Misrepresentation of product features is what happens when a manufacturer, seller, or dealer of a product intentionally makes false or untrue statements regarding a product’s capabilities or characteristics. Features are often the main selling point of some products. Thus, if a seller makes misrepresentations regarding important features, this could cause a person to make a decision that they otherwise might not have made.
There are numerous consumer protection laws, as well as various contract-related laws, which make it illegal to assert misrepresentations about a product’s features. These types of violations can result in legal consequences and lawsuits. Additionally, many misrepresentation cases involve some aspect of false or deceptive advertising. These concepts will be further discussed below.
Misrepresentation of features are often associated with large consumer fraud cases, or in smaller personal transactions involving a private contract. Consumer fraud can be considered criminal fraud in specific circumstances. When consumer fraud has occurred, the victim is a consumer while the perpetrator is either the seller or advertiser of merchandise. As long as the fraudulent act is associated with some type of services or goods, it can be considered consumer fraud.
Because misrepresentation of features is considered to be criminal fraud in specific cases, it is important to understand the difference between civil fraud and criminal fraud. The basic elements of the two are largely the same. However, a criminal fraud conviction can result in fines and/or jail time.
Additionally, criminal law has a higher standard of proof; it must be beyond a reasonable doubt, meaning that each element of the crime must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order for a defendant to be convicted.
In criminal fraud cases, whether the fraud was actually successful is not a determining factor. The simple fact that an individual attempted and intended to commit fraud is sufficient. Depending on the specific jurisdiction, as well as the facts of the case, criminal fraud may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony crime.
Alternatively, in civil fraud cases, the victim is responsible for proving the fraud elements. They must also prove that they suffered damages resulting from the fraud. The overall difference between a civil and criminal fraud case is that in a civil case, the individual must show actual damages while in a criminal case, the prosecution only needs to show that the defendant attempted fraud.
What Are Some Common Examples Of Misrepresentation Of Product Features?
Some of the most common examples of misrepresented product features include, but may not be limited to:
- The memory, capacity, and performance speed of computers, phones, and other such electronic products;
- False information associated with vehicle speed, gas mileage, airbags, and other automobile features;
- False information regarding product feature defects, such as allowing the defective to go to market while aware of its various defects;
- The age and condition of used products;
- The quality of materials that were used in the product’s construction; and
- False information associated with the number of items or units contained in a singular product package.
What Is Fraudulent Misrepresentation? What Is Deceptive Advertising?
As previously mentioned, misrepresentation of product features may be considered fraudulent misrepresentation. Fraudulent misrepresentation is any type of lie or false statement that is used to trick a person into an agreement that they otherwise may not enter into. This misrepresentation can occur through many ways, including:
- Written words;
- Spoken words;
- Gestures or body motions, such as a nod; and
- Silence or inaction.
Fraudulent misrepresentation is frequently associated with contract law. Whenever parties enter into a legal agreement or contract with each other, all parties involved are required to agree to the contract terms. However, any instance of fraudulent misrepresentation can affect the contract in many ways, such as rendering the contract invalid.
An example of this would be if one party purposefully makes a statement that is false to the other party. They make this statement for the purpose of persuading them to sign a contract. A more specific example would be if an auto dealer lies about the accident history of a used vehicle. You sign a contract because you assumed the car was never in an accident, although it was. The dealer’s actions might be considered fraudulent misrepresentation.
Misrepresentation of product features generally involve some aspect of false or deceptive advertising, as previously mentioned. Deceptive advertising, or false advertising, refers to any type of advertising that is false, misleading, or has the effect of deceiving consumers. According to various state and federal laws, advertising may be considered deceptive even if the creator of the ad did not intend for it to be so.
Some of the more common penalties and consequences for deceptive advertising include, but may not be limited to:
- Legal damages for losses experienced by a consumer;
- Refund or exchange of a product;
- Public recall of a product, especially when the product is defective;
- Injunction to have the ad removed entirely, or replaced; and/or
- Civil fines.
These types of claims are frequently handled and investigated by the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”). The FTC was established by the Federal Trade Commission Act in 1914. The Act is intended to protect consumers, as well as to prevent specific business practices that take advantage of consumers and squeeze other businesses out. Their overall goal is to ensure that the economic markets are vigorous, efficient, and free of restrictions. Because of this, the FTC attempts to enforce consumer protection laws that prevent fraud, deception, and other unfair business practices.
It is important to note that special laws exist depending on the type of product or service being rendered. An example of this would be how there are considerably specific laws governing advertising for professionals such as doctors and lawyers.
What Are The Legal Remedies For Misrepresentation Of Product Features?
Misrepresentation of product features can result in legal remedies similar to other personal injury or defective product claims. Some examples may include:
- Monetary damages for losses caused by the misrepresentation, such as medical bills or missed work;
- Product recalls or discontinuation of the product, especially when multiple parties have been injured by the same issue; and/or
- Return or refund of the product, along with any additional costs.
One of the largest concerns associated with misrepresentation of product features involves misrepresentation that leads to significant injury of the person. An example of this would be how serious injury can result if misrepresentations are made regarding car airbags or other safety restraint systems.
In order to be held liable for fraudulent misrepresentation, the elements of proof for fraudulent misrepresentation generally include:
- A representation was, in fact, made;
- That specific representation was false;
- The defendant knew that the representation was false;
- The false statement was made with the intention that the other party would rely on it to enter into a contract or agreement;
- The plaintiff did, in fact, rely on the misrepresentation and would not have otherwise entered into the contract or agreement without the misrepresentation; and
- The plaintiff suffered measurable harm resulting from the fraudulent information or statement.
Some jurisdictions may have differences in the details of these elements. An example of this would be how it is not necessary in some jurisdictions that the defendant was aware that the statement was actually false. Some courts may find the defendant liable if they should have known of its falsehood, or if they made the statement recklessly without knowledge of its truth.
Do I Need An Attorney For a Misrepresentation Of Product Features Lawsuit?
If you are considering filing a lawsuit associated with misrepresentation of product features, you should consider working with an experienced and local consumer lawyer. Because misrepresentation is prohibited under both federal and state laws, an area attorney will be best suited to helping you understand your legal options according to your state’s specific laws.
Additionally, an experienced attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed, and can help you join any existing class action lawsuits.