Chris Curtin’s current quest: find a case that shows the court the link he sees between the Consumer Contract Act and the Home Solicitation Sales Act. The first law protects consumers who don’t understand the terms of a contract as explained by a business operator. The second protects consumers when a seller solicits them at home, as when a property owner and general contractor sign a contract at the kitchen table. Breaches of the acts are usually unintentional—a contractor, for instance, may not know how to fill out a standard contract completely—but they are frequent, as they are with car dealers and other businesses, and they are sometimes disastrous for the consumer. Curtin knows. Before going into private practice, he worked 13 years in the consumer affairs division of the Attorney General’s Office. “I always felt like I was wearing a white hat when I went to trial,” Curtin says. His first jury trial was the prosecution of a general building contractor from Kent County who took deposits on contracts for 27 jobs but performed no work. “That was just out and out theft,” Curtin says. In private practice, he successfully petitioned for damages under the Elder Victim Enhanced Penalties Act when a contractor left a couple’s home without a roof for six weeks, causing significant interior damage. “I get a new roof case every year,” Curtin says. In that one, the $6,000 repair of a roof led to the $125,000 repair of a house, so buyer beware. Curtin has a few words of advice: Ask about blank spaces in contracts, check the county’s website to see if the contractor is licensed and insured (there is no way to collect damages from a contractor who doesn’t have insurance), and when you see problems with the work, act on them immediately. When you buy a car, read Consumer Reports to make sure you’re not getting a vehicle with a history of problems and to learn how to negotiate with dealers. Again, when you close the sale, read the contract and ask questions.
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