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The Government Can Come After You Even if Consumers Don’t

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You may already be aware of the penalties that can come if you mislead or lie to consumers. But you figure, nobody is complaining, or threatening to sue, so you must be OK. Except you may have forgotten one thing: what about the government?

When Things are Silent

In many cases, even when no individual consumer comes forward with a lawsuit or an allegation of wrongdoing, the government does.

Unlike a private consumer, the government can sue on behalf of all of the citizens of the state (or the country, if it is the federal government coming after you). That means that having no consumer lawsuits may just be a result of individual damages being too low to warrant a lawsuit.

Laws Allow Government to Bring Its own Legal Action

But the government doesn’t care about that.

Many consumer statutes that give consumers the right to sue for fraud, unfair trade practices, false advertising, and similar claims, also give the government the right to sue. Not only that, but many laws don’t actually give consumers to sue on their own, for any monetary damages—but they do give the government the right to bring lawsuits.

That’s not to say the government just randomly finds businesses to sue. Most of the time large, multi million dollar verdicts or settlements that are obtained by the government, happen because a consumer complaint to the correct government agency snowballed, launching a wider government investigation into a lawsuit.

That means that even if it’s just one aggrieved consumer, doing your best to address concerns or at least to communicate with even one consumer, can save you millions of dollars—you never know which consumer will be the one to make a complaint to, for example, the Florida Attorney General’s Office.

After a Complaint or Investigation

When a consumer complains, most government agencies will forward that complaint to your business, in hopes that you and the aggrieved consumer can work the matter out amicably. Other times however, the government sees something “bigger,” and will just contact you on their own—this is a notice that they think you have done something wrong, and are considering penalties—not just forwarding a consumer’s complaint to you.

In many cases, you can talk with government attorneys, to try to resolve the situation, or else, to state your case why you think you did nothing wrong. This informal process, if successful, can save costly (and publicly embarrassing) litigation.

Note that if a settlement can be reached, you at least can try to negotiate no admission of wrongdoing. But after a lawsuit is filed, the government is less likely to agree to that,

This isn’t to say you can’t win a case against the government—you can, and companies do. But the stakes and risks can be high, both for your image and reputation, and for your company’s bank accounts.

Don’t get in trouble with the government. And if you do, get lawyers that understand how government regulation works.  Call the West Palm Beach business litigation attorneys at Pike & Lustig today.




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