Sears Settles Excessive Fee Case

Attorney General Spitzer today announced a settlement with a national retailer to provide refunds to thousands of New Yorkers who were overcharged fees when purchasing new car batteries.

Sears, Roebuck and Co. agreed to make available approximately $105,000 for restitution for as many as 50,000 New Yorkers who were charged an excessive fee when purchasing lead-acid batteries, but not turning in their used batteries.

"My office will continue to monitor the acts of auto parts distributors to ensure that they are properly complying with the state's ‘return incentive' statute in order to protect both consumers and the environment," Spitzer said.

After receiving a complaint from a consumer, Spitzer's office reviewed Sears' policy regarding the charging of "return incentive" fees and determined that the seven dollar charge was in excess of the limit set by state law.

The law limits to five dollars the fee charged to consumers who are purchasing a new car battery but not turning in the used battery. It also requires distributors to accept the old batteries free of charge.

When notified by Spitzer's office that it was charging more than allowed by law, Sears immediately lowered the charge to five dollars.

In addition to paying restitution, Sears also agreed to pay $10,000 in civil penalties.

The "Lead Acid Battery Recycling Law" - modeled after the Returnable Beverage Container Law - was enacted in 1990 in an effort to assure proper disposal of highly toxic lead-acid batteries. Funds remaining after restitution has been paid to consumers overcharged by Sears will be donated to two charitable organizations that deal with environmental matters: the West Harlem Environmental Action; and the New York City Coalition to End Lead Poisoning, Inc.

Earlier this year, Spitzer's office entered into similar settlements with AutoZone, Inc. and Advance Stores Company, Inc. over similar excessive fees.

Consumers have 45 days to file claim forms with the Attorney General's office. Individuals are encouraged to call the Attorney General's consumer help line at (800) 771-7755 or visit the office's web site at www.ag.ny.gov.

This case was handled by Assistant Attorney General James Morrissey of the Buffalo Regional Office.


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