consumer Product Safety Commission commissioner:

My objection is that many of those who insist on cost-benefit analysis have no interest whatsoever in making regulation more focused and rational. In their world, costs to business are the only measure; benefits to consumers somehow never make it to the table. Unfortunately, that’s misleading and unfair. Someone always pays.

I read that via the Punning Pundit, who added:

The basic distinction between Left and Right is that to the Right, “caveat emptier” is the highest freedom. To the Left, freedom is only begun once caveat emptor is abolished. By placing the burden of regulation on producers, rather than the burden of injury or death on consumers, government is able to create a fairer, healthier society.

Yellow Dog drew a similar distinction recently, on “Dealing With What’s ‘Bad for You’“:

Liberals want to regulate bad things that individual people can’t stop on their own. Specifically, liberals want to stop corporations from harming Americans without their knowledge and outside their control. In other words, liberals want to restrict the freedom and liberty of corporations in order to increase the liberty and freedom of individuals.

… It’s individuals doing their own thing without hurting anyone else that conservatives can’t stand and are doing everything they can to eliminate. Conservatives want to restrict the freedom and liberty of individuals in order to increase the liberty and freedom – and profits – of corporations.

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  • Don Gisselbeck

    Short version; modern “conservatives” hate civilization.

  • I think of it in terms of salt shakers.

    If the government places limits on how much salt corporations can put in food then that means that you ultimately control how much salt is put in your food.  Using your salt shaker.

    If there are no limits then that means that whatever corporation had a hand in making your food has control over how much salt is in your food instead of you.  There’s no such thing a salt unshaker.  You can’t get the salt out once it’s been put in.

    And, remember, the only reason you know how much salt was put in your food before you got it is that there are regulations responsible for getting that information put on the package.  If business had its way not only would you not control how much salt was in your food, you also wouldn’t have a way of finding out how much salt had been put in there.

    Without regulation not only are you not in control, you’re not even aware of what those who are in control are doing.  Things are done to you not just without your consent, but also without your knowledge.

    Regulations on business place the power in your hands, an absence of regulations on business takes the power out of your hands.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, they like civilization just fine.  The problem is that, to them, “civilization” means “feudal system” with corporations as the feudal lords and the rest of us as serfs.

  • Naomi

    This reminded me to look for a followup on that Nissan story, and I was relieved to see that the dealership is taking the car back (although they haven’t said whether they’re refunding the down payment):

    The thing about that car dealership story is that it’s reasonable that if he was coherent at the dealership, they didn’t demand proof that he was of sound mind.  People with dementia have more lucid moments, and topics where they can sound lucid even on less-good days.  What strikes me as utterly inexcusable was that they were unwilling to cancel the sale when the situation was made clear, and they had to be publicly shamed in a consumer-reporting column to get them to act like human beings about this.

  • Anonymous

    According to the original article on the Nissan story, the car salesman apparently came home with the fellow with dementia, riding along in the newly purchased Nissan. And was immediately told by the wife about the dementia, and told her the sale had been finalized so there was nothing he could do. But why would a car salesman come home with a customer to begin with?

  • Hell, isn’t it illegal for a contract like that to be held valid once it’s proven that the power of attorney was not rescinded and that the PoA remains with the other person?

    At that point, keeping the money is at the very least fraud, if not actual theft.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t thnk it’s fair to say that the Left wants to abolish caveat emptor. I always here this in the context of excessive warning labels, like a screwdriver that says “Do not jam into eye.” or an air pistol that says “do not give to children under 3”.

    I think “the Left” is fine with a certain level of buyer responsibility – its just that we’d just generally like you to know what you’re supposed to be responsible for before we whip out the accountability and start beating you about the head and shoulders with it.

    I mean, if I do something that I know is dangerous (like take the guard off of a power tool) I don’t really expect to be able to sue the Black&Decker because they made it possible to take the guard off.

  • Anonymous

    Generally a contract is void if one of the parties is incompetent.  That means the contract is unenforceable as there never was a real contract to begin with. The problem here is that the dealership already had in its possession the old car and possibly some of the purchase price of the car, and you’d have to sue to get the money back if the dealership insisted on being a dick and refused to return the consideration.   If the dealership wanted to be a complete douche canoe they might also start try starting collections, which depending on state laws may also require a suit to stop.  The dealership would almost certainly lose either such suit, but a total douche canoe might count on the hassle being too great for someone to pursue (they’d be wrong; this sort of egregious behavior typically breeds plaintiffs who will hound them to the ends of the earth like the Erinyes of old).

    (I am not an attorney, and nothing I write should be construed as legal advice). 

  • Anonymous

    I always find it useful to remember what life was like before consumer protection laws. Canned peas were colored green with copper sulfate (currently used as a fungicide and herbicide), and formaldehyde was used to preserve milk. Arsenic based dyes were used to color candy(!).'s_Green#cite_ref-11In 1937 a  pharmaceutical company manufactured cough syrup using ethylene glycol and killed 100 people.  The owner’s reaction?   “We have been supplying a legitimate professional demand and not once could have foreseen the unlooked-for results. I do not feel that there was any responsibility on our part.” Assumptions that “the market” will prevent businesses from injuring their customers just isn’t borne out by history.  

  • Anonymous

    Um, why the hell did Goldman Sachs miss the running?  Goldman Sachs isn’t the worst American company in 2012; it’s the worst company ever.  It’s been the driving force behind four financial bubbles that have destabilized the world economy (the Great Depression, the Dot-com bubble, the sub-prime mortgage bubble, and the petroleum futures bubble) and working on a fifth (cap-and-trade).  Seriously, this kind of corporate recklessness is asking for an Inquisition-style purge.

    Also, Time Warner Cable really should have picked a different logo.

  •  It’s supposed to be a combination of an eye and an ear.

  • Anonymous

    Did I miss something they did? How is Netflix one of the 64 worst companies in america? I like Netflix! Oh yeah… now I remember the whole weird brand splitting thing they did. 

  • Anonymous

    Seriously, this kind of corporate recklessness is asking for an Inquisition-style purge.

    This point has been reiterated in the past, but most current systems of morality — which focus on crimes which influence a few people or at most a small community — simply have not adapted to deal with a global society in which it’s possible for a single group of people to screw over entire countries without killing anyone.

    We’d be much better off if we stopped focusing on petty crimes and started focusing on collective corporate crimes. OTOH, given our economic system, I don’t know if that’s possible. I’ve been told that eliminating corporate personhood — thereby making executives directly liable for corporate crimes and bankruptcy — would destroy our modern economy. Then again, given the current mess we’re in, I’m not convinced that would be a bad idea.

  • Not necessarily.  As I understand it, declaring a PoA doesn’t necessarily prevent a person from continuing to act on their own behalf.  After all, one needs to declare a durable power of attorney before one actually needs one to act on their behalf.


    Did I miss something they did? How is Netflix one of the 64 worst
    companies in america? I like Netflix! Oh yeah… now I remember the
    whole weird brand splitting thing they did.

    That was the final step; remember that before they split DVD-by-mail and on-line streaming into two separate services, they hiked the price. Twice. After eliminating the 3-disk plan. Then claimed it was all done to provide better service.

  • Anonymous-Sam

    And now I cringe whenever they brag about “unlimited movies and streaming for just eight bucks a month!” Their streaming service has a lot of TV shows, but their instant movies all tend to be bottom rung B rated crap with one out of five stars, and if all you want to pay is “eight bucks a month,” then you’ve got to choose between TV shows or their DVD rental service.

    If you go the DVD rental route, have fun checking out one sole, solitary disc at a time! That makes watching TV series via DVD really “fun.” Watch three episodes, send the disc back, wait two days, get the next disc, watch three episodes, repeat ad nausum. Oh, you wanted bonus features? Those come on yet another disc you have to get separately.

    Another company that missed the tourney and shouldn’t have: Monsanto. How can we forget a company that’s redefined human rights violations across the planet? Wherever they go, they find themselves getting sued by federal governments for trying to do the exact same thing they’ve done here: Set up an uncontested monopoly over agriculture, forcing independent farmers out of business or into business for them, suing anyone who dares try to go into business for themselves.

    The meat production companies in the US could make that list too — nothing like pink slime treated with ammonia to kill the bacteria that wouldn’t exist if they didn’t insist on feeding corn to their cows, which cows cannot digest properly.

  • rizzo

     Meh, TV shows are mostly crap now anyhow.  But Netflix streaming has The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, and that show rules:)

    I don’t see Smithfield Foods on there…drowning in an open air bog of pig shit along with your family members sounds like a pretty bad thing to me…

  • Part of why Monsanto has the cojones they do is because of things like this:

  • Lori


      Meh, TV shows are mostly crap now anyhow. 

    The quality of TV shows really doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not Netflix sucks as a company. People want to watch TV shows, Netflix sells them a way to do that and the issue is whether or not they’re doing a good job at it.

  • rizzo

    Oh ok…well they do so they have that going for them.   I’m even planning on resubscribing next year when they get the new Arrested Development eps going, and I absolutely despise monthly bills that cut into my booze budget. 

  • I actually agree with that decision. If you note, in the case they didn’t rule on his use of the canola that found its way onto his fields accidentally, only on his 2nd crop, which was 98% GM, making it extremely unlikely that it resulted without Schmeiser knowing what was going on.

  • Under what system of reasonable laws and regulations on God’s green Earth should it be possible for a company to sue somebody for planting friggin’ seeds?

    Especially when seeds made by GMO-corporations often include “terminator” genes such that the following generation won’t grow, forcing the farmer to buy more seeds from guess who, GMO-corp?

  • Dan Audy

     I do (strongly) disagree with that decision both as someone whose family farms and as a biologist.

    Farmers regularly select certain promising seed for replanting which is the foundation for artificial selection which has allowed us our modern agricultural existance.  What he did was spray Round-up across a section of his crops (after first noticing that some canola has survived incidental spraying) which wiped out all the non-RoundupReady canola and harvested seed from the remaining crop.  He had no legal obligation not to reuse that seed as he had never entered a legal agreement with Monsanto and thus was not bound by their terms of use.  Legally, the contamination of his fields (which incidentally would be a cause of action against Monsanto and the farmers using their product locally) falls under either under abandoned property or that of a gift (under the same reasoning that a man’s ejaculate is a ‘gift’).

    Beyond that the fact the contamination was already widespread (60% in 1997) and offered an advantage even in fields that weren’t blanket sprayed ensures that the gene frequency would rise over time.  At what point should something that he has no control over and is in fact a natural expected result of fertile GM crops become criminalized?  Wild canola (that is canola growing naturally outside the boundries of a farm and not being cultivated) has been found to have a 41% gene frequency of Roundup resistance and a 40% gene frequency of Liberty resistance meaning a full 80% of wild canola is GM and also found a couple plants that contained the genes for BOTH resistances, something that had never been engineered.  Life propagates, spreads, and changes and trying to imposed the human legal system over that is complete nonsense because it isn’t compatible with the way the world really operates.

  • He had no legal obligation not to reuse that seed as he had never entered a legal agreement with Monsanto and thus was not bound by their terms of use.”

    Unfortunately, that’s not the way patents work.

  • Ursula L

    I wonder if a farmer could manage to countersue Monsanto, for trespass, for allowing their GM crop to spread to the farmer’s land without the farmer’s permission.  

  • Anonymous

    I have a coworker that loves to hate lawyers.  He has apparently used a lawyer for something in the past, but of course his case his special.  All other lawyers are just greedy, in his view.  So we were talking about medical malpractice and negligence.  I was trying to show him that the issue isn’t so one-sided said that sometimes lawyers are useful when doctors genuinely do something negligent.  And his response was that you should just not go back to that doctor and go to someone else instead.  He doesn’t seem to realize that people can actually die or be severely injured from medical negligence.  The Almighty Free Market can’t solve this one.

  • The problem is that for every lawyer that does a necessary service, there’s going to be one that’s out to line his or her own pockets.

    Additionally, aspects of the law are purposely written in ways not immediately open to obvious interpretation (particularly wrt taxation) and this abuse of a necessary social function of government also breeds resentment against lawyers.

  • Anonymous

    He doesn’t seem to realize that people can actually die or be severely injured from medical negligence.  The Almighty Free Market can’t solve this one.

    I like to refer to it as the Invisible Handjob.

  • If the issue of medical malpractice is one-sided, it’s one-sided against the people who whine about frivolous litigation. Studies have been done and found that most malpractice suits are legitimate. The supposed epidemic of frivolous lawsuits that insurance companies and doctors keep talking about is a fabrication.

    Yes, there are ambulance chasers, and yes, the legal field is in many ways kind of fucked up, but medical malpractice is not a good choice of pet issue if you’re one of those people who believes in the mythology of rampant frivolous lawsuits.

  • Anonymous

     Yeah, the other thing is that some lawsuits won’t be legit, and that’s why we have judges!  The whole point of the legal system is that you can make a claim, but that doesn’t automatically entitle you to getting money.  If your suit is frivolous, then it will most likely be thrown out in court.