Over the past several months, many newsrooms have been covering the sexual abuse allegations within the Catholic Church. On March 19, the West Virginia Attorney General filed a lawsuit against the state’s Roman Catholic diocese claiming that the diocese “knowingly employed pedophiles.” You may be thinking, “What does this have to do with consumer protection?”
In line with a new trend, the lawsuit in question claims that the diocese violated consumer protection laws when they did not disclose to parents the potential dangers of sending kids to Catholic schools and camps. According to the lawsuit, the diocese hired pedophiles and then subsequently advertised safe environments for the children. Furthermore, the suit goes on to claim that the diocese didn’t conduct proper background checks of its employees at these schools and camps. The lawsuit claims that the parents in this case were “purchasers” that were purchasing services, here that would be schooling and church camp, for their children.
Like many states, West Virginia has consumer protection laws in place that the Attorney General can bring lawsuits under. The West Virginia code states that “Unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce are hereby declared unlawful.” Here, the parents or purchases purchased a service from the diocese. Allegedly, these services were then given under unfair or deceptive acts or practices, i.e. not informing the purchasers of the potential dangers presented by the staff hired by the diocese to work at the schools or camps.
Later, the New York Times article that discusses the lawsuit mentions that consumer protection laws are beginning to be used more frequently, with consumer protection laws being cited in cases involving everything from the opioid epidemic to cases involving environmental issues.
This case and the others mentioned above are beginning to show a trend towards applying consumer protection laws to out of the box cases. Oftentimes, when we think of cases involving consumer protection, we conjure up pictures in our head of angry calls with credit card companies or cars that turn out to be lemons. However, consumer protection laws can cover more aspects of life than one may think. Realizing that deceptive practices can cover an array of topics or issues that one may experience in his her life is a great step forward in becoming an empowered consumer.
The umbrella of consumer protection laws is large and as time goes on it seems that it will only get larger. As recognition of the opioid epidemic and environmental issues, as well as the Me Too movement increases, consumer protection laws as a way to receive a remedy may also increase. Right now, we will have to wait and see how these current cases unfold. However, the door has been opened to a whole new world of consumers making a statement and taking charge.