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Suing a business if you have a consumer complaint

Find out if you are eligible to sue a business, learn about the process, and what to expect if you go to court.

First, determine if you have an eligible claim under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Law by learning about consumer protection for buyers.

Next, before you can sue in court, you must send a detailed 30 day demand letter that lets the business know of your complaint.

Mediation & suing

Once you have sent the 30 day demand letter and have tried to fix the problem with the business and failed, you have two major options:

Mediation:

In this process, an outside person who is not on the side of you or the business will help you and the business reach a solution you both find acceptable. Mediation is voluntary. Both you and the business must want to do this.

  • You can apply for mediation through your local consumer group. This group is affiliated with the Attorney General’s Office.

Suing in court – eligibility: 

You may also sue the business through the court system. You can only sue if:

  • You are a “consumer.” This is someone who is buys things for personal, family, or household use.
  • The business’s actions must be “unfair” or “deceptive.”
  • The business’s actions resulted “in a loss of money or property, real or personal” to you

Your claim:

  • If the claim is below $7,000, Small Claims Court is the least costly option.
  • Larger claims might be more suitable to the District or Superior Court.

Going to court (for a 93A matter)

You may want to get legal advice if you are going to court. You can find information on hiring a lawyer.

To initiate a civil case in the Trial Court, you must:

  • File a complaint with clerk’s office of the court in the county where you will be filing your case
  • Pay a filing fee
  • Draft the complaint yourself (there is no pre-printed form)

The filing fee will vary depending on the court department in which you file your complaint. Everyone who files a civil complaint must follow the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure (and other court department rules and standing orders); these can be complicated and confusing.

However, if the claim is for $7000 or less, a person can file a form called a “Statement of Claim and Notice” (rather than a complaint) in the Small Claims department of the District Court, Boston Municipal Court, or Housing Court, where the court procedures are simpler and easier to follow.

Once a complaint (or Statement of Claim) is filed, it must be “served” on the other party who will then have an opportunity to file an answer, raise defenses, and file counterclaims. (For a description of steps involved in filing a case, see Represent Yourself in Court; see also Small Claims Information for additional information on filing a small claims case in the District Court.)

In civil cases other than a small claims case, after the answer is filed, the court will set case management deadlines for the filing of discovery and other motions and set dates for a pretrial conference and a trial. The Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure and other court department rules and standing orders govern the process by which a court manages a case.

Settlements & awards

In general, a court may award you $25 or the amount of money you can prove you lost. However, there may be some important exceptions to note:

  • The business may offer you a settlement in response to your 30-day demand letter. If the business makes a reasonable offer and you turn it down, a court may limit your award to what the business offered.
  • The law allows additional awards when a business “knowingly” or “willfully” does something wrong. A business acts knowingly or willfully when it knows it broke a law or does not fix a problem after being told that it is breaking the law. If a business acted knowingly or willfully, you might receive an award of double or triple (“treble”) damages. This means that you can receive up to 3 times the amount that you lost to the business. The business might also be required to pay your legal fees.

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