Massachusetts Consumer Protection Statute and Unfair and Deceptive Insurance Practices
Each day consumers are bombarded by advertisements and promotions by businesses trying to sell their products, and in today’s marketplace, consumers may feel that they are at the mercy of businesses that have all the power and money. However, in Massachusetts, consumers have recourse to the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act (M.G.L. c. 93A) to level the playing field and provide an effective method to address and resolve consumer complaints.
Chapter 93A is a statute that specifically enables consumers to take legal action against unfair or deceptive conduct in the marketplace. The statute creates a private right of action and gives consumers an incentive to vindicate their rights by providing for double or treble damages when the violations are “knowing” or “willful” and reasonable attorney’s fees for prosecuting a successful action.
The definition of what is considered “unfair and deceptive” under the statute is a purposely broad term that covers the myriad of ways businesses can take advantage of consumers, including breach of warranty, fraud, misrepresentation, unfair methods of competition, false advertising, harassment, defamation, and invasion of privacy. Certain actions are deemed to be per se violations of Chapter 93A. These include debt collection practices, landlord-tenant actions and sales tactics. Consumers may also bring a claim and seek damages under Chapter 93A where ordinary tort or contract theories of recovery might fail as long as the conduct happens in a business context.
In addition, Chapter 93A specifically protects consumers in an area where they may feel particularly vulnerable – dealing with insurance companies. G.L. c. 176D, § 3 sets forth specific conduct that constitutes unfair and deceptive practices in the business of insurance and may form the basis of an action under Chapter 93A. Unfair and deceptive practices in the area of claims handlings and settlement of insurance claims specifically include:
Misrepresenting pertinent facts or insurance policy provisions relating to coverages at issue; failing to acknowledge and act reasonably promptly upon communications with respect to claims; failing to adopt and implement reasonable standards for the prompt investigation of claims arising under insurance policies; refusing to pay claims without conducting a reasonable investigation based upon all available information; failing to affirm or deny coverage of claims within a reasonable time after proof of loss statements have been completed; failing to effectuate prompt, fair and equitable settlements of claims in which liability has become reasonably clear; compelling insureds to institute litigation to recover amounts due under an insurance policy by offering substantially less than the amounts ultimately recovered in actions brought by such insureds; and failing to provide promptly a reasonable explanation of the basis in the insurance policy in relation to the facts or applicable law for denial of a claim or for the offer of a compromise settlement.
Generally, in order to bring a Chapter 93A action a consumer must begin by sending the business a demand letter specified under the statute, to which the business has thirty days to respond. The demand letter puts the business on notice of the consumer claim and provides information about the nature of the claim, and also may encourage the business to negotiate and settle the dispute before a lawsuit is filed. The threat of multiple damages and attorney’s fees often encourages businesses to settle disputes short of litigation. For a consumer claim, the demand letter must be sent at least thirty days prior to filing any court action alleging a violation of the statute; identify the claimant; reasonably describe the unfair or deceptive practice at issue; identify the injury suffered and make a demand for damages. The demand letter must also mention the statute and give notice to the business that it has thirty days to respond.
Robert Allison - About Author:
Personal Injury Attorney F. Robert Allison offers personal injury and real estate law services to people throughout Massachusetts. He has been helping his clients achieve positive results ever since. He concentrates on personal injury law, massachusetts attorney ,injury Claims and real estate law. http://frobertallison.com/
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