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Bill Aims To Protect Computer Buyers

Rooney Proposal Would Provide Coverage
Similar To Automobile Lemon Law.

by Mario F. Cattabiani, The Morning Call

New cars have one. So do puppies. Now a state legislator from the Lehigh Valley wants to create a law to give Pennsylvania consumers greater legal protection if their Apple turns into a lemon or if their IBM is DOA.

Calling it the first proposal of its kind in the nation, Rep. T.J. Rooney, D-Northampton/Lehigh, plans to introduce legislation this week to create a computer lemon law.

"This will tilt the scales in favor of the computer consumer who presently have the decks stacked against them," said Rooney, who represents the 133rd House District.

Rooney would speak only in broad terms about the bill, saving details until a news conference to unveil the legislation Thursday morning at the Capitol.

He did say, however, that it will closely model the state's existing Automobile Lemon Law. Under that statute, new car dealers can be forced to buy back an automobile in certain cases in which a defect cannot be properly repaired. Similar protections were extended several years ago to those who buy dogs that later become ill under the so-called Puppy Lemon Law.

Despite the many sub-$1,000 machines on the market today, most computer buyers spend more than $2,500 on a new system when adding software and components such as printers and scanners. For many households, that puts a computer among their top investments, next to a home and car, Rooney said.

And a growing number of those buyers are finding that although most machines have warranties, many aren't worth the paper they're written on. More and more manufacturers refuse to back up their products, the Bethlehem Democrat said.

"Consumers have little or no recourse when dealing with products that don't live up to warranties," he added.

The bill is designed to help people like Mike Hilton of Bethlehem, whose purchase of a personal computer two years ago has turned into "an endless nightmare."

Since first plugging it in, "Basically, every major part has been replaced -- at least once," said Hilton, the director of investor relations for Air Products and Chemicals.

The CD drive and mother board went. So did the front control panel and power-supply unit. The hard drive was replaced twice. And that's not to mention the 50-plus hours he's spent on the phone with technical support.

Although the repairs were covered under warranty, Hilton said the computer still doesn't work right and the maker has refused to replace it.

"There has to be something to hold manufacturers accountable for their products," said Hilton, who contacted Rooney about his PC plight.

Problems like those are increasing as the family computer becomes a necessity in most households, said Craig Thor Kimmel, a Montgomery County lawyer who specializes in car lemon law cases.

"A lot more people are getting the runaround," said Kimmel, who Rooney consulted in drafting the legislation. Kimmel said the bill will provide uniform rules computer makers and retailers "have to play by."

"A warranty is not a piece of paper. It's a promise," he added. " ... And it shouldn't be just an empty promise to lure you to buy a product."