The California Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA), which was passed in 1970, provides consumers with protection against false advertising, fraud, and other unfair business practices. It also allows consumers to bring legal actions to recover damages when they have been misled. But what if they don't discover the fraud until quite a bit of time has passed? Can consumers still enjoy CLRA protections when they discover that they have been misled?
What Practices Does the CLRA Address?
First, let's look at the behavior the CLRA exists to address. Though almost two dozen unfair and deceptive practices are listed in California Civil Code 1770, some of the most common acts addressed by the CLRA is making a false or misleading statement about products or services being offered for sale to consumers.
A consumer who has been the victim of such practices may be entitled to actual damages (what the misrepresentation cost the consumer), attorney's fees, injunctive relief (a court action taken to stop the vendor from doing additional harm to the consumer), and even punitive damages (additional money awarded to teach the vendor a lesson).
Who is Allowed to sue Under the CLRA?
Any consumer who has been misled and suffered damage due to practices that the Consumers Legal Remedies Act prohibits is allowed to file a lawsuit against the individual or business that took advantage of them. Consumers are also allowed to bring a lawsuit either as an individual or as a member of a class action.
How Long Does Someone Have to File a Lawsuit?
In California, someone who has been the victim of a business practice that the CLRA prohibits has three years after the day the practice was committed to file a lawsuit, also known as the statute of limitations.
However, it is very important that someone not wait the entire three years before deciding to file a lawsuit. The law also states that the victim must give the other party at least 30 days' notice by certified mail before filing the lawsuit and must allow the defendant an opportunity to correct, repair, replace or otherwise make the situation right.
After receiving the notice, the defendant will then have 30 days to fix the situation or make arrangements to fix it. If the defendant refuses to, then the plaintiff may file a lawsuit seeking damages.
But What if the Fraud Was Not Immediately Obvious?
With all of that covered, we can now attempt to answer the original question. What if someone is a victim of fraud or misrepresentation but does not realize it until the statute of limitations has expired or nearly expired? The truth is that absent exigent circumstances, California courts are inclined to adhere rather strictly to the three-year statute of limitations on CLRA cases. However, this can come into competition with another legal concept of discovery.
Discovery means that the statute of limitations clock doesn't start ticking until the plaintiff discovers that he or she has been wronged. This is a factually driven inquiry and whether or not the California courts will allow the consumer to bring a CLRA lawsuit after the statute of limitation has run will depend on the facts and the circumstances surrounding the violation.
However, even if the CLRA does not cover your situation because the statute of limitations has run, you may still be entitled to damages under other legal theories. That's why you must speak with an attorney who has an intimate understanding of all of these issues before you decide that it's too late to do anything about a situation where you have been misled.