Consumer protection laws are laws that are specifically designed with the intent to prevent consumer fraud and various other unfair business practices. These laws aim to provide various rights for consumers while still maintaining a degree of freedom for manufacturers and businesses. The majority of these laws concern:
- Health and safety laws;
- Warranties; and
- Product contracts.
Both state and federal consumer protection laws are governmental regulations that were enacted to ensure consumers are protected from fraud or abuse by manufacturers, shopkeepers, and salespersons. A consumer is any individual who purchases goods or services for their personal use. These laws ensure that information provided regarding a product is truthfully disclosed to the consumers.
The Federal Trade and Commissions Act (FTCA) is one major consumer protection law. This Act provides industry standards for businesses. It essentially prohibits businesses from making any statement that might be misleading or confusing to a consumer.
Another major consumer protection law is the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act. This Act regulates the information that may be presented on the packages of retail products. Other issues that consumer protection laws may address include:
- False advertising and false business claims;
- Various anti-fraud and anti-scam efforts;
- Breaches of consumer contracts;
- Health and safety codes; and
- Dangerous products and products liability issues.
In many cases, a consumer claim often involves a violation of more than one consumer protection law.
How are Consumer Protection Laws Enforced in South Dakota?
Since many consumer laws are federal protection laws, they are enforced in the same manner in all states, including South Dakota. Examples of major federal consumer protection laws include:
- The Fair Credit Reporting Act. This Act regulates how the credit information of a consumer is used. For example, it aims to ensure that the information on an individual’s credit report is accurate;
- The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. This Act regulates the manner in which debt is collected. The goal of this law is to ensure abusive and deceptive practices are not engaged in by debt collectors; and
- The Fair Credit Billing Act. This Act allows consumers to dispute and correct billing errors made by a creditor, including credit card companies.
These are just a sample of all of the federal consumer protection laws. In general, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the main regulatory entity that enforces federal consumer protection laws and ensures violators of these laws are penalized.
At the state levels, consumer protection laws may vary. Every state in the United States has laws prohibiting deceptive practices but the extent of the regulation may vary depending on the state in which an individual resides.
Minor violations of the consumer protection laws may sometimes be handled by contacting the manufacturer or seller of the product directly. For example, a defective product can often be exchanged or refunded according to the product’s warranty.
In South Dakota, the Office of the Attorney General has a Division of Consumer Protection. This division handles consumer complaints.
The South Dakota Division of Consumer Protection is responsible for the following:
- Investigating false, misleading, or deceptive trade practices;
- Enforcing consumer laws that are designed to protect the public and legitimate business community;
- Advising consumers of their basic rights under consumer laws;
- Distributing consumer education materials;
- Assisting with the preparation of legislation that is designed to protect consumers;
- Participating in multi-jurisdictional actions with other state and federal law enforcement agencies; and
- Advising consumers of complaints on file against specific companies.
Can you File a Lawsuit for a Consumer Protection Law Violation in South Dakota?
Yes, a consumer may be able to file a lawsuit for the violation of a consumer protection law in South Dakota. In some cases, the consumer may file a private civil lawsuit. In other cases, the consumer will be asked to participate in a class action lawsuit on behalf of a class of consumers who have been injured by the same product or company.
A consumer protection lawsuit generally addresses the following issues:
- Whether the law applies to the issue at hand;
- If the defendant engaged the type of misconduct that is prohibited by the law; and
- Whether the plaintiff qualifies as a consumer.
A consumer may be eligible to recover damages for any injuries they sustained as well as any lost profits that were caused by the violation of a consumer protection law. In some cases, the court may issue an injunction that orders the defendant to cease any dangerous or illegal activities in which they are engaging.
Are There Any Unique Consumer Protection Laws in South Dakota?
Yes, there are unique consumer protection laws in South Dakota. As noted above, South Dakota has a Division of Consumer Protection that handles consumer issues.
If a reasonable time has passed and a consumer issue has not been resolved satisfactorily, the consumer may need to file a complaint with the Division of Consumer Protection. It is important to have copies of any relevant documentation, including:
- Cancelled checks;
- Warranties; and
- Correspondence regarding the issue.
Once a complaint is received, the Division takes the following steps:
- An investigator reviews the complaint;
- The complaint may be referred to another agency that can better handle the problem;
- Generally, both the consumer and the business are contacted for further information;
- The business is allowed 20 days to respond or resolve the complaint; and
- The Division of Consumer Protection may begin an investigation or mediation between the consumer and the business.
In some cases, a complaint may require a private legal action by the consumer. The Division encourages all consumers to obtain private legal assistance to protect their rights.
If a consumer has to take legal action, there are different options available. The consumer may file a lawsuit in small claims court for damages up to $12,000. While a consumer may represent themselves in small claims court, it is always best to seek the advice of an attorney.
Another important consumer protection law in South Dakota is the Lemon Law. This law applies to new vehicles.
A lemon vehicle is one that has a single problem or multiple problems that significantly impair the use, value, or safety of the vehicle. The problem or problems must arise from routine use of the vehicle, not from abuse or neglect. Additionally, the problem or problems cannot be the result of an accident or alteration to the vehicle that is not authorized by the manufacturer.
The first reported problem must occur within the first 12 months and 12,000 miles following the purchase of the vehicle. This law enables a consumer to obtain a replacement or a full refund for a new car, light pickup or motorcycle.
There are certain criteria that must be met in order for the Lemon Law to take effect. These include:
- The same problem was subject to repair attempts 4 or more times by a manufacturer or an authorized dealer;
- At least one of those attempts occurred during the Lemon Law rights period; and
- The same problem continues to exist.
The Lemon law may also apply when:
- The vehicle was out of service and in the custody of a manufacturer or authorized dealer for repair attempts, including the final attempt;
- One repair attempt must have occurred during the Lemon Law rights period for a cumulative period of 30 calendar days;
- Unless the repair could not be completed as a result of conditions beyond the control of the manufacturer or authorized dealer, such as:
- Flood; or
- Other natural disasters.
It is important to note that the consumer must take their vehicle for repairs of a nonconforming condition. If the service visit is not documented, it cannot be used to establish the required Lemon Law criteria.
Should I Hire a South Dakota Attorney About Any Consumer Protection Violations?
Yes, it is important to have the assistance of an experienced South Dakota consumer lawyer for any consumer protections you may face. The rights of consumers are widely regulated because individuals may be at risk for injury due to deceptive or misleading business practices.
If you believe your consumer rights have been violated, you should consult with an attorney who can advise you regarding the appropriate steps to take. Your attorney can review your case, explain what protections are provided to you under the law, and represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary.