Damages And Attorney’s Fees Under The Washington Consumer Protection Act

Posted: Feb 28, 2019

By: Washington State Business Law and Litigation Lawyer Andrew M. McKenzie

What is the Washington CPA?

The Washington Legislature in 1961 enacted the Consumer Protection Act (“CPA”), (RCW 19.86), to protect consumers from unfair or deceptive trade and business practices. Historically, consumers were responsible under the old legal maxim of “caveat emptor,” or “buyer beware,” which required a high level of diligence and investigation on the part of the consumer to protect themselves in business dealings.  The CPA changed that rule and effectively imposed on businesses a standard of fair and honest dealing.

In general, establishing a CPA claim requires satisfying five elements, namely an unfair or deceptive act or practice, occurring in trade or commerce, an impact to the public, injury to the plaintiff in his or her business or property, and causation.  As presently constituted, the CPA provides a variety of remedies, in addition to actual damages.  These include injunctive relief (such as an order from the court that the wrongdoer cease the unfair or deceptive acts or practices), attorneys’ fees, and treble damages.  The latter two remedies are significant because: (1) the default rule in Washington is that each party in litigation pays for their own attorneys’ fees, unless a contract or statute provides otherwise; and (2) unlike most states, Washington generally does not allow punitive damages- treble damages under the CPA could fairly be viewed as punitive and non-compensatory.  The availability of attorneys’ fees under the CPA can have major implications in a dispute, whether you are the consumer or the business threatened by a lawsuit.

Banuelos v. TSA Washington Inc.

Illustrating the principle that attorneys’ fees do not necessarily have to be proportionate to actual damages suffered, is the 2006 case of Banuelos v. TSA Washington Inc. There, the consumer proved actual damages of only $4.27, but was awarded over $90,000 in attorney’s fees!  Businesses facing potential litigation under the CPA need to appreciate the full extent of their potential exposure and carefully determine whether to settle claims early on in order to reduce or eliminate liability.

Whether you are a business facing claims of a violation of the CPA or are a consumer who feels they have been treated unfairly by a business, the lawyers at Beresford Booth would be pleased to assist you in formulating the best possible strategy.

Beresford Booth PLLC (425.776.4100), www.beresfordlaw.com.

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