PA Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law
Pennsylvania unfair trade practices and consumer protection law (UTPCPL) is used to protect consumers and purchasers of household goods and services.3 min read
Updated November 5, 2020:
Pennsylvania unfair trade practices and consumer protection law (UTPCPL) is used to protect consumers and purchasers of household goods and services. It exists to prevent businesses from participating in deceptive or unfair practices or inequitable competition. This includes victims of unfair or deceptive practices by insurance companies, car dealerships, or companies that had false advertising. The law allows for anyone who lost money or property due to businesses engaging in unjust practices to bring suit.
While the UTPCPL governs only Pennsylvania businesses, the Supreme Court recently ruled that it does also apply to acts of Pennsylvania-based companies, even if these acts happen outside of Pennsylvania. This ruling greatly increases the range of UTPCPL and may encourage people to file suits in Pennsylvania to try to receive these protections, instead of filing in the state where the grievances occurred.
The UTPCPL contains a list of offenses that are deemed to be unfair competition or unfair methods and practices. This large list of offenses includes items such as:
- False advertising: advertising that confuses or misleads consumers as to the provider of the item or service, or to the sponsor or affiliation of the product or service
- Representation that the product or service has features or qualities that it does not actually have
- Representing items as new if they are actually used
- Representing the product or service at a particular standard when it does not meet this standard.
- Bait-and-switch practices: advertising without the intent of providing the advertising product or service, or not providing enough to supply expected demand, unless it is indicated that there is a limited supply
- Promising a buyer referral compensation where the compensation is dependent on a future event
- Chain letters
- Promoting or engaging in pyramid schemes
- Soliciting telephone sales without stating the identity of the caller, the purpose of the call, and the nature of the promotion
- Failing to adhere to the terms of a written guarantee given to the consumer
- Catchall: any other deceptive or fraudulent act which is likely to confuse consumers
If you feel that you are a victim of unfair or deceptive practices, contact a lawyer that practices in this area of law, or the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General Bureau of Consumer Protection. The bureau has a complaint process and will conduct an investigation, but cannot recover civil damages for you. This would need to be pursued directly with a civil case.
Attorney's use this law to demand justice against both real and perceived threats. The enforcement of this law falls under the jurisdiction of the Consumer Protection Bureau of the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office. This agency investigates consumer complaints and litigates those with merit. Either the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office can pursue the issue, or the victim can file a civil claim.
Many attorneys that are filing suit for breach of contract or misrepresentation will also include charges under the Catchall clause in the UTPCPL. This is due to the longer statute of the UTPCPLS (6 years for the unfair trade practices and consumer protection law versus 2 years for breach of contract), and the additional monetary compensation that may be awarded.
Those filing under the UTPCPL can be awarded the amount of monetary damages presented or $100, whichever is greater. At the courts discretion, individuals can be awarded up to three times the amount of the economic loss sustained, or "treble." Awards may also include things such as reimbursement of court and attorney fees. While it is rare that the court awards an amount over the actual damages sustained, the threat of this occurring will often help to resolve the case outside of court, as businesses don't want to risk this ruling.
Another ruling for those who violate deceptive trade practices may be an injunction against engaging in that business, either temporarily or permanently. The court may order the business to compensate any business for its losses, typically by refunding the price of the purchased product or service.
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