According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), there were over one million official complaints made by consumers at the federal level in 2010. Additionally, we now know mobile devices are driving online transactions through the roof. It’s estimated by the International Data Corporation (IDC) that by 2020, there will be 450 billion transactions occurring through the internet EVERY DAY. These transactions are in addition to the enormous volume of normal face to face transactions that we all go through every day. With that amount of business, there are ample opportunities for the unscrupulous to attack the public, i.e., You.
In this vein, I’m commonly asked how someone can get help going after a company or individual that engages in unfair or misleading business practices, especially when it looks like the cost of hiring a lawyer and filing a suit might exceed what could be recovered. To address these concerns, most states have passed generally uniform consumer protection statutes. Here in Texas, that statute is known as the Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA).
So what is the DTPA?
Well, the DTPA protects Texas consumers from bad business practices resulting from the sale of goods OR services, it does this by attempting to streamline costs and encourage settlement between parties before a lawsuit even begins. If settlement does not happen, and the plaintiff has a valid complaint, then all reasonable attorney’s costs are awarded, plus any economic damages the jury finds resulted from the bad conduct. The DTPA additionally further penalizes bad actors whose conduct was intentional. If a jury finds the conduct was intentional, then up to 3x the damages suffered could be awarded to the plaintiff. In some sense, the DTPA acts as both carrot and stick. The carrot encourages a future defendant to take the consumer’s complaint seriously and to think about fair settlement, while the stick makes it more expensive to do neither.
In a future post, I’ll discuss what kind of activity is prohibited by the DTPA, suffice to say, it’s a lot.