Extravagant damages the possible problem with dry cleaner suit, WV CALA says

Pressed for Time is located on Quarrier Street in downtown Charleston. (Photo by Chris Dickerson)

Jones

Cohen

Karlin

CHARLESTON -- A Charleston attorney who has sued a dry cleaning store for missing clothes should be entitled to a reasonable amount of money if the court finds the cleaners responsible, according to a leader for a statewide legal reform group.

But he should not be awarded extravagant damages, said Steve Cohen, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

"These are the kinds of suits that kill small businesses that create jobs," Cohen said.

Richard D. Jones filed a suit against Pressed for Time and Lisa Williams, claiming his clothes were not returned.

In the suit, Jones is seeking reimbursement for the full value of his clothing, plus unspecified punitive damages.

The lawsuit was filed in Kanawha Circuit Court after a bill passed through the Legislature last year that allows damages not to be specified in a lawsuit, Cohen said.

The new law allows outrageous damages to be kept secret until after a case is litigated, Cohen said.

"This (the new law) will only perpetuate lawsuit abuse," he said. "This really puts abuse under the radar."

Still, Jones should be entitled to a reasonable verdict if the Court finds his clothing was lost, said Cohen and Allan N. Karlin, president of the West Virginia Association for Justice.

"People need to be careful not to judge cases from the limited information that appears in the pleadings," Karlin said. "If the dry cleaner lost Mr. Jones' clothing and refused to accept responsibility for its error, Mr. Jones, like any other consumer, should be compensated for the value of his clothing."

The judge probably will be weary of lawsuit abuse, Karlin said.

"On the other hand, if the lawsuit is unwarranted, I am confident that the judge who has the case will take appropriate action and prevent our courts from being used abusively," he continued.

In the complaint, Jones states he routinely left clothes at Pressed for Time. But, in one instance, he claims his clothes were not returned.

Jones, who is representing himself, claims he was advised his clothes were lost or may have been given to another customer.

A store employee asked him to be patient to see if the clothes would reappear, but they never did, Jones states in the suit.

He claims he has contacted the store on several occasions asking for reimbursement of his clothing and has given an invoice for the cost of the clothing.

But the company has failed to reimburse his clothing or to refund him, he states in the suit.

A woman who would not identify herself at Pressed for Time said the business had no comment.

"It's frivolous," she said earlier this week. "There's nothing to say."

Jones would not return repeated calls for comment.

The complaint is similar to another in Washington, D.C., where Roy L. Pearson Jr., a former administrative law judge filed a lawsuit against Soo Chung, Jin Nam Chung and Ki Y. Chung, the owners of Custom Cleaners, for a missing pair of pants.

Pearson sought $67 million for mental anguish, inconvenience and attorney fees for representing himself, but later decreased the amount to $54 million.

After the case went to trial in 2007, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Chungs. Pearson was removed from the bench.

Jones's case has been assigned to Judge Irene Berger.

Jones is an original member of Flaherty, Sensabaugh & Bonasso and "has been an integral part in the growth of the firm from its original six members to over 40 lawyers in three separate cities in the State of West Virginia," according to the biography on the firm's Web site.

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