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Computer Lemon Law Proposed For Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Aug. 19 -- Pennsylvania consumers would be the first in the nation to receive better legal protections and recourse if they purchase a defective computer under legislation introduced by state Rep. T.J. Rooney, D-Lehigh/Northampton.

At a Capitol news conference today, Rooney outlined his bill that would establish rights for consumers who purchase defective computers and provide legal recourse for warranty abuses and ineffective repairs.

"This legislation is the first of its kind in protecting consumers from unfair business practices relating to computers," Rooney said. "Much like Pennsylvania's automobile lemon law, my legislation seeks to defend the rights of individuals who purchase a defective product they can least afford to replace.

"Next to a home and car, computers are fast becoming one of the most expensive purchases for individuals and families, especially when advancements in technology require computer users to make frequent upgrades to their system. The fact that more than 4.7 million personal computers were installed in the state's top eight metropolitan areas by 1998 illustrates the magnitude of this billion-dollar industry."

Rooney was joined by two Pennsylvania consumers who purchased defective computers and are battling the manufacturers over ineffective repairs covered under warranty.

Philadelphia resident William Hubbard spent $3,144 in 1995 on a Gateway 2000 Inc. computer that repeatedly failed to operate during the three-year warranty period. After 12 ineffective repair attempts, the computer continues to malfunction.

Doug Grande, a schoolteacher from Montgomery County, had a similar experience. The computer he purchased in 1998 from Quantez Microsystems for $2,732 with a three-year warranty failed shortly after he received it. Grande said he has been unable to obtain any warranty repairs from Quantez despite repeated requests by certified mail.

"Cases like these are not uncommon in other areas of the state," said Rooney, who first became involved with the issue in response to a constituent complaint. "Right now, personal computer consumers have little or no recourse when manufacturers refuse to back up their products and warranties."

Rooney said many manufacturers also make consumers "jump through hoops" and travel to inconvenient locations to have their disputes settled. For example, by keeping a Gateway 2000 computer for 30 days, consumers automatically agree to settle any dispute exclusively and finally through binding arbitration in Chicago, Ill.

Under Rooney's legislation, computers found to be defective within two years of purchase would have to be repaired, replaced or refunded. Consumers protected under the law would be residents, students or businesses with less than 30 computer workstations.

The bill also would establish time frames for repairs within the warranty period and require manufacturers to provide a full refund or new computer to the consumer if a second repair is ineffective or untimely. Manufacturers would have to pay shipping and repair costs.

If the computer has multiple problems, a second repair attempt would not be required to get a refund or new computer. Returned computers could not be resold in Pennsylvania.

Purchasers also could initiate civil action if a dispute is not resolved. Awards would include refund or replacement, as well as punitive damages up to $6,000 depending on the case. Attorney fees and legal costs also would be covered.

To get a better picture of how many Pennsylvanians have purchased lemon computers, visit the House Democratic home page at http://www.pahouse.com/.

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