Tennessee Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)
Tennessee law has a broad consumer protection act, the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act of 1977 (TCPA). It is intended to protect consumers and businesses from unfair and deceptive practices and acts.
Not only does the TCPA make it a criminal misdemeanor for any person or business to engage in unfair or deceptive business acts or practices, but it also gives any individual or business who has suffered financial harm due to such acts or practices a private cause of action to seek compensation for their financial losses.
If you have been the victim of unfair or deceptive business acts or practices, you need an experienced Tennessee consumer attorney with a proven track record of success in helping clients pursue compensation for losses caused by those practices.
What Is the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act?
The Tennessee Consumer Protection Act of 1977 was passed for the purpose of protecting consumers and businesses from unfair and deceptive acts or practices in trade or commerce by providing civil legal means to ensure ethical dealings between businesses and consumers.
The law defines the following acts as some of the unfair or deceptive acts or practices in violation of the TCPA:
- Falsely passing off goods and services as those of another business’s
- Causing likelihood of confusion or misunderstanding as to the source, sponsorship, approval, or certification of goods or services (but does not include the private labeling of goods and services)
- Using deceptive representations or designations of geographic origin
- Representing that goods or services have sponsorships, approval, characteristics, ingredients, uses, benefits, or quantities that they do not have
- Representing that goods or services are of a particular standard, quality, or grade, or that good are of a particular style or model if they are of another
- Disparaging the goods or services of another business by false or misleading representations of fact
- Advertising goods or services with no intent to sell them as advertised
- Advertising goods or services without intent to supply reasonably expected public demand (unless the advertisement discloses limited quantities)
- Making false or misleading statements about the reasons for, existence of, or amounts of price reductions
- Representing that a consumer transaction grants rights, remedies, or obligations it does not have or that are prohibited by law
- Representing that a service, repair, or replacement is needed when it is not
- Falsely representing a going-out-of-business sale
- Selling or offering to sell participation in a “pyramid distributorship,” sometimes known as a Ponzi scheme
- Assessing a penalty for prepayment or early payment of a fee or charge for services by a municipal-licensed utility or service company
- Discriminating against a disabled individual in violation of the Tennessee Equal Consumer Credit Act
- Unreasonably restricting supplies or raising the prices of essential goods, commodities, or services in response to crime, terrorism, war, or natural disaster
In addition, unfair or deceptive acts or practices affecting trade or commerce are also considered Class B misdemeanors under the TCPA.
Examples of Unfair or Deceptive Practices
The TCPA defines a wide variety of activities as unfair or deceptive trade practices. Accordingly, the number of potential examples of unfair and deceptive trade practices is likely endless. However, some illustrative common examples of unfair or deceptive practice include:
- Altering the odometer on a vehicle
- Telling a consumer that repairs to a vehicle or home are needed when they are not
- Claiming that a piece of athletic equipment has an endorsement from an athlete when it does not
- Creating fake testimonials for a product or service
- Engaging in “bait-and-switch” – advertising a good or service for a particular price, then after engaging or contracting with the customer, trying to convince the customer to purchase a different good or service at a higher price or on less favorable terms, usually by refusing to discuss the advertised good or service, demonstrating a defective version of the good or service, or not having the advertised good or service available for sale
How to File a Consumer Complaint
If you believe you have a claim under the TCPA, the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Industry’s Division of Consumer Affairs suggests first contacting the business, as the business may be willing to resolve your complaint without involving state or federal consumer protection agencies or the courts.
If you ultimately need to file a TCPA claim, you can obtain a claim form on the Division of Consumer Affairs’ website. You must answer all questions on the complaint form and briefly describe your claim, including all important facts.
You should also attach copies (not original documents) of any documentation that supports your claim, such as contracts, invoices, or correspondence. Because your complaint is part of the public record, you should redact any sensitive information, such as addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers, or financial account numbers.
Once you submit your claim to the Division of Consumer Affairs, the division will mail a copy to the business asking it to respond directly to you to resolve the dispute. In certain cases, the division may forward your complaint to another appropriate government agency.
If you can resolve the dispute, the business is required to provide the division with notice of a resolution. However, the division cannot force a business to resolve your complaint. If the business does not resolve your complaint to your satisfaction, your next step is to pursue a legal claim in court.
Understanding Your Rights to Compensation
You may be entitled to certain kinds of compensation in a consumer protection claim. As baseline, the TCPA allows you to seek compensation for your actual losses caused by unfair or deceptive actions or practices. Thus, if you bought a product for $100 that violated the TCPA, your actual damages may only be $100. However, if the violating product or service caused other damages – for example, if a violating car part caused significant damage to your vehicle – you may be entitled to claim those other damages.
The TCPA allows a court to triple the award of actual damages if it is determined that the offender willfully or knowingly violated the TCPA. The court is also authorized to award “other relief as it considers necessary and proper,” which in practice often includes an award of attorneys’ fees and legal costs.
If you’ve been the victim of unfair and deceptive business acts and practices, contact the Employment and Consumer Law Group in Tennessee today to schedule a consultation to learn more about your rights and options.