Oregon has a law called the Unlawful Trade Practices Act. This law applies when a consumer purchases real estate, goods or services for personal or household use from a seller who regularly engages in that business or occupation. It also applies to healthcare professionals who commit practices prohibited by this law in the course of providing professional services. In general, most purchases or leases, including those involving used goods (like cars) are covered by this law. In 2010 the act was amended to include loans and extensions of credit. This law does not apply to the purchase of insurance or most landlord-tenant disputes.
If you can prove that you have suffered any actual loss as a result of an unlawful trade practice, and that the business knew or should have known that its conduct or that of its agents violated the law, you may be awarded the amount of your loss, or $200, whichever is greater. If you win the case the defendant who lost will have to pay your attorney fees. If they think they are likely to win it, some lawyers will take your case without charging you attorney fees, because the law requires the defendant to pay your fees. And, if the conduct was intentional and malicious, you may ask for punitive damages to discourage the business from engaging in the unlawful act with other consumers.
The Unlawful Trade Practices Act prohibits many practices, most of them involving some form of deception or misrepresentation by the seller. Here is a list of the most common violations of the Unlawful Trade Practices Act:
The misrepresentations covered by this law can come in many forms, and can be either spoken or written. An unlawful practice may be committed even by the failure to disclose an important fact. In addition, the act requires that certain disclosures be made when the seller knows that there are material defects in real estate, goods or services.
If you feel you have been victimized, you should keep all your contracts, canceled checks and any other documents pertaining to the transaction. If you wish to file a court action concerning an unlawful trade practice, you must file it within one year from the date the seller committed the violation, or the date you reasonably should have discovered the violation of the act. You must also promptly provide the Oregon attorney general's office with a copy of your lawsuit. If you don't, you may lose the lawsuit.
For specific details on how to reach organizations and agencies geared toward helping consumers, see the list of "Other Resources."
Legal editor: Bret Knewtson, November 2011