Consumer suits alleging deception in product labeling and packaging have flooded courts in recent years and one emerging theme is that size matters.
Time-strapped buyers make quick decisions, often based on outward appearances, and the bigger container or package frequently wins out.
Would-be classes of product buyers have targeted candy, spices and other food products, challenging “non-functional slack-fill.”
They say this kind of empty space serves no purpose, as distinguished from “functional slack-fill” like air in a bag that protects potato chips from breaking.
Non-functional slack-fill just makes it look like there’s more inside, tricking buyers into paying more for less.
Now, consumer suits over deceptively big packages are moving past the food aisles and into the hardware and tool departments.
For example, Californian David Spacone filed suit in the California Superior Court for Los Angeles County recently, alleging Elmer’s Products, Inc. sells big, opaque containers of Krazy Glue that contain only tiny tubes of glue inside.
Spacone says he and consumers nationwide are duped, as the outer package holds only 20 percent of the amount of glue it has the capacity to hold.
In a variation on the theme, but keeping with the “less for more” argument, Illinois resident Alejandro Reyes alleges Summit Tool Co. and Ken-Tool Co. overstate the length of truck tire irons.
Reyes alleges he bought a truck tire iron represented to be 41 inches long, that in fact is only 39 ½ inches in length.
The shorter length means the tire irons aren’t as useful as they seem because it’s harder to remove a tire with a shorter tool, the suit says.
The tire irons have less torque, according to Reyes, and so it’s harder to get those lug nuts off. And, Reyes says, buyers also get less steel than they paid for.
Reyes’s suit was filed in the Illinois Circuit Court for Cook County.
It remains to be seen how these consumers will fare in court.
Some size-related suits have been dismissed as frivolous. These include one suit challenging an oversized outer box of Advil that displayed the pill count for the bottle inside, and another alleging Starbucks iced drinks overstated the amount of non-ice liquid.
But other suits have survived dismissal. Consumers and a business competitor are proceeding against McCormick over pepper tins that allegedly hold 25 percent less spice than they used.
And some cases have resulted in settlements.
Starkist paid $12 million deal to resolve a suit alleging it systematically under filled tuna cans.
And a suit alleging Subway’s signature “Foot Long” sandwiches came up a little short eventually settled after much publicity. The agreement included quality control measures.
But both those settlements drew objections, and both are now on appeal.
As for the Krazy Glue suit, a spokeswoman for the company said the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
Neither Summit Tool nor Ken-Tool replied to requests for comment about the alleged missing inch and a half in Reyes’ tire iron.
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