LITTLE ROCK — The House on Tuesday approved a bill to prohibit people other than the attorney general from bringing most class-action lawsuits alleging deceptive trade practices.
In a 53-31 vote, the chamber narrowly approved House Bill 1742 by Rep. Michelle Gray, R-Melbourne, after rejecting it twice previously. The bill goes to the Senate.
Gray told House members the bill has been amended to address some legislators’ concerns that it might allow payday lenders to return to Arkansas. In its current form, the bill makes an exception for class-action suits alleging violations of Arkansas’ constitutional amendment capping interest rates on consumer loans at 17 percent.
The bill would allow a person to file an individual lawsuit alleging deceptive trade practices. It would limit damage awards to “actual financial loss,” defined as the difference between the amount paid by a person for goods or services and the actual market value of the goods or services provided to a person.
Gray said the bill would eliminate many frivolous suits that are filed with the intention of forcing a business to settle. She said it would not allow businesses to deceive consumers without consequences.
“All we are saying is with deceptive trade, the AG will bring those suits,” she said.
Speaking against the bill, Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, said it would prohibit a jury from awarding punitive damages that would punish a company for deceiving consumers.
“When you’re talking about deceptive practices, that’s what you want,” he said.
Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, said that if his auto warranty guarantees him free oil changes and the dealer refuses to provide them, it is not financially worthwhile for him to file a suit as an individual, but a class-action suit might be worthwhile.
Walker also said it would be “a woeful waste of judicial time” for 1o,000 customers to file 10,000 separate lawsuits against the same business alleging the same deceptive practice.
“We do not want to take from our people the right to use this vehicle to assert claims that otherwise would not be asserted,” he said.
Speaking in support of the bill, Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, said many class-action suits are not legitimate.
“Oftentimes, what somebody is doing is trying to find a way to get a lawsuit settlement that’s not going to benefit individual consumers,” he said.