Bob Frey complained for two years about the insulation in his 11,000 mobile home before he gave up and stopped writing letters, making phone calls and waiting for inspectors who never showed up.
Bill Heinz returned a new car to the dealer on 13 different occasions but never saw the problem remedied.
And Fred and Elaine Reeves fought for 18 months to get a settlement from the company that had installed defective flooring in their home. The flooring cost $979; the settlement ultimately yielded $331.
Those are three of the cases cited in two new Nader-endorsed reports that contend that business, government and the law have failed to respond effectively to consumer grievances about product and service failures.
The reports, announced at a press conference by Ralph Nader, are entitled "No Access to Law -- Alternatives to the American Judicial System," compiled by anthropologist Laura Nader, who is Ralph Nader's sister, and her students at the University of California at Berkely; and "When Consumers Complain" by Arthur Best, former first deputy commissioner of the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs.
In her report, Laura Nader analyzed a host of complaint-solving mechanisms, including those sponsored by the individual business with its own complaint department, those handled by groups of businesses through the local Better Business Bureaus and those operated by government through an agency. She also looked at union groups and volunteer organizations that handle consumer complaints.
The complaint handlers do resolve some of the complaints that come before them, Nader said, despite their general lack of power and position. But she said their successes are too limited to make them truly effective.
Nader said consumers ultimately must have access to the law if they are to prevail in their complaints. But because the "legal profession is a business that earns its living by handling one case at a time," it is important that block or group solutions be sought and found for consumer problems. Attempting to litigate one car problem at a time isn't practical, she said.
"What we need is a wholesale solution (to the car problem)," she said.
The Naders said the examination of consumer complaints over the past decade shows a shift in concerns as consumers have become more sophisticated and more aware that their individual problems may be part of a larger group problem.
"Complaint letters in the early 1970s read, 'Please do something about my mobile home.' They now read, 'Please do something about the mobile home industry,'" Ralph Nader said.