Oregon took a big step forward today in protecting the rights of consumers and holding bad corporate citizens to account when Governor Kate Brown signed legislation to strengthen consumer rights in class action suits. The new law will also help fund legal aid for our less fortunate neighbors. The bill was the first to be signed into law by the Governor, who took office only last month.
As outlined in a news release issued by Oregon Senate Democrats, “Oregon is one of only a handful of states in the country that allows corporate wrongdoers to keep unclaimed settlement funds. (This law ends) that practice by giving the judge in the case discretion to send up to 50 percent of the unclaimed funds to a non-profit service addressing the damage done in a specific case. The remainder of the money would go to Legal Aid Services of Oregon, providing critical access to civil legal services for those most in need.”
A statement issued by Gov. Brown’s office said, in part, “This law makes Oregon’s class-action laws fair for all Oregonians and ensures that corporations who are responsible compensate for the harm they have caused.” It also, she said “helps support our critically underfunded legal services.”
The newspaper notes that the new law is likely to face court challenges, but the important thing to keep in mind is that this legislation is hardly ground-breaking. Instead, it brings our state into line with practice in much of the rest of the country. One can understand how large corporate wrongdoers might not like that. Until now they have simply been able to pocket unclaimed class action settlement funds. Putting that money to work on behalf of both victims and, more broadly, those in our society least able to stand up to large companies, is only fair and just. I’m proud today to be both a Portland attorney and an Oregonian.