Consumer protection law is a broad, dynamic area. Generally, an unfair or deceptive act in commerce can be a consumer protection law violation. However, there are several scenarios in which specific or “per se” consumer protection violations occur.
Automobile Fraud/Lemon Law
Consumer claims involving automobiles are often divided into two categories – those involving new cars and those involving used cars.
The lemon law controls disputes involving the sale of new cars. Under the lemon law, if a new car has a substantial defect and you have taken it to the dealer/manufacturer for a “reasonable number of attempts” to diagnose or repair the issue, and the issue cannot be solved you may have a claim under the lemon law. A serious safety defect must be taken to the dealer for diagnosis or repair at least two times. Less serious defects with the vehicle must be taken to the manufacturer at least four times, and one must be during the manufacturer’s warranty eligibility period. There are other less common scenarios in which a lemon law claim may arise.
Under the lemon law, if the dealer or manufacturer cannot fix your vehicle, you are entitled to a replacement vehicle or to have them repurchase your vehicle if an arbitrator determines that your vehicle is a “lemon.” You may pursue your lemon law arbitration on your own, however, if you use an attorney and you are successful you may be eligible for an award to recover your attorney’s fees.
While the lemon law does not apply to issues involving used cars, Washington’s Consumer Protection Act may. There are still rules that used car vehicle dealers must abide by. Generally, these rules prohibit dishonest, unfair, or deceptive conduct. Common claims involve used car dealers charging illegal fees, odometer tampering, not disclosing a brand on a title (such as salvaged or rebuilt), and purposefully concealing known vehicle defects. Again, a violation of Washington’s Consumer Protection Act may carry with it the ability to make the car dealer pay for your attorney’s fees if you are successful.
Federal and State law have very strict rules on creditors, lenders, and debt buyers. If someone is trying to collect on a debt you allegedly owe you have several rights and the debt collector has to strictly comply with very specific laws in order to legally make you pay a debt. Even if you owe a debt, it is still worth consulting with an experienced debt defense attorney as a debt collector may be pursuing illegal collection methods. However, Washington consumer rights expand far beyond debt collections.
Washington has very favorable laws regarding consumer medical debt. If you have medical debt from a hospital there is a high likelihood you are legally entitled to a substantial discount. Hospitals are supposed to put patients on notice about these rights, but unfortunately many do not. Additionally, there are several Washington laws specific to student loans and mortgage loans. If you think that you are being treated unfairly, or any terms of your loan have been misrepresented or withheld involving your student loan or mortgage, you may have recourse under Washington law.
The federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) makes most robo-calls and auto-dialer sales calls illegal. The law further created steep statutory damages and authorizes a judge to make the robo-caller pay for your attorney’s fees. If you are receiving robo-calls and you can identify the business that has called you illegally, you may be entitled to hundreds or thousands of dollars in damages under State and Federal law, and be entitled to have your attorneys’ fees paid for by the violating party.
The companies who report information about your credit history (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) are obligated to make reasonable efforts to ensure information reported about you is right. Unfortunately, these companies often do not get it right. Sometimes they report information about someone who has the same name as you, information related to identity theft, for another person in your household, etc. Sometimes they just flat make a mistake. You are required to request that they fix any errors and give them thirty days to do so. However, if after those thirty days pass and they have not fixed the error, you may have a legal claim to pursue any damages you’ve suffered from the effect on your credit, as well as get your attorney’s fees paid for.
The above areas are just a few examples of consumer protection cases. Consumer protection laws are often implicated in many transactions. If you think that you have been treated deceptively or unfairly by a business, there is a good chance you have a consumer protection related claim. Additionally, many consumer protection laws require the business who broke the law to pay for your attorney to pursue your claims.
– Nick M.
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