What is the Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act?
The Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA) was created to protect consumers and legitimate businesses from others who engage in unfair or unconscionable methods of competition designed to deceive the public. While the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a similar act in place, the Florida act is more expansive. Specifically, under the FTC act, only the FTC can bring a lawsuit for deceptive or unfair business practices. Conversely, the FDUTPA allows consumers to bring private civil lawsuits against a violating business.
How Does a Company Violate the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practice Act?
Courts have given some guidance on what constitutes deceptive and unfair trade practices by companies in Florida. A business engages in deceptive practices if the action is likely to mislead the consumer. On the other hand, a business participates in unfair practices if it acts contrary to public policy by behaving unethically or oppressively towards consumers or other businesses. The courts view the business’s practices from a standard that is more favorable to the consumer by determining whether the conduct was likely to deceive a reasonable consumer.
What are examples of Deceptive Trade Practices?
The most common type of deceptive trade practices is false advertising. False advertising can be claiming a product can do something it does not do, including unsupported scientific claims, or failing to disclose important facts about the product. When analyzing an advertisement courts look to the type of product, likelihood that consumers will rely on the claim, and consequences to the consumer if the claim is false. Other common deceptive practices include raising prices during or after a state of emergency such as a hurricane, changing the odometer when trying to sell a car, passing off used goods as new, and bait & switches in which a business entices consumers with an appealing price for a good or service but then offers a more expensive good or services when the consumer contacts the seller.
What are examples of Unfair Trade Practices?
The Florida Legislature as defined certain business practices as unfair. These include refusing to do deals with certain individuals or businesses, selling goods or services at excessive prices, and offering illegal discounts. Other business practices to have been found to be unfair include a car dealership placing a GPS tracker on a purchaser’s car without his knowledge and offering a sweepstakes but not following through on the prize.
How Does a Consumer Prove Deceptive or Unfair Trade Practices?
The courts have established three requirements that must be satisfied for a consumer or business to bring a lawsuit under the FDUTPA. First, there must have been a deceptive act or unfair trade practice. Second, the business must have been the cause of the deceptive or unfair act, and lastly, the consumer must have suffered damages. The consumer suing must have been a direct participant in the interaction with the business and the damages must be a direct result of the business’s act. However, recent Florida courts have taken cue from the Federal Trade Commission and require any injury to the consumer by an unfair act to have been substantial and not easily avoidable. This means that a consumer cannot willing participate in a company’s unfair trade practices thinking that he will later sue the company.
What Remedies are Available to Consumers that Fall Victim to Unfair Practices?
While the FDUTPA allows consumers to bring private lawsuits, it limits recovery for damages. An individual cannot recover more than $10,000 for each violation of the act. Additionally, consumers may only recover actual damages which is frequently calculated as the difference between what was promised and what the business actually delivered. Despite the cap on recovery, the act does allow consumers to collect attorney’s fees and court costs. In addition to monetary damages, the FDUTPA also allows consumers to seek injunctive relief such as forcing the business to cease the unfair or deceptive act.