California consumer fraud lawyers know that the state has been at the forefront of the consumer rights movement for a long time. In 1970, the California State Legislature passed the Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) to safeguard customers against deception by businesses. The CLRA makes it unlawful to engage in unfair or misleading acts when selling goods or services to consumers. The CLRA is often applicable in cases involving false advertising claims and/or consumer fraud. For example, when a company uses a misleading advertisement to persuade someone to purchase a product or service, the misrepresentation may constitute a violation of both the CLRA and the Unfair Competition Law (UCL). The same is true when a deceptive or intentionally confusing ad causes a customer to trigger an automatic renewal policy.
To learn more about the Consumers Legal Remedies Act, keep reading this blog.
What Deceptive Business Practices Does the CLRA Prohibit?
The California Consumers Legal Remedies Act, or CLRA, is a consumer statute that’s codified in Cal. Civil Code §§ 1750. The law allows plaintiffs to bring private civil actions against companies that use “unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in a transaction.”
The CLRA explicitly prohibits certain deceptive business practices, including the following acts:
- Selling counterfeit goods.
- Misrepresenting the source of a good or service.
- Lying about a professional affiliation, certification, or endorsement.
- Lying about the geographic origin of a product.
- Selling a used or reconditioned item as new.
- Misrepresenting the quality of a good or service.
- Making false statements that disparage another business’ products.
- Advertising items as being available for sale when they won’t be.
- Advertising furniture as available for sale without disclosing that it is unassembled.
- Telling a customer that a repair or replacement is necessary when it isn’t.
- Offering a rebate or discount with hidden conditions.
- Falsely presenting a salesperson’s authority to negotiate and finalize a transaction.
- “Robo-calling” individuals who are not already customers.
One of the advantages of the CLRA is that victims of business fraud in California are not limited to filing lawsuits under the statute. This means that a consumer could bring multiple claims citing both the CLRA and other state or federal laws.
What Remedies Are Available to California Consumers in CLRA Cases?
The CLRA gives California consumers a powerful tool to hold businesses accountable for deceptive practices because the statute allows plaintiffs to recover different kinds of damages. The law is often interpreted broadly by courts to provide strong protections against consumer fraud, false advertising, and unfair business practices. When a consumer has been defrauded, they can file a lawsuit in a California Superior Court.
Consumers who bring a claim under the CLRA may pursue several remedies for any harm they suffered, including:
- Actual monetary damages.
- Punitive damages.
- Restitution of property to the plaintiff.
- An injunction against the defendant.
- Attorney’s fees and court costs.
- Any other relief the court deems proper.
Actual Damages & Attorney’s Fees
The first remedy available under the CLRA – actual damages – has a statutory minimum of $1,000 for each deceptive act or practice. The last remedy – “any other relief the court deems proper” – is a catch-all provision that gives courts wide latitude when determining what kind of monetary relief should be available to plaintiffs in CLRA actions.
In addition to getting damages for fraud, a plaintiff filing a claim under the CLRA may also be able to get attorney’s fees from a defendant who is found to have violated the Act. This can make it financially feasible for a plaintiff to bring a CLRA claim – since the defendant would have to pay the legal costs for both sides if they lose the case.
Additional Damages for Senior Citizens & Disabled Persons
A couple of special categories of consumers may be eligible for additional damages: senior citizens and disabled persons. As set forth by the CLRA, a “senior citizen” is defined as anyone over the age of 65. (In California, a senior citizen is usually defined as anyone over the age of 62, with the age threshold being lowered to 55 years old when the person lives in a senior citizen housing development.) California law defines “disabled person” quite broadly to include just about anyone who has a physical or mental condition that substantially limits at least one major life activity. For both seniors and disabled persons, the CLRA allows an award of up to $5,000 in damages to be tacked on by the court.
Proving a CLRA Violation
Although the Consumers Legal Remedies Act gives plaintiffs many options when seeking damages for consumer fraud, there are still ways for defendants to avoid paying maximum compensation. For example, if the defendant did not intentionally violate the CLRA, and they subsequently made a good faith attempt to correct the mistake, then the court might not award damages to the plaintiff. The complexities of the statute are one reason why it’s so important for you to have a knowledgeable California business fraud attorney handling your case.
Who Is Allowed to Bring a Lawsuit Under the Consumers Legal Remedies Act?
Private Civil Actions & Class Actions
The CLRA may serve as the basis for a civil suit in any consumer transaction where goods changed hands or services were provided, including transactions with a shipping insurance surcharge. Anyone who can show damages having been caused by one of the acts prohibited by the CLRA can file a lawsuit, either individually by the consumer or in a class action involving other consumers who were deceived or defrauded. For class action litigation, the cases must be substantially similar. An experienced California consumer protection lawyer can assist you with a CLRA class action lawsuit and help get your class certified.
Exclusions from the CLRA
Certain types of transactions and business owners are excluded from the Consumers Legal Remedies Act: (1) real estate transactions, and (2) newspapers and other advertisers. Although the CLRA applies to most commercial transactions, the statute cannot be used as the basis for a legal claim when the transaction involved the sale of either a residential property or a commercial property. Additionally, the CLRA cannot be used to bring a lawsuit against the owner of a newspaper, magazine, radio station, or any other advertising medium unless the plaintiff can prove that the business owner knew that the ads were deceptive before disseminating them.
How Long Do You Have to Bring a CLRA Claim?
Three-Year Statute of Limitations
It is important for you to speak with a qualified CLRA attorney as soon as possible because you do not want the statute of limitations to expire before you attempt to bring a claim. The general rule is that a consumer has three (3) years from the date on which the unfair business practice occurred to file a lawsuit under the Consumers Legal Remedies Act. If you miss this deadline, you may be barred from bringing a legal action.
Business Owner’s Opportunity to Cure
In addition to making sure you file within the statute of limitations, an experienced attorney can also ensure that you meet any other important deadlines and filing requirements. For example, before the CLRA suit can proceed in court, the consumer must notify the defendant in writing about the alleged violation. This must happen at least 30 days before the lawsuit is filed, and the business owner will then have an opportunity to take appropriate action to fix or otherwise “cure” the harm. (E.g., repairing or replacing a damaged item that was sold to the consumer.)
Defending Against CLRA Claims in California
It is very important for injured consumers to have an experienced consumer protection attorney handling their case throughout the legal process. The same is true for businesses that are accused of consumer fraud or false advertising. If you have been sued for allegedly violating a California consumer protection law like the CLRA, you need to speak with a qualified defense attorney as soon as possible.
Contact the California CLRA Lawyers at Tauler Smith LLP
Tauler Smith LLP is a Los Angeles law firm that focuses on consumer fraud litigation. Our attorneys are extremely familiar with the Consumers Legal Remedies Act, and we have filed both private civil actions and class action lawsuits on behalf of consumers. If you were a victim of business fraud or false advertising in California, we can help you take legal action and get you the financial compensation to which you are entitled. Call or email us to discuss your eligibility to file a CLRA claim.