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Y2K liability suit won't be dismissed

A California judge turns down a motion to dismiss a lawsuit that claims major retailers are responsible for informing consumers as to whether the computers they sell are Y2K compliant.

A California judge has turned down a motion to dismiss a lawsuit that claims major retailers are responsible for informing consumers as to whether the computers they sell are Y2K compliant.

Back to Year 2000 Index Page As reported, the case centers on whether retailers are guilty of "unfair business practice" because they sell computer products without advising consumers on whether the goods are Year 2000 compliant.

In the defendants' motion to dismiss, the retailers, which include Circuit City, The Good Guys, CompUSA, Fry's Electronics, Office Max, Office Depot, and Staples, attempted to persuade the court that because the products work now they are not defective; there is no duty to disclose the Year 2000 capabilities of products they sell; and silence under California law is not an unfair business practice.

The court rejected the defendants' arguments. Instead, the court ruled that this lawsuit should move forward.

"We've started discovery. We've asked for the names of people most responsible for Y2K issues in the stores," said Kenneth G. Jones, an attorney for the plaintiff. "They asked the court for additional time to respond to our requests. Their tactic is to drag out the case beyond 2000. That way they will say there is no need to tell everyone about Y2K because it has already past."

Lawyers for the retailers could not be reached for comment.

The action, the first of its kind, according to legal observers, seeks to compel the retailers to make such disclosures to present and past customers.

The lawsuit claims that major retailers of computer software and hardware have violated the California Unfair Business Practices Act by failing to disclose to customers whether products they purchase are Y2K compliant.

The lawsuit comes as debate rages on Capitol Hill on how far to limit litigation related to the Year 2000 computer problem.

The debate, taking place in state legislatures and in Congress, is over how to control Y2K litigation costs that by some estimates could reach $1 trillion. But consumer advocates and some members of Congress fear this desire to control litigation may strip consumers of their legal rights.

According to the lawsuit filed against retailers, thousands of California consumers have purchased computer products that are not Year 2000 compliant, and manufacturers and retailers have known about the problem for years.

The suit also contends that Circuit City should contact previous customers to let them know that products they have purchased could cause problems if not replaced or fixed.