|Home Automation Interface|
If you proceed to Small Claims court, you might find a few useful hints in the following. Otherwise, feel free to skip my scintillating prose and entertain yourself with 9gag.com or that old favorite, Wimp.com, whereupon farewell and I’ll see you in two weeks.
Meanwhile, on to the article!
|Actual Home Automation Gadget|
Part of the device setup required entering personal information– name, location, and email address. This was stored in company servers so that if the owner anywhere in the world needed to check the status of the gadget, the server would know where to find it and in theory, connect. Its lazy implementation turned out a major design flaw. I, the owner on my own doorstep, couldn’t directly connect with the doohickey. Instead, signals had to travel an outage-fraught seven-step journey to the company servers and back again.
|Home Automation Examples|
The Obama administration had created consumer law forbidding personal data use without authorization, but the succeeding administration killed that safeguard. Other laws provided some protection, which formed the eighth cause of action within the complaint.
Forms and Formulas
Small Claims cookie-cutter cases like evictions can use court-provided forms with check boxes. They don’t require knowledge of the law or even much thinking. At most, a landlord might attach photographs or a police report about the tenant’s cache of cocaine in the walls, but that’s about it.
Judges give Small Claims parties leeway, but plaintiffs can’t simply contend the respondent hurt their feelings and they therefore deserve a million dollars to make the insult go away. Courts generally require attorneys to appear for corporations, but individuals may choose not to employ legal representation. That meant I would be going up against a conglomerate’s substantial legal department.
Me, I’m a raw amateur, a David taking on professional giants on their turf, where even a shyster’s pin-stripe suit costs more than the amount sought in my pitiful case. Opposing lawyers and the judge spoke the same language, so I wanted to get as many things right as possible.
Judges know Small Claim litigants will makes mistakes, so part of their job is to look past minor errors. In return, I had to be clear, concise, and complete in presenting my case, and trust the court to ignore the worst blunders.
|Complaint, page 1|
Each complaint contains a ’style’, the upper half of page one. It names the plaintiffs and the defendants, includes a case number assigned by the court, and specifies what the case is about, in my case, ‘Complaint for Damages’. Templates for ‘pleading papers’ ship with most word processors and can be found on-line.
I followed with these sections, some optional:
- Jurisdiction and Venue
- (Why this should be heard in this court)
- Parties and Standing
- (Why it’s proper for each party to appear)
- (Brief overview)
- Facts Common to All Counts
- (Optional general background of case)
- (The allegations)
- Relief and Remedies
- (What the court is being asked to do)
The installer had revealed himself as a jerk, one who’d drunk the ‘customer error’ corporate Kool-Aid. As duplicitous as he was, I still considered him a little guy trying to make a living. He had once registered with the state, but had let his registration and permits expire. Further, he hadn’t obtained either a county or city occupational license, weirdly called a ‘tax receipt’ in these here parts. I refrained from mentioning this in the original complaint on the theory I could bring it up later if necessary.
Down for the Counts
The primary lesson I had to learn was what in law gave me the right to sue. I had to determine (1) a case type, (2) within that the causes of action, and then (3) the elements to prove the validity of the causes of action. I pictured it like an outline:
Florida court cover sheets don’t offer a consumer product category, so I took a stab by choosing contract violations and negligence. Then came the tricky part– determining the causes of action and grouping them as ‘counts’ in the case. I used the following:
- cause(s) of action
- elements of proof
- cause(s) of action
- elements of proof
|Attachment A, glossary|
I’m pretty sure I got much of that wrong, but I hoped the essential parts would pass muster in court. Counts I and III were directed solely at the manufacturer. Count II included both the maker and the installer.
- Count I
- Misrepresentation of Product
- Failure to Deliver Advertised Features
- Comprehensive Failure of Defective Product to Perform
- Count II
- Failure to Correct Defects
- Breach of Warranty
- Breach of Contract
- Denial of Use
- Denial of Income
- Count III
- Failure to Protect Privacy of Customer by Unauthorized Distribution of Personal Details
|Attachment C, diagram|
Professionally appearing as an expert witness in computer fraud cases didn’t require me to know the law. I’m not a legal expert and those in the court system aren’t technology mavens, but I picked up a few things from depositions and hearings. I had to bridge the gap between my ignorance and theirs.
Just as I am woefully ignorant of legal essentials, jurists and juries tend to be uneducated about technology. By example, almost everything said about computers in the Casey Anthony case was in error. I further suspected much of the prosecutions’s chemistry was questionable, and meanwhile, a person’s life was at stake.
Past expert witness experience taught me the necessity to communicate and educate. Attachment A of my complaint contained a glossary of networking terms. Attachment B paired the order and invoice. Attachment C was a technical diagram depicting network connectivity. I spent a month sketching a visual tutorial, which beneficially helped me organize what I needed to say and would later come in handy in hearings.
See You in Court
The complaint ran longer than this article, fourteen pages plus three sheets of attachments. I was belatedly advised I made one tactical mistake: I’d checked the box for a judge to hear the case instead of jury. When facing off against a corporate giant, professional wisdom suggested a jury might sympathize more with the underdog.
Why is she ➡︎ still here? Find out why next week.