Numerous state and federal laws protect consumers against illegal and harmful conduct by providers of goods and services. For all Kansans, one of the most important consumer laws is the Kansas Consumer Protection Act. Borrowing words from the Kansas Supreme Court, the Kansas Consumer Protection Act allows consumers that are harmed by deceptive or unconscionable acts or practices to act as their own “private attorney general” and take steps to protect their rights. In addition, the law allows the state attorney general and local district attorneys to take steps to protect consumers.
Prior to the late 1960’s, “buyer beware” or “caveat emptor” governed nearly all consumer transactions in Kansas. Deceptive and unconscionable transactions were commonplace. But even when a consumer was obviously scammed, the loss was often too small to hire an attorney and justify an expensive lawsuit.
If a consumer did sue, there was no way to guarantee a recovery of the amount spent or the costs of litigation. Most of the time consumers could only bring claims of fraud, unjust enrichment, or breach of warranty, which are hard cases to prove.
By 1974, Kansas had adopted the Kansas Consumer Protection Act. The law, by its design, is supposed to encourage individuals and government to stand up for consumer rights even when the damages are low.
The stated policy goals in the Kansas Consumer Protection Act include simplifying and clarifying consumer law governing transactions, as well as protecting consumers from deceptive and unconscionable practices of suppliers and provider efforts to deprive consumers of their warranty rights. It provides certain written notices and a three-day cancellation period for most door-to-door sales.
The law is required to be applied liberally to protect consumers from deceptive or unconscionable acts. The law also permits class actions on behalf of a consumer group for damages, but not for civil penalties, declaratory judgments, or restraining orders.
The Act is extremely long and detailed, due to expansions of scope and magnitude of the remedies. The Kansas Consumer Protection Act includes:
The Kansas Attorney General and local government county and district attorneys have the authority and duty to investigate and enforce the Kansas Consumer Protection Act throughout the State of Kansas. Remedies include settlements, consent judgments, civil penalties, damages (restitution) for consumers, declaratory judgments, and restraining orders, as well as judgments for reasonable expenses and investigation fees.
As noted above, the law also allows individuals to act as their own “private attorney general.” Kansas courts have considerable latitude in fashioning appropriate remedies for violations of the Act.
If a consumer is successful at trial, the court has the ability to award the greater of the consumer’s damages or a civil penalty per violation of the law. The number of violations will vary based on the facts of each case. However, if the supplier engaged in continuing conduct that is ongoing but not tied to a specific transaction, the court can find that there is a separate violation each day the act or practice exists.
The statute provides for civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation. In some cases, like when the consumer is a military veteran, disabled, or over age 65, the court can award an additional enhanced civil penalty bringing the total up to $20,000 per violation.
If you are the victim of a fraudulent or deceptive practice in Kansas, the most expedient way to pursue a solution may be to contact a private attorney to assist with your claim. While the Kansas Attorney General and local government attorneys have enforcement authority, they do not share any civil penalties obtained with individual consumers. They are required by law to pay any civil penalties to the state. They do not provide private legal advice or pursue every individual violation of state consumer laws. Some disputes are not under their jurisdiction.
The Kansas Consumer Protection Act includes numerous provisions, some of which may surprise you. Our previous blog post on Consumer Rights You Did Not Know You Had also contains details about some of these protections.
In addition to numerous federal laws that may apply to specific conduct, numerous other Kansas consumer protection laws may apply as part of or supplement to the Kansas Consumer Protection Act, or as a different statute. Examples include:
If you have been the victim of a deceptive or unconscionable act by a business, talking to a private attorney may provide a better result than reporting the supplier to a governmental agency.
If you proceed with a private attorney, you do not need to wait for the wheels of government to grind away before you get feedback on what rights and options may be available to you. A private attorney can tell you whether you have remedies under state or federal consumer laws and regulations. If you pursue a private remedy in court and prevail, you may receive damages and civil penalties, and also potentially recover attorney fees, expenses, and costs of pursuing the action.
A final caution about fraud and scammers in Kansas: Especially while the impact and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue, scammers are exploiting new opportunities presented by the challenging and unprecedented situation we all face. Our previous blog post, Watch Out For Profiteering From Coronavirus discusses COVID-19 scams. The Kansas Attorney General’s Consumer Protection webpage maintains a current list of common coronavirus and other scams. Please stay alert for these and other scams and fraudulent activities.
From our offices in Topeka and Lawrence, our experienced consumer law attorneys assist clients throughout the state with violations of federal and state consumer laws, including the Kansas Consumer Protection Act. We invite you to contact us by calling (785) 357-6311 or using our online contact form.