The Common Law

Humbug – holiday shopping gone bad

I bought my kid a Christmas gift at a local store. The item has never worked from the second we took it out of the package. When I tried to return it, the store refused to refund my money or exchange the item. What are my options?

Consumers are prime targets during the holiday season. Frustrated consumers often walk away from legitimate problems and take no action. The fact that you are willing to pursue the situation is positive, as there are steps that you can take which may help you resolve the situation and could prevent similar problems between this store and others in the future.

The starting point for any consumer dispute is to fully discuss your problem with the store's customer service representative or manager. If you can't resolve the problem at this level, you may want to contact the store's headquarters or the owner.

Assuming the problem still has not resolved, you have several options. You may be able to obtain relief if you purchased the item with a credit card. Search for previous "Common Law" columns that provide a guide to challenging credit card charges for faulty products.

You can file a lawsuit to pursue your individual case. Small-claims court (limited to a recovery of no more than $5,000) is usually the best option for consumers, because you can represent yourself. However, the personal time, energy, effort, and money needed to pursue a small-claims court matter often does not make sense for an inexpensive purchase.

You can also report the business to various consumer protection groups. The consumer should consider filing a complaint with the Texas Attorney General's Consumer Protection division (www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/consumer-protection). Filing a complaint with the Attorney General's Office will not help your specific case (Texas law prohibits the A.G.'s Office from filing a lawsuit with the purpose of recovering money for a single person), but it could lead to an investigation or lawsuit against the company, if it is violating laws protecting consumers. You can also file a separate complaint with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org). By doing so, you will put other savvy consumers on notice that the store has a history of complaints and problems. You can also report your experience to numerous consumer websites to be evaluated by future consumers.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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