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Several South Florida Businesses Fined for Price Gouging During Hurricane Irma

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Hurricane Irma hit South Florida hard back in the fall of 2017. According to reporting from the Miami Herald, the total damage caused by this storm was estimated at nearly $65 billion. Unfortunately, some businesses attempted to take advantage of this situation.

On June 19th, WSVN 7News released the results of its investigation on alleged price gouging that occurred during Hurricane Irma last year. In recent months, several South Florida businesses have been ordered to pay customers thousands for price gouging during Irma.

In this post, our Miami business litigation lawyers provide an overview of the misconduct uncovered by the WSVN 7News investigators and we explain what you need to know about Florida’s anti-price gouging regulations.

Hurricane Irma: Allegations of Price Gouging  

As Hurricane Irma was set to make landfall, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi warned state businesses that price gouging is unlawful. She promised to take action against any companies that violated the state’s regulations. WSVN 7News learned that several companies in South Florida have been required to repay customers thousands of dollars for their damages after they engaged in prohibited practices during the storm.

One of the examples cited in the report is that of a Miami Beach parking garage. The average rate for this garage is approximately $30 per 24 hours. When Hurricane Irma approached the region, the parking garage dramatically increased its price to $100 per 24 hours. The business has now been ordered to pay back more than $6,000 to affected customers. 

Florida Law: Anti-Price Gouging 

As a general rule, Florida businesses have a right to set their own prices. Prices do not have to remain stable. As a matter of supply and demand, prices can and do fluctuate. If a major event comes to Miami, parking garages have the right to raise their fees. Similarly, a hotel can choose to charge more for a room near holidays or on other high demand dates.

However, in emergency situations, price gouging is prohibited. Under Florida Statute 501.160, it is unlawful for businesses to raise the price of ‘essential’ products, commodities, or services during an officially declared state of emergency. When a major hurricane hits South Florida, businesses cannot try to take advantage of that and raise the price on important products or services.

To be clear, not every good or service is covered by the state’s anti-price gouging rules. Only essential items are covered. Though, it should be noted that Florida uses a broad definition of what is an ‘essential’ good or service. For example, parking garage space qualifies as essential. Still, there are certainly products and services that do not qualify as essential. 

Get Help From a Florida Business Law Attorney Today

At Pike & Lustig, LLP, our business lawyers are strong advocates for companies throughout South Florida. To find out more about what we can do for you and your business, please do not hesitate to contact us today at our offices in West Palm Beach and Miami. Initial business law consultations are fully confidential.

Resources:

leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0500-0599/0501/Sections/0501.160.html

wsvn.com/news/investigations/south-florida-businesses-pay-back-thousands-after-irma-price-gouging-investigations/

miamiherald.com/news/weather/hurricane/article174153646.html

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