What is Consumer Law?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Consumer law is a field of law which is designed to protect consumers and to provide them with formal legal means of obtaining reparations for damage caused by faulty products. A wide variety of topics are covered in consumer law, including warranties, quality standards, consumer privacy, and certain types of contracts. The goal of such law is to ensure that consumers have rights which are clearly spelled out, and that companies which sell products and services are clearly aware of their responsibilities under the law.

Consumer law protects purchases from faulty products.
Consumer law protects purchases from faulty products.

The advent of consumer law came about in the early 20th century, with a series of scandals over contaminated food which led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act and a number of other measures designed to protect consumers. Prior to regulation of the sales industry, companies could include any ingredients they liked, including known toxins, and they could make a wide range of claims about their products without facing legal penalties. Companies could also use consumer information however they desired, and many governments grew concerned about the possibility for exploitation of a system without any boundaries.

Much of consumer law is concerned with product safety and labeling. Products from cars to cat food need to pass safety tests and adhere to basic safety standards, and manufacturers must have recall systems in place in the event that safety issues are identified. Consumer protection laws also include concerns about labeling. Health claims must be evaluated by government agencies, ingredients and nutritional information must be clearly listed on foods, and product labels may need to provide information about who manufactured a product, where it was manufactured, and how consumers can contact the company to make complaints.

Consumer credit is another large area in consumer law, covering everything from the disclosures which accompany credit card statements to the contracts consumers sign for temporary loans. Many consumer credit laws are designed to ensure that consumers will be well-informed about credit issues, and that companies which extend credit handle consumer information responsibly.

Topics like warranties, service agreements, return policies, and so forth are also covered in consumer law. Consumers also have access to legal options for dealing with companies which make false claims or refuse to honor agreements made with consumers. These options can include filing formal complaints with government agencies and private organizations which advocate for consumers, in addition to taking errant companies to court in a lawsuit.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


How can a company sell gas stoves when they know they have a problem, months after the item was made?


Icecream17- Did you know that South Florida is a region of the United States has the largest claims of consumer fraud.


Oasis11- Another very important area is consumer fraud law. Consumer fraud law deals with identity left which affects around 10 million Americans every year.

Fraudulent Internet action, foreign money and lottery scams, fraudulent credit protection and foreclosure assistance programs have really led the way in consumer fraud.

It is a shame how these fraudulent entities prey on the most vulnerable of our society. They say that seniors are hardest hit when it comes to consumer fraud.


Cafe41- That is so true. I wanted to add that when I think of a consumer protection laws, I always think of the Lemon Laws for new car purchases. This law provides consumer protection against a car dealer that sells a vehicle that is malfunctioning.

According to the law the consumer has the right to return the vehicle after a contract is signed, if the vehicle is found to have multiple problems.

This protection may be extended to used-car purchases if there is a warranty in place, if not then it does not apply to used-car purchases.


BrickBack- Often these types of cases are settled out of court because the manufacturer does not want to risk the possibility of having a judgment of punitive damages against them.

Punitive damages have no limit as far as judgment goes, that is why most companies settle before going to trial.

They also do not want to risk their reputations any further with an extensive trial. The adverse publicity really affects the company in a negative way. Companies with this dilemma want to stop the bleeding as quickly as possible.


Consumer law protection provides consumers the ability to purchase a good or service with confidence.

But when things go wrong there are many product liability attorneys or consumer law attorneys that will develop the case against the manufacturer of a faulty product.

For example, there are government regulations regarding infant cribs. The spacing between the bars has to be so many inches so that children do not get their heads caught in between the bars. However, there have been cases of children being killed because their heads were stuck between the bars. In such a case, the parents of the injured child can seek consumer law advice and file a lawsuit.

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