Massachusetts has been called many things throughout history, but at the top of that list should be “consumer friendly.” This is true even about our laws. They try to protect consumers instead of big businesses.
One example is a section of the Massachusetts’ Consumer Protection Act, specifically Section 93a, that affords broad protections to consumers from merchants engaging in “unfair and deceptive” practices. This includes sales and leases, debt collection, many contracts, foreclosure, landlord-tenant law, and even bad faith insurance claims.
If you have been subject to unfair business practices, the easiest course of action would be to simply come to an agreement with the business with which you have a conflict. However, if all disputes were that simple, there would be no need for laws protecting the rights of consumers. If you are unable to resolve a complaint with a merchant, i.e., an individual or business, informally, then you may decide to take legal action.
As with any law, there are certain things that need to be done. This action first takes the form of what is informally known as a “93a Demand Letter” or a “30 Day Demand Letter.” State law requires you to send the business the demand letter thirty (30) days before filing a claim in court. The letter must outline your complaint, the harm you suffered, and how you want the problem resolved. The individual or business must make a good faith response within thirty (30) days, or it could subject the business or individual to treble (triple) damages and attorney’s fees.
What Constitutes an “Unfair and Deceptive” practice?
Section 93a does not fully define “unfair and deceptive” practices. Similarly, state courts have been reluctant to attach a black line definition to the term, preferring instead for the determination to be made on a case-by-case basis. But, you usually know it when you see it. Examples can include a car dealership doing a bait-and-switch, a debt collector misleading you about how much you owe, or a landlord trying cutting off your water or electricity.
At Marcotte Law Firm, our attorneys often see unfair and deceptive trade practices when dealing with insurance companies. This can include a simple misapplication of the law or knowingly misrepresenting the facts of a case. Other times, it can be more sinister. For example, insurance companies know that an injured person can be strapped for cash, especially if the injury keeps him/her out of work. The insurance companies use that to their advantage, offering pennies on the dollar. They tell people to take it or leave it, and if they don’t take it, the insurance company will try to drag the case on for as long as possible.
Who Does 93A Protect?
Section 93a protects consumers – businesses and individuals – who have been subject to unfair and deceptive practices through the process of procuring goods or services. While 93A protects both business and individuals, the standard of what is unfair and deceptive is much higher to prove for businesses than consumers. Said another way, the state makes it easier for an aggrieved individual to recover damages than a business.
If you win your case, you can recover the full amount of damages, plus up to two or three times that amount if the business’s violation was “willful.” In addition to having your damages multiplied, you could also potentially have your attorney fees and costs associated with bringing the lawsuit reimbursed. This is a great tool which allows average consumers to obtain settlements that they may not have been able to obtain otherwise.
If you believe you have a claim, you should contact an attorney to guide you through the next steps and potentially represent you. As previously mentioned, under 93A you can potentially recover your attorney fees if your claim is awarded in your favor. So, many times lawyers are happy to not only be able to help someone in need, but also get their full bill paid for by the shady business.