Florida Unfair or Deceptive Act or Practice Laws

Some Consumer Protection Laws in Florida

Fla. Stat. §§ 501.201 through 501.213: What Is It? 

Florida Statutes Chapter 501.201 et seq., also known as the Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (“DUTPA”), is a state law that provides consumers with legal protection from unlawful methods of competition and unfair practices during trade or commerce. The law includes regulations that businesses must abide by when conducting transactions and also includes guidelines for remedies and penalties. Under the DUTPA, the state agency has the right to adopt rules in order to enforce or interpret the law, as well as to bring suit against an entity that violates the law. The DUTPA also grants injured or damaged consumers the right to file private action lawsuits against offending businesses.

What is prohibited?

The law explicitly prohibits businesses from engaging in unfair methods of competition as well as unconscionable, unfair or deceptive acts or practices. While the DUTPA does not provide a specific list of unlawful actions, based on judgments from previous lawsuits, some examples of prohibited actions include, but are not limited to:

  • Using “bait and switch,” misleading, or false advertising; and
  • Adding extra or unauthorized charges to a consumer’s bill; and
  • Misrepresenting goods that have been used as goods that are new; and
  • Falsely claiming that a consumer’s good(s) needs to be replaced or repaired; and
  • Increasing the price of a good(s) (price gouging) after a state of emergency.

Who does the law apply to and how can consumers sue?

The law applies to Florida businesses that engage in commerce or trade. If a consumer believes that they have been harmed as a result of an unlawful business practice, they can file a lawsuit against the offending business. In order to recover damages under the DUTPA, consumers must be able to prove that 1) the business engaged in an unfair or deceptive act or practice, 2) that the business’ act caused their injury, and 3) that actual damages were suffered. In Florida, consumers are not required to provide the defendant with a notice before filing a lawsuit.

What damages are consumers entitled to?

Consumers who file successful lawsuits are able to recover actual damages. They may also be able to collect reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

What is the statute of limitations?

The statute of limitations for claims under the DUTPA is four years, which means that consumers have four years from the date of the alleged wrongdoing to file a claim against an offending business.

Are there exemptions?

There are some business practices, claims, and businesses that are exempt from the DUTPA. For example, the DUTPA does not apply to claims for death or personal injury; acts permitted by another state law or federal law; or businesses that disseminate information on behalf of others (such as broadcasters, publishers, or printers). The law also does not apply to people or activities regulated by certain state or federal agencies like the Florida Public Service Commission or the Department of Financial Services.

Fla. Stat. §§ 559.55 through 559.785: What Is It? 

Florida Statutes Chapter 559 et seq. is also known as the Consumer Collection Practices Act (“CCPA”). The CCPA is a state law that protects consumers from creditors and debt collectors that engage in unlawful collection practices. The CCPA bears many similarities to the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) and collectors must follow both state and federal laws.

 What is prohibited?

There are a number of debt collection actions that are prohibited by the CCPA. For example, when collecting a consumer debt, collectors cannot do many things, including, but not limited to:

  • Using or threatening to use force or violence; and
  • Harassing a debtor or their family by communicating with them repeatedly; and
  • Using profane or obscene language with the purpose of abusing a debtor; and
  • Communicating with a debtor and giving them the impression that they are associated with an attorney; and
  • Calling or communicating with a debtor after 9 p.m. or before 8 a.m. in the debtor’s local time; and
  • Communicating with a debtor after knowing that the debtor is being represented by an attorney; and
  • Falsely representing themselves as a law enforcement officer or a government agency representative.

Who does the law apply to and how can consumers sue?

The CCPA applies to both creditors and debt collectors who may engage in consumer collection practices. Under the CCPA, consumers have the right to a private cause of action. This means that consumers who are victims of unlawful debt collection action(s) may take legal action by filing a civil lawsuit against the offending business. The civil action can be brought in the county where the defendant is located or where the violation allegedly occurred.

What damages are a consumer entitled to?

If a defendant is found to have violated the CCPA, they must provide the consumer with actual damages, possible punitive damages, as well as statutory damages of up to $1,000.00. They would also have to pay for the consumer’s attorney’s fees and costs.

In the case of a class action lawsuit, the defendant could be held liable to pay up to $1,000.00 in statutory damages for each plaintiff. They may also have to provide an aggregate award of up to $500,000 or 1% of their net worth, whichever is less, for the other class members.

Do businesses have to pay a civil penalty?

 Yes. Pursuant to the CCPA, all debt collectors have to be registered with the state of Florida, even if they are located out-of-state.  Only debt collectors are required to register.  Original creditors, attorneys, insurance professionals, banks and other financial institutions, and real estate professionals are not required to register with the State of Florida as a debt collector.  If a business is found guilty of violating the CCPA by not registering as a debt collector, then Florida’s Office of Financial Regulation of the Financial Services Commission can assess a fine and enforce the registration requirement, and the administrative fines can be up to $10,000.00 plus attorney’s fees and costs.  The Attorney General of Florida can also sue the debt collector.

What is the statute of limitations?

Under the CCPA, the statute of limitations is two years. Thus, consumers must file claim(s) pursuant to the CCPA within two years after the alleged violation has occurred.

The statute of limitations period for debt in Florida:

In Florida, the statute of limitations for a written contract is five years, while the statute of limitations for an open account or an unwritten contract is four years. Those periods are how long creditors would have to sue consumers for those respective different types of contractually created debts. A creditor cannot sue a consumer for nonpayment of a debt once the statute of limitations period on the debt has expired. That said, different types of debt can have different statute of limitations periods, and the statute of limitations period for an auto loan, credit card, medical, and mortgage debt in Florida is five years. If a consumer promises to make a payment on the alleged debt, or makes even a small payment, it could potentially restart the clock on the statute of limitations.

Some of the places that a consumer can look to for help or answers to questions:

The laws and statutes discussed above can change. So, in the state that a consumer resides in, a consumer protection agency, the Office of the Attorney General, and/or a consumer protection attorney who is licensed in a consumer’s respective state can help a consumer in getting help, up to date information and interpretations, and/or with determining the answers to their questions in regard to the aforementioned laws. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can assist as well.