|In This Section
|Resolving Your Complaint
|Alternative Dispute Resolution
Clearly identify your problem and what you believe would be a fair solution. Be as realistic as possible when you are deciding what should be done to correct the problem. Gather all your supporting documents such as receipts, contracts, warranties, repair orders, ads, promotional literature, cancelled checks, and account numbers. Check to see if there are any time deadlines by which you have to file a claim.
Call or Write the Company
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Try calling first; it may be resolved immediately. Follow-up with a letter and keep a copy. Your letter should include your name, address and daytime phone number. Type the letter and keep it to one page. Be pleasant but firm in tone. State only the important details and what you want done. Include copies of relevant documents, but keep originals for your files. If you paid by credit card, write your credit card company within 60 days of purchase and notify it that you’re disputing the charge.
Dispute the Charge with Your Credit Card Company
If you paid by credit card, write your credit card company within 60 days after your credit card bill arrives and notify it that you’re disputing the charge. Many credit card companies have an online dispute process. The FTC has more information on disputing credit card charges.
File A Complaint
File a complaint with the Attorney General's Office Consumer Resource Center
If the company won't resolve the matter, but you want to avoid the hassle of a lawsuit, you may want to consider alternative dispute resolution. Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is any vehicle to conflict resolution that occurs outside of the judicial process. Third party mediation has recently gained popularity as a less costly and less time consuming process.
There are several paid and not-for-profit mediation services available to assist you in negotiating a resolution to your dispute.
The Attorney General’s Office has a Consumer Resource Center dedicated to facilitating communication between Washington businesses and their customers. Our informal complaint resolution process, which can be reached at this link or by calling 1-800-551-4636, is free to both parties.
Another form of ADR is arbitration. Many businesses now have contracts that require that a consumer such as you to arbitrate a dispute instead of filing a lawsuit. Arbitration is a legal technique for resolving disputes in which feuding parties employ a professional to review their case and agree to be legally bound by the decision of the reviewer. Unlike mediation, the third party hired to assist with the dispute does not attempt to help the parties reach a mutually beneficial arrangement, but only reviews the facts of the dispute and determines an appropriate settlement. You should check your agreement or contract with the company to see if arbitration is required and, if it is required, how an arbitration case can be started.
To learn more about ADR, or to locate available mediation and arbitration services near you, you may consider contacting one of the following non-profit organizations (Please keep in mind that dispute resolution centers to not provide legal advice or attorney referrals):
Dispute Resolution Washington
The ADR information site brought to you by the Washington State Bar Association and includes an online directory of arbitrators, mediators, and other ADR professionals
The Washington State Association of Dispute Resolution Centers offering online information and member directory
Filing in Small Claims Court
Small Claims Court allows a person to settle a legal dispute involving $5,000 or less without hiring an attorney. There are no juries, and lawyers are not allowed to represent either party. Therefore the process is quicker and less expensive than District Court. Small Claims Court actions must be started within three years of the disputed transaction.
Small Claims Court handles only claims for money. It cannot help the person suing (the plaintiff) regain property, nor can it force the person or business being sued (the defendant) to perform any action. For example, the Court can require an auto repair shop to refund money to you, but cannot force the shop to make free repairs on your car.
Hiring an Attorney
If you would like to ask the courts to award you money for harm you’ve sustained from another party, you may choose to hire an attorney and file a lawsuit in District or Superior Court. In the case of a successful suit under the Washington Consumer Protection Act, Washington law allows judges to award up to triple damages not to exceed, $25,000. In addition, you may also recoup the cost of the lawsuit (e.g., attorney’s fees, court costs).
If you do not already have an attorney you may wish to consult one about bringing a lawsuit. You should ensure that any attorney you consult is licensed to practice in the state of Washington. You can search the directory of the Washington State Bar Association for local attorneys and get a list of any possible discipline notices. Some county bar associations sponsor lawyer referral programs and many communities have low-cost legal clinics.
If you cannot afford an attorney, and have a non-criminal legal problem, you may qualify for assistance from the NW Justice Project’s CLEAR Coordinated Legal Advice, which can be reached Toll Free at 1-888-201-1014 or online at the following website: http://www.nwjustice.org/about_njp/clear.html. In addition, if you are 60 or over, you may call CLEAR SENIOR at 1-888-387-7111 regardless of income.