Where to Sue Regarding Online Purchases

Posted on July 7, 2015 in Disputes

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Much as I swore I would not begin Chanukah/Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving (I am blessed with Jewish family and Catholic in-laws, so I get it from all sides), I did. The lure of the catalogs I received in the mail, and avoiding the lines, the stress and the rush, were too great. After sifting through dozens of catalogs and circling items, I spent a good few hours online and made all my purchases. I haven’t received everything yet, nor have I wrapped it, but I’m done with shopping already!

So I say now. What happens if something arrives that doesn’t meet my specifications? Or wasn’t what I ordered? Or was broken? Or, contrary to the enticing photo in the catalog, simply wasn’t “all that” in person?

Many large businesses post their return policies on their websites. Many small businesses don’t have one, and therein lies the danger. Massachusetts attorney Michael Goldstein examines what it takes for you, as an “injured” purchaser, to be able to sue an internet retailer in your home state. One significant factor is known in legalese as “jurisdiction.” Has the shabby seller established a business presence in your state? Or made a concerted effort to attract customers from your area? If so, you may be able to haul them into court in your neighborhood.

On the flip side, if you’re the internet retailer, the last thing you want is to get hauled into court in every little town and vale across the country. If someone is going to be so dissatisfied that he or she wants to sue, you want this to happen in your backyard so that you are spared the expense of schlepping all over the place. That’s where having website terms and conditions come into play. They make it clear where disputes will be resolved–it’s a condition of the privilege of purchasing from your site.

Most purchasers don’t even focus on those terms when making a purchase. But they’re there. Usually introduced by language such as: “Welcome to BlahBlahBlah.com. The Company and its affiliates provide their services to you subject to the following conditions. If you visit or shop at BlahBlahBlah.com, you accept these conditions.” If you purchase from that site, you agree to resolve disputes wherever the retailer chooses. Consider the following: Amazon.com (Washington state); Sephora (California); Target (Minnesota); Office Depot (Florida–OK, not exactly for holiday presents… but you get the point).

Why not provide your business with the same leverage and protections? For other website terms you might want to consider, read about them in our article, “‘Attention Internet Business Owners!’: Your Website Terms and Conditions.”

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