Class-action lawsuits in California and other states can serve a very useful purpose with respect to protecting consumers. For example, in one recent case a plaintiff filed a class-action complaint against Dollar General, the well-known discount retailer, alleging consumer fraud in the marketing of a motor oil that it sells in its stores. The DG oil brand that Dollar General sells has a statement on the can that says it “lubricates and protects your engine.”
However, in small print on the back of the DG 10W-30 and 10W-40 cans it is stated that the oil is “not suitable for use in most gasoline-powered automotive engines built after “1988” It also states that its use in modern engines “may cause unsatisfactory performance or equipment harm.” The complaint alleges that most consumers would be fooled by the larger print that the oil lubricates and protects the engine, which is more prominently displayed on the front of the can. The store’s SAE 30 oil cautions users against its use in engines built after 1930.
The class-action request will serve to compensate those purchasers who were taken in by the deceptive advertising ploy and purchased the product during a specified time period. According to the lawsuit, the consumer fraud is intensified by the placing of the DG oil next to the higher-priced brand name oils that do provide the stated protection. Although DG cans do say that the oil is for “older” cars, the average consumer would not think that it means that the oil is no good for cars made in the modern era.
If the facts are as represented in the lawsuit, a claim for consumer fraud may be proved somewhat easily. The plaintiff normally must present expert testimony that proves that the oil is harmful to most cars, but it may be that the statements on the cans themselves are sufficient proof of fraud under these facts. Most consumers will not necessarily search the small print on the back of the can and should not be held to do so. The case would likely be certified for class-action treatment under these facts pursuant to California law and that of most other states.
Source: cookcountyrecord.com, “Dollar General customer seeks to ignite class action over alleged failings of store brand motor oil“, Scott Holland, Feb. 13, 2016