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Attorneys File Lawsuit Over Home Depot's Hidden Fees [05/18/2006]
A class action lawsuit filed in Florida alleges that Home Depot automatically adds a 10 percent charge to all rental equipment to cover possible damage to tools without telling customers that the charge is optional.

The lawsuit, filed in November 2005, seeks class action status for the estimated thousands of customers in Florida who rented equipment from Home Depot during the last five years. It claims that Home Depot is violating Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act as well as Florida's Uniform Commercial Code. It seeks both damages and an injunction forcing the Atlanta-based home improvement giant to cease the practice.

The named plaintiff in the suit is Pembroke Park-based Gold Coast Racing. The suit claims that in June, 2005 Gold Coast Racing rented a power saw, wrench and other equipment from a Home Depot located in Hollywood. The Gold Coast employee who rented the equipment was unaware that the store was charging him a 10 percent damage waiver on his $39 bill; he would have refused the waiver fee if he had known about it, the suit says.

The suit claims that Home Depot furthers this deception by listing the waiver as a tax. On another occasion, according to the suit, Gold Coast Racing employees asked that the damage waiver fee be removed and Home Depot refused to do so.

According to the Broward suit, customers can avoid paying the damage waiver fee only by affirmatively demanding its removal from the invoice. There are major limitations in the protections the damage waiver offers customers.

According to the complaint, the damage waiver covers liability for accidental damage to the rented equipment, but not losses or damages due to theft, burglary, misuse or abuse, theft by conversion, intentional damage, disappearance or any loss due to the customer's failure to care properly for the equipment. The latter category includes failure to use proper fuel, oil and lubricants and not exceeding the equipment's rated capacity.

Another problem with Home Depot's waiver policy, the suit states, is that the company charges the fee on equipment that "is almost impossible to damage," such as wrenches. It also calls the 10 percent fee "exorbitant."

On top of that, the suit states, Home Depot fails to give customers the written terms and conditions of the contract, which describes the damage waiver, until after they sign the contract. Consequently, the suit says, customers are not informed of the scope of the damage waiver prior to agreeing to rent the tool.

The lawsuit is open to any resident of Florida who rented equipment from Home Depot during the last five years.

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