What is the SC Unfair Trade Practices Act?

by | Oct 5, 2018 | Personal Injury |

The SC Unfair Trade Practices Act is designed to protect consumers – you and me – from individuals or businesses who would intentionally take advantage of us through unfair or deceptive business practices.

What if a contractor promises to build a porch on your house for $5000, but, when the work is complete, he didn’t build the porch you contracted for and you get a bill for twice the amount that you agreed upon?

You refuse to pay – you know when you are being ripped off.

But, now the contractor files a mechanic’s lien on your property. He knows that you will pay – your property is now tied up with a mechanic’s lien, and the next step is the contractor will file a lawsuit to collect. It’s unfair, it’s deceptive, but what can you do?

In some cases, a violation of the SC Unfair Trade Practices Act (SCUTPA) is a criminal offense. In other cases, the SCUTPA authorizes the court to issue an injunction against the individual or company and allows you to file a civil lawsuit for monetary damages – including treble (3x) damages, attorney fees, and court costs.

SC Unfair Trade Practices Act

Under the SC Unfair Trade Practices Act, in SC Code Section 39-5-20, it is illegal for any person or company to engage in:

  • Unfair methods of competition,
  • Unfair trade acts or practices, or
  • Deceptive trade acts or practices.

The actions must be “in the conduct of any trade or commerce.”

SC Code Section 39-5-10 defines “trade” and “commerce” as:

…the advertising, offering for sale, sale or distribution of any services and any property, tangible or intangible, real, personal or mixed, and any other article, commodity or thing of value wherever situate, and shall include any trade or commerce directly or indirectly affecting the people of this State.

Basically, if they are selling or distributing any type of services, property, or anything of value, they are subject to the SC Unfair Trade Practices Act.

Injunctions Under the SC Unfair Trade Practices Act

SC Code Section 39-5-50 authorizes the Attorney General to file an action asking the court to issue an injunction to prevent a person or business from continuing to engage in unfair or deceptive trade practices “when the proceedings would be in the public interest.”

Civil Penalties Under the SC Unfair Trade Practices Act

SC Code Section 39-5-110 also authorizes the Attorney General to seek a civil fine that can be up to $5000 per violation.

When the person or business violates the conditions of an injunction issued under Section 39-5-50, the fine increases to as much as $15,000 per violation.

Lawsuits for Damages Under the SC Unfair Trade Practices Act

Even more importantly, SC Code Section 39-5-140 authorizes you to file a lawsuit to recover your actual damages from the business – actual damages could include the expense of fixing property damage caused by the bad actor, money that they took from you unfairly, lost wages, or any out of pocket expenses that were caused by their shady business practices.

Not only can you sue for damages, but, if the bad actor knowingly or willfully violated the Unfair Trade Practices Act, the Court will award treble damages – 3x your actual damages – plus attorney fees and your court costs

If the court finds that the use or employment of the unfair or deceptive method, act or practice was a willful or knowing violation of Section 39-5-20, the court shall award three times the actual damages sustained and may provide such other relief as it deems necessary or proper. Upon the finding by the court of a violation of this article, the court shall award to the person bringing such action under this section reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

When Can You Sue Under the SC Unfair Trade Practices Act?

The business practices that are prohibited by the SC Unfair Trade Practices Act apply to any unfair or deceptive practices in South Carolina – many are expressly listed in the statute, and others have been authorized by SC appellate opinions.

If you think that you have been taken advantage of but you aren’t sure if the business’s conduct falls under the SC Unfair Trade Practices Act, call and talk to a Myrtle Beach consumer protection attorney at Coastal Law for a free consultation to determine whether you have a case.

Ticketmaster Class Action Lawsuit

A class action lawsuit has been filed against Ticketmaster for their unfair and deceptive trade practices after revelations that Ticketmaster has not only been allowing scalpers to operate with impunity, but they have allegedly also encouraged scalpers to buy and resell potentially millions of tickets on their platform, allowing Ticketmaster to collect a sales fee twice for each ticket while their customers get ripped off.  

The lawsuit was filed in California – although California does not have their own version of the SC Unfair Trade Practices Act, they do have consumer protection laws that apply.

Can we sue Ticketmaster in SC?

Scalping tickets is a violation of the SC Unfair Trade Practices Act under SC Code Section 39-5-36:

(A) person or firm who knowingly purchases a quantity of tickets for admission to an event which exceeds the maximum quantity posted by or on behalf of the original ticket seller at the point of original sale or printed on the tickets and intends to resell the tickets in excess of one dollar above the price charged by the original ticket seller violates the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act and is subject to its provisions, penalties, and damages.

(B) A person or firm who violates the provisions of Section 16-17-710(A) is subject to the provisions, penalties, and damages of the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act.

So, the scalpers are liable – what about Ticketmaster or other companies?

The SC legislature has arguably given immunity to Ticketmaster and other ticket sales outlets for exactly the unfair, deceptive trade practices that they are now being sued for in California:

(C) A person or firm is not liable pursuant to this section with respect to tickets for which the person or firm is the original ticket seller.

(D) For purposes of this section, the term “original ticket seller” means the issuer of the tickets or a person or firm who provides ticket distribution services or ticket sales service under a contract with the issuer.

SC has given Ticketmaster permission to sell tickets to scalpers, even to help scalpers buy and resell millions of tickets, and allow the scalpers to resell the tickets on their own platform, earning the commission twice for each ticket as they help scalpers rip off their own customers – exactly what they are being sued for under California law…

Other Types of Unfair or Deceptive Trade Practices Under the SC Unfair Trade Practices Act

There are many types of common deceptive trade practices that automatically fall under the SC Unfair Trade Practice Act, including:

  • For auto lenders to require full comprehensive insurance coverage as a condition of obtaining an auto loan;
  • Resale of admission tickets (for the scalper, not the original ticket seller);
  • Use of a fictitious name to “intentionally misrepresent the geographic origin, ownership of manufacturing facilities, or location” of a business;
  • Deceptive advertisements for live musical performances;
  • False, deceptive, or misleading advertisements by attorneys including “the use of a nickname that creates an unreasonable expectation of results;”
  • Misrepresenting food products as being a product of the state of South Carolina when it is not;
  • Price gouging – setting unconscionable prices during an emergency;
  • Soliciting donations or contribution of goods and services during a disaster if the solicitations are knowingly and willfully misleading;
  • Glass companies who pay for referrals, pay the person whose glass is broken, pay the person’s insurance deductible in exchange for their business, or make false insurance claims;
  • Wholesalers who also sell the same product for a lower price at “retail;”
  • Fuel sellers who sell “below cost” to hurt a competitor; and
  • Pyramid schemes.

If you buy a used “lemon” and the dealer does not make the repairs or replace your vehicle, that may also be a violation of the SC Unfair Trade Practices Act.

If an individual or business commits fraud, lies about the expected costs, or lies about the quality of goods or services they are providing to get you to hire them or buy their product, that is a violation of the SC Unfair Trade Practices Act.

SC Consumer Protection Attorneys in Myrtle Beach

If you have been a victim of unfair or deceptive trade practices in SC, call the SC personal injury lawyers at Coastal Law now at (843) 488-5000 or email us through this website to speak with an attorney today who can review your case.

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Myrtle Beach, SC 29577

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Conway, SC 29526

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Charleston, SC 29401

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1201 Main Street, Suite 1913
Columbia, SC 29201

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