Avoiding Deceptive Trade Practices Lawsuits
Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA) is a powerful tool for consumers to protect themselves from unscrupulous business practices. But from a business standpoint, the law can seem overbroad, all-encompassing, and impossible to avoid running afoul of. If you are a business, how do you protect yourself from being sued under the law?
Why Do Consumers Like the Law?
As the name says, the law allows consumers to sue for any type of behavior which is considered unfair, or deceptive. Unfortunately however, the law does not specifically say what kind of behavior is unfair or deceptive.
In many ways, the law is a “catch-all” provision, where consumers can sue if there is no other available cause of action. It sometimes acts as a “throw-in,” where, even if you are sued by a consumer for other recognized causes of action, a FDUTPA claim will be tacked onto the lawsuit as well.
Making FDUTPA even more enticing for consumers to use in lawsuits, is that the law allows awards of attorneys fees. That means that if you are a consumer and you don’t have another avenue to get your attorneys fees (through a statute or a contract), adding a FDUTPA claim gives you the possibility of recovering your attorneys fees.
What Kind of Behavior Violates the Statute?
Case law has tried to define what kind of behavior violates the statute—but even that case law is vague.
Some courts have said that any behavior that would be “likely to mislead” a consumer violates the law. Drawing from federal case decisions, that would mean that the court asks if the “least sophisticated consumer” would be misled by a business’ statements, behavior, promises, or advertisements.
The definition of an unfair practice is no more defined; courts have said that behavior that is “immoral, unethical, oppressive…or injurious to consumers” violates FDUTPA.
No pattern or practice needs to be established and a business doesn’t need to regularly engage in the unscrupulous behavior. Even a one-time event can lead to FDUTPA liability.
Everything from advertisements that make false claims to statements that could mislead a consumer can violate the law. Even if not in writing, things that salespeople promise or say, if misleading, could violate the law, such as misrepresenting a product feature or the product’s usefulness or effectiveness.
Violations of written Florida statutes can violate FDUTPA—but there doesn’t need to be a statutory violation, or a breach of any contract, to violate the law.
Damages for FDUPTA Violations
Other than attorneys fees, a consumer can collect whatever damage he or she has incurred, as a result of the behavior that violates FDUTPA. In cases where the damage may be minimal, consumers can bring class action lawsuits under FDUTPA.
Are you being sued, or are you trying to avoid a lawsuit for something your business may be accused of doing? Call the West Palm Beach business litigation attorneys at Pike & Lustig today.