Lounging Mice Photos Could Be Money Shot in Fraud Suit

MANHATTAN (CN) – Pictures of mice loitering on, under and around pest control devices paved the way for a federal trial on a $5 million class action calling ultrasonic bug and vermin repellents a fraud.

“It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words,” U.S. District Judge William Pauley III wrote in a nine-page opinion on Wednesday, denying a motion for summary judgment. “And, in this case, three photographs from a study conducted by plaintiffs’ expert are worth even more.”

For the millions of consumers who bought the Bell + Howell Ultrasonic Pest Repellers and Solar Animal Repellers, those three images may prove to be their money shot.

“As the photographs show, mice can apparently relax comfortably under a repeller and even appear to be so drawn in by its siren song that one would scale a wall just to snooze on it,” Pauley wrote.

Available on the Home Shopping Network for $42.95, the devices brought high hopes to TV viewers seeking a “fast and effective” solution to repel “mice, rats, roaches, spiders, and ants,” but academic studies and government regulators found the products packed more buzz than science.

In 2001, the Federal Trade Commission warned 60 ultrasonic pest control manufacturers to support their claims with evidence. Two studies from the University of Utah and University of Nebraska found that evidence lacking, according to the lawsuit.

Bell + Howell’s attorney Adam McCabe, from the Chicago office of Leahy, Eisenberg & Fraenkel, expressed his disappointment with the ruling.

“Our client stands by its product and the product’s effectiveness,” McCabe said in a statement, bemoaning the release of the embarrassing visuals.

“It’s unfortunate that the photo, taken by plaintiffs’ paid experts in a staged and unverifiable setting, was included in the order,” he added.

An attorney for Joanne Hart, one disappointed customer from Palm Desert, California, did not immediately respond Wednesday to an email request for comment.

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