Consumer Law

          In Texas, consumers are protected by the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act or “DTPA“.  The Texas legislature enacted the DTPA to encourage consumers to file lawsuits when they have been victimized by an unfair or dishonest business practice.  Before the DTPA, most people that were cheated by a dishonest business or business person didn’t have any realistic way to do anything about it because the amounts that they were typically cheated would be less than the cost of hiring an attorney and going to court.

         The elements that need to be proven in a DTPA case are:

  1. The Plaintiff was a “consumer” as that is defined in the statute,
  2. The Defendant committed one or more of the false, misleading or deceptive acts or practices that are listed in the statute,
  3. The Plaintiff relied on the deceptive practice to their detriment and
  4. The Defendant’s false, misleading or deceptive act or practice caused a financial injury to the Plaintiff.

         To receive the benefits of the DTPA it is necessary for a plaintiff to be a “consumer”.  The definition of consumer is very broad.  Every individual is a consumer.  Also, every business that has under $25 million in net worth is a consumer.  For example, if a member of the Walton family (owners of Walmart) were to get cheated by Target that person would be a consumer under the DTPA, albeit, a very ironic consumer.

         Typically, in this sort of action the bonus damages are limited to “economic” damages.  However, if the complaint is a violation of any of the “tie-in” statutes that are referred to as the “laundry list” then a Plaintiff can get bonus damages for all of their damages.

         The tie-in statutes that allow for the bonus recoveries are:

  1. Opportunity Act Tex. Bus. & Com. Code § 41.302
  2. Career Counseling Services Tex. Occ. Code § 2502.302
  3. Certain Sales Of Homestead Tex. Prop. Code § 41.006(b)
  4. Coastal Public Lands Management Act of 1973 Tex. Nat. Res. Code § 33.135(d)
  5. Contest and Gift Tex. Giveaway Act Tex. Bus. & Com. Code § 40.122
  6. Debt Collection Act Tex. Fin. Code § 392.404(a)
  7. Disclosure by Financial Institution that Deposits are Not
  8. Insured Tex. Ins. Code § 556.052
  9. Disclosure to Purchaser of Property Tex. Nat. Res. Code § 61.025(d)
  10. Health Spa Act Tex. Occ. Code § 702.403
  11. Licensing and Regulation of Speech-Language Pathologists and
  12. Audiologist Tex. Occ. Code § 401.501
  13. Personal Employment Services Tex. Occ. Code § 2501.204
  14. Credit Service Organizations Tex. Fin. Code § 393.504
  15. Regulation of Invention Development Services Act
  16. Tex. Rev. Civ. Stat. Art. 9020 § 9(c)
  17. Removal of Unauthorized Vehicles from Parking Facility or
  18. Public Roadway Tex. Transp. Code § 684.086
  19. Rental-Purchase Agreements Tex. Bus. & Com. Code § 35.74(c)
  20. Representation as Attorney Tex. Gov. Code § 406.017(f)
  21. Residential Service Company Act Tex. Occ. Code § 1303.405
  22. Sales of Certain Fuel Tex. Rev. Civ. Stat. Art. 8614 § 6(d)
  23. Self-Service Storage Facility Liens Tex. Prop. Code § 59.005
  24. Talent Agency Registration Act Tex. Occ. Code § 2105.251
  25. Telephone Solicitation Tex. Bus. & Com. Code § 38.303
  26. Texas Manufactured Housing Standards Act Tex. Occ. Code § 1201.603
  27. Texas Membership Camping Resort Act Tex. Prop. Code § 222.011(a)
  28. Texas Motor Vehicle Commission Code Tex. Occ. Code §§ 2303.054, 2302.053
  29. Texas Optometry Act Tex. Occ. Code § 351.604
  30. Texas Timeshare Act Tex. Prop. Code § 221.071(a)
  31. Treatment Facilities Marketing Practices Act Tex. Health & Safety Code § 164.013
  32. Unfair Claim Settlement Practices Act Tex. Ins. Code § 542.004
  33. Private Child Support Enforcement Agencies Tex. Finance Code § 396.353(a)
  34. Private Action for Damages Authorized Tex. Ins. Code § 541.151
  35. Cigarette Tax, Enforcement of Tax Tex. Tax Code § 154.4095
  36. Occupational and Business Regulation  Tex. Rev. Civ. Stat. art. 9020 § 9(c)
  37. Medical Liability, Arb. Agreements Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 74.451(c)
  38. Currency Exchange, Transportation & Transmission Tex. Finance Code § 153.404
  39. Home Improvement Contract Tex. Prop. Code § 41.007(b)
  40. Seller’s Disclosure of Tax Payments and Ins. Cover. Tex. Prop. Code § 5.070(b)(1)
  41. Disposition of Insurance Proceeds Tex. Prop. Code § 5.078(d), (e)
  42. Interest in Land, Disclaimer & Disclosure Required Tex. Prop. Code § 41.0051(c)
  43. Contract for Conveyance, Oral Agreements Proh. Tex. Prop. Code §5.072(e)(1), (f)
  44. Seller’s Disclosure of Property Condition Tex. Prop. Code § 5.069(d)(a), (e)

         In order to pursue a DTPA claim in Texas a Plaintiff needs to send a demand letter to the Defendant explaining what they want.  The Defendant then has 60 days to respond to the demand letter.  In the event that the Plaintiff does not give 60 days of notice in the demand letter then the case is not lost.

         The effect of a failure to give the Defendant 60 days to respond to a proper demand letter is the opportunity to delay or “abate” the lawsuit for 60 days at any point of the lawsuit.  This gives the Defendant an opportunity to pause the litigation at any time they choose, no matter what the Plaintiff would prefer.  For this reason, it is best to give statutory notice that complies with the 60 day requirement.

         In Texas, the law regards Deceptive Trade Practices is codified in the Texas Business and Commerce Code, Title 2, Chapter 17.  The DTPA makes several types of lawsuits that normally wouldn’t be worth pursuing potentially possible.  The way that the DTPA does this is by 1) allowing for double or triple damages to be paid and 2) requiring the business to pay for the consumer’s attorney’s fees.

        Now, instead of a business knowing that a consumer won’t have the money to take them to court, a business has to consider that, in addition to having to pay “bonus” damages if they lose a case they might also have to pay for all their attorney’s fees as well as pay for all of the consumer’s legal fees.

         This means that a relatively small case can result in large settlements or judgments if a business doesn’t do the right thing and pay a consumer when they have done wrong.  It is amazing how often businesses do the right thing when they know that the law is going to punish them severely if they don’t.