What violates the Consumer Protection Law?
Many consumers are unaware of the rights they are entitled to under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection law, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 93A. Likewise, many merchants may not fully understand their responsibilities under this law.
The law does not define any specific business actions that violate the law; rather it states that “unfair or deceptive practices” are illegal. Although each case is judged on its own merits, some examples of unfair or deceptive practices that might fall under Chapter 93A would be when:
- A business charges a consumer higher rates than the marked, published or advertised price.
- The refund/return policy is not clearly posted where it can be readily noticed and understood.
- A business fails to tell you relevant information regarding your product or service or misleads you in any way.
- A business does not meet its warranty agreement.
- A business uses "Bait and Switch" advertising - a technique by which the seller advertises an item for sale at a particularly good price or terms but does not really want to sell that item. The seller discourages the purchase of the advertised item and instead tries to convince the buyer to purchase a different item for a higher price or on less favorable terms.
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What happens if a business violates the Consumer Protection Law?
If a consumer believes a business has violated the Consumer Protection Law and engaged in some sort of unfair or deceptive practice and after attempting to resolve the complaint with the merchant informally, he/she may decide to take legal action. As a general matter, a consumer suing under law must demonstrate the following to prove the claim:
- That the consumer sent a detailed 30-day demand letter that outlines the complaint, the harm suffered, and the demanded relief.
- That he or she is a “consumer” plaintiff – someone engaging in commerce primarily for personal, family or household purposes;
- That the defendant’s actions were “unfair” or “deceptive;” and
- That these actions resulted in a “loss of money or property, real or personal” to that consumer.
A court can award a consumer plaintiff who proves the above compensatory or actual damages, sometimes as much as double or treble (triple) damages if the plaintiff can prove (1) the defendant willfully and knowingly violated Chapter 93A or (2) the defendant refused to grant relief in bad faith with knowledge or reason to know that his acts violated Chapter 93A.
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Can a business bring suit against another business under the Consumer Protection Law?
Generally, a business suing another business under the law must demonstrate the following to prove its claim:
- That they are considered a "business" - engaged in the conduct of any trade or commerce;
- That the defendant engaged in an "unfair method of competition" or the defendant's actions were "unfair" or "deceptive;"
- That these actions occurred primarily and substantially within Massachusetts (the burden is on the defendant to disprove this presumption as a defense); and
- That these actions resulted in a loss to the business plaintiff of money or property, real or personal, for money damages to issue; or
- That these actions "may have the effect of causing such loss" to that business plaintiff for injunctive relief.
A court can award a business plaintiff who proves the above compensatory or actual damages. Double or triple damages are also available if the plaintiff can prove the defendant willfully and knowingly violated Chapter 93A. Reasonable attorney's fees and costs incurred in the lawsuit are also available under certain circumstances.
Where can I go if I need more advice?
Free legal resources exist throughout Massachusetts.
Massachusetts Bar Dial-a-Lawyer
Legal Advocacy and Resource Center
Western MA Volunteer Lawyers Service