Can You Sue for False Advertisement?
There's nothing more frustrating than finding an ad that offers a huge discount on your favorite product, only to learn that the sale is over once you arrive at the store. This is just one example of false advertisement, a practice that occurs more often than you might think. From misleading marketing to unsubstantiated product claims, many consumers fall victim to deceptive advertising.
The good news? You can sue for false advertisement and may be entitled to monetary damages.
False advertising is legally defined as “the crime or tort of publishing, broadcasting or otherwise publicly distributing an advertisement that contains an untrue, misleading or deceptive representation or statement which was made knowingly or recklessly and with the intent to promote the sale of property, goods or services to the public.”
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) takes claims of false advertising very seriously. When the agency determines that fraud has taken place, it may file actions in federal district court to immediately halt deceptive business practices and fine the perpetrators.
Examples of false advertisements range from bait-and-switch tactics to misleading marketing campaigns that make unsubstantiated promises about the effectiveness of a product. Here are some of the most common types of false advertising.
- Bait and switch: Bait and switch is a tactic in which a company will advertise a product or service at a specific sale price, usually in the lower range. When the customer attempts to purchase the item or inquire about it, the salesperson will discourage the customer from buying it and push a more expensive product that's not on sale.
- Misleading photos: A misleading photo is an image on a product package or in an advertisement that looks nothing like the actual product. This often occurs with food items, clothing and toys.
- Deceptive pricing: Deceptive pricing pertains to products or services advertised at a specific sale price that doesn't reflect the final price. For example, if an ad says "Computer Sale - $299.00" but the final price is more than the advertised price, it can indicate false advertising. Price quotes should always match purchase prices unless the ad includes wording or "fine print" that lists additional charges.
- Unsubstantial claims and promises: Unsubstantial claims and promises are highly common with food items. Foods that are advertised as "fat-free" or "dairy-free" but actually contain fat and dairy would be considered deceptive in most cases. However, many labels will also have fine print with statements such as "contains a trivial amount of fat, dairy, etc." If the statement has an asterisk next to it and the included information is listed somewhere on the label, this would not be considered false advertising.
The exact dollar amount you can win in a false advertising claim can vary from state to state. For example, New York allows claimants damages of $500 minimum, along with attorney's fees and extra damages up to $10,000 if the court determines that the business was intentionally deceptive. In California, parties can be fined up to $2,500 per false advertisement, and they can be sued in civil court for up to $2,500 per violation.
For class action lawsuits, damages can reach the million-dollar mark or more, with the monetary award divided by the number of claimants in the action. Additional factors that can affect specific dollar amounts include the type of product or service advertised and whether a claimant endured pain and/or suffering.
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A consumer protection attorney is the type of lawyer you'll need to sue another party for false advertisement. These attorneys handle false and deceptive advertising claims, FTC violations and fraud. They also assist with class action suits when companies are accused of misleading multiple parties.
The first thing you'll want to do when seeking representation for a false advertising claim is to schedule an initial consultation with a consumer protection lawyer. Some lawyers offer free and no-cost consultations to determine whether potential clients have valid claims for damages.
If the attorney feels you have a solid case, they may offer to represent you for a fee or for a portion of the damages you'll receive if the case goes to trial or if the offending party settles out of court. It's always a good idea to seek legal advice from a licensed consumer protection attorney before attempting to file a claim.
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