Friday, February 16, 2007
A self-described consumer watchdog website that forwards complaints to at least one plaintiffs' attorney has helped boost consumer lawsuits by trial lawyers and has been a source for negative media reports on various companies. The organization is now facing litigation from disgruntled firms that claim it is misrepresenting itself and its motives.
ConsumerAffairs.com, a for-profit website operating at least partly on ad revenue, appears to be a news site. It was started by former journalist Jim Hood and boasts a stable of accomplished contributors.
It looks like a typical website, but as consumer advocates often warn: Read the fine print. In this case, the fine print can be found at the bottom of certain pages on the site.
According to the organization's site, it works "in association with" lawyers, namely Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates in Illinois, but also with Joan E. Lisante in Washington, D.C. and Virginia, who according to Hood no longer practices law but frequently writes for the site.
Two lawsuits are pending or imminent alleging defamation and that the site misleads readers into believing it is purely a consumer-oriented news site.
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That said, the site does have the distinct feel of a place that's trying to suggest that it's strictly news and information for consumers. (It also has the feel of a place that's trying to see just how many Google ads can be fit on one screen.)