If a business engages in unfair competition and deceptive or unethical business activities, it can be sued under Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (“FDUTPA”). Florida courts have also enabled businesses to sue other businesses or competitors under FDUTPA based on customer injury and permit customers to sue businesses for violations of its provisions. Thus, FDUTPA allows aggrieved parties, both businesses and consumers, to get compensation for their losses and other remedies such as an injunction once they can prove “actual damages”.
The FDUTPA is codified in Florida Statutes 501.201 through 501.213, et seq., and is part of Title XXXIII, Part II, which deals with consumer protection. Under the FDUTPA, a business may be held liable for deceptive advertising, false statements, and other dishonest behavior depending on the specific circumstances.
Customers usually suffer and are misled when a business engages in deceptive practices. Meanwhile, when a business engages in unfair practices, it violates established public policy and is unethical, immoral, and materially damaging to consumers.
How to make a claim under the FDUTPA?
FDUTPA allows consumers to sue when they have been victims of unfair or deceptive business practices. If a customer can prove that the business indulged in unfair trade practices and they suffered “actual damages”, then they can recover damages under the FDUTPA. As a customer, it is not enough for you to show that the behavior of the business was unfair or misleading; you must also demonstrate you were harmed as a direct result of the said activity of the business. If you seek injunctive remedies and not damages, then you need not prove that the misleading activity led to a loss to you personally. In addition to these, FDUTPA claims fall under a four-year statute of limitations, so as a customer, you have to bring a claim as soon as possible.
Some of the acts that qualify as violations of FDUTPA
Some of the usual tactics used by businesses that may violate the FDUTPA include:
- Bait and switch tactics.
- Misrepresentation. (Such as stating a fake product as real or lying about the freshness of a product)
- Price gouging, especially when during times of natural disasters or emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Charging additional fees for services other than what is advertised.
- Making a customer repair his electronic items or vehicles via false representation when all parts are running perfectly.
If you believe that your consumer rights have been violated by a business, you have the right to initiate legal action under the FDUTPA. Keep in mind that by filing a claim, you are also defending other people’s rights who may have been misled or deceived by the business but failed to take legal action to safeguard their rights.
Bait and Switch and FDUTPA
In a bait and switch maneuver, a customer is “baited” with a tempting offer by a business, only to be switched into an unfavorable offer later in the transaction. Bait and switch tactics are used to sell various types of items and services. These scams are still among the most often encountered commercial and consumer frauds in Florida.
For example, a dishonest retailer can advertise steep discounts on things it does not really have in stock to lure people in. In case the consumers come to the store based on the advertisement, the product on sale is usually no longer available. The store then would explain that they simply ran out of the said product and then try to offer the customers something that they never needed.
Bait and switch scams violate the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. Whether or not a particular instance of bait and switch violates the FDUTPA will always be determined by the details of the specific instance. The primary consideration in determining whether there was an FDUTPA violation is whether there are any significant misrepresentations or omissions made by the business.
The 1994 case of D.L.A. v. Father Son Moving St. illustrates how bait and switch methods are handled under the FDUTPA. In this case, a moving and storage company used bait and switch tactics to entice customers to employ their services by offering low ball estimates. After the end of the moving process, the company would add more costs to their service. The company would then ask the customers to pay the added charges to hand over the belongings. The court held that under FDUTPA, the moving firm was willfully misleading customers to get a greater charge from them.
Exemptions from the FDUTPA
There are a few exceptions to the FDUTPA under the law and to which cases it may or may not apply. These exceptions include:
- Personal Injury or death claims.
- An act that is allowed by state law.
- Distribution of printed materials by a publisher if they had no knowledge of any violation by the material content.
Some of the further exceptions of FDUTPA apply to any person belonging to or any activity arising out of them:
- Public Service Commissions of Florida.
- The Office of Insurance Regulation of the FSC.
- Regulated financial institutions such as loan organizations, savings, and banks under the Office of Financial Regulation of the FSC.
- The Department of Insurance which is now under the administration of the Department of Financial Services.
There are still further exceptions to the FDUTPA. Thus, you need an experienced FDUTPA attorney to know all FDUTPA exceptions and whether any exceptions apply in your particular case.
You can sue any company that indulges in unfair competition and deception trade practice under the FDUTPA. If you are successful in your claim, you stand to collect actual damages, such as the difference between the amount paid and what you were supposed to pay. In addition, the business may have to pay for your legal expenses and court costs. There are strong protections for consumers in Florida against unfair practices by businesses. You can contact us if you are confused about Florida’s FDUTPA and how you can use it for your case.
Contact us at Walsh Attorneys for a free consultation with our seasoned FDUTPA attorneys! We will get back to you right away.