October 18, 1999
Psychology professor testifies in Y2K court case
By Jennifer McNulty
If you think that new computer you bought is Y2K compliant, check again.
That advice comes from Anthony Pratkanis, a professor of psychology at UCSC, who
is testifying in a high-profile court case in which plaintiffs are charging that
major computer retailers like Circuit City and Staples are misleading consumers about
the Y2K-readiness of their products.
"Basically, consumers think computers and software will continue to work after
the first of the year," said Pratkanis. "The lawsuit alleges that is not
necessarily the case, even with computers and software being sold today, because
some products are still not Y2K compliant."
An expert on consumer psychology, Pratkanis conducted a survey of consumer attitudes
for the plaintiff's attorneys in Johnson v. Circuit City Store, Inc., et al.
Filed in Superior Court in Contra Costa County in January, the lawsuit originally
named seven retailers: Circuit City, CompUSA, Office Max, The Good Guys, Staples,
Fry's Electronics, and Office Depot. In June, Office Depot became the first defendant
to settle; Fry's followed suit and settled out of court in September.
The lawsuit claims that the retailers are failing to warn customers of potential
Y2K problems in the products they sell. Pratkanis is one of two experts in the case.
A computer expert from the University of Texas at Austin is testifying that certain
products are not Y2K compliant, including Windows 98. For his part, Pratkanis has
submitted written testimony asserting that consumers in California are unaware of
the problem and think that if a retailer is offering a product for sale in 1999,
it will work a few months later in the year 2000.
As part of its settlement, which included a cash settlement, Fry’s has agreed to
train its employees on Y2K issues and disclosures, post "prominent" signs,
and pass out brochures on how consumers can contact computer and software manufacturers
to confirm that products are Y2K compliant. Office Depot agreed to warn consumers
that some computer products it sells may not work properly after December 31, 1999.
In July, Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Trembath denied the retailers' request
to include software manufacturers as defendants in the class action, but the defendants
successfully removed the lawsuit to federal court in what likely sets the stage for
the first attempt to invoke a new federal law limiting year 2000 lawsuits (the "Y2K
Act," Public Law No. 10637).
Plaintiff Tom Johnson's attorneys argue that the defendants are misrepresenting the
Y2K-readiness of the products they sell, as well as misinforming consumers about
the least expensive means of achieving Y2K-readiness. Such business practices create
a false sense of Y2K-readiness among California consumers, according to the plaintiff's
attorneys, who cite Pratkanis's expert testimony in their arguments.
Read Pratkanis' testimony
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