Washington’s Unfair Business Practices Act – Expanded Application

In the Washington Supreme Court’s recent opinion in Young v. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., many plaintiffs’ attorneys added a bigger hammer to their tool belt. The case effectively broadens the applicability of Washington’s Unfair Business Practices Act (or Consumer Protection Act, “CPA”), RCW 19.86. Many civil litigants and their counsel should be aware of the change ushered in by Young, as it can increase a defendant’s risk of CPA liability.

The CPA is often thought to apply only to product liability claims, but actually can apply to any “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce.” RCW 19.86.020. In practice, the CPA is a frequent cause of action in a wide range of commercial suits.

To successfully claim under Washington’s CPA, plaintiffs must prove five elements: (1) an unfair or deceptive act or practice, (2) occurring in trade or commerce, (3) affecting the public interest, (4) injury to a person’s business or property, and (5) causation. The CPA adds significant teeth to a plaintiff’s underlying claim because it allows for recovery of the plaintiff’s attorney fees plus an “increased damages award” for triple the actual damages, up to a max of an additional $25,000. Adding further leverage to the plaintiff’s case, the attorney fees clause is a one-way street in favor of the plaintiff, meaning the CPA does not subject the plaintiff to the risk of owing the defendant’s fees if the plaintiff is ultimately unsuccessful.

Young examined the specifics of the first element above. The case turned on whether the defendant’s unfair or deceptive act need be “material” for a plaintiff to prevail on a CPA claim. The Court ultimately determined that a defendant’s unfair or deceptive act does not need to be material.

This ruling expands the fact patterns under which a plaintiff might prevail on the CPA. The lawyers at Beresford Booth have extensive experience both prosecuting and defending CPA claims. Please do not hesitate to call us with questions.

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