As attorneys who represent both individual and corporate clients, we view New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act as a double-edged sword. If you are an individual consumer, New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act has bestowed upon you an avenue to seek damages (triple damages) if you have been the victim of “any unconscionable commercial practice, deception, fraud, false pretense, false promise, misrepresentation, or the knowing, concealment, suppression or omission of any material fact with intent that others rely upon such concealment, suppression or omission, in connection with the sale or advertisement of any merchandise or real estate, …”. This is actually a bit misleading because the New Jersey law will find a merchant or other vendor automatically liable of a Consumer Fraud Act violation even if there was no bad intent. There are a host of specific trades which have extra rules and requirements placed on them. Failure to meet these strict, technical requirements imposed on them will result in a court’s finding that the business entity committed consumer fraud. The list of violations explicitly addressed by the Consumer Fraud Act runs the gamut from: everyday retailer selling merchandise without pricing/labeling on each item; to the misrepresentation of identity of food in menus (did you know that the State defines different cuts of meat? So next time you order filet mignon, know it is defined as “meat derived from the tenderloin of a cattle”); to the resale (scalping) of tickets for admission to an event; to the requirement that all health clubs properly register with the State (including the requirement to post a surety bond with the State) and also to enter written contracts with its patrons; to assuring the timely delivery of furniture; to specific contract requirements for home improvement contractors; to the repair of home appliances.
The law is meant to be harsh and not provide much flexibility to the businesses serving consumers. If you are a consumer and feel you have been aggrieved, know that this law exists and that you have the opportunity to recover three times your damages. If you are a business, do not make any assumptions about your trade practices. When in doubt, ask. A simple fix to an advertisement or a contract could mean the difference in winning your dispute or be taken to the cleaners.
James J. Delia, Esq.