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Some Consumer Protection Laws in Wisconsin

 Wis. Stat. § 100.18: What Is It?

Wisconsin Statutes Chapter 100.18 (“Chapter 100.18”) contains regulations that govern the use of fraudulent representations by businesses during transactions and commerce. Businesses are prohibited from engaging in deceptive acts during the business process. Chapter 100.18 is enforced by Wisconsin’s department of agriculture, trade, and consumer protection, and injured consumers can bring suit against a business under this law.

What is prohibited?

Under Chapter 100.18, businesses are prohibited from using any representation that is, “Untrue, deceptive or misleading.” The law lists out a number of actions that are considered to be deceptive. For example, when advertising or representing the sale of goods or services, retailers are not allowed to omit the price of a good or sell their goods or services for more than the advertised, “Regular price.” Similarly, they cannot increase the regular price of goods or services that are required to be purchased. Businesses are also prohibited from selling substitute goods or services that are of lesser quality or value. In addition to these previously mentioned examples, Chapter 100.18 specifies many other actions as deceptive advertising as well.

Who does the law apply to and how can consumers sue?

Chapter 100.18 applies to any retailer that engages in the advertisement or representation of goods relating to commerce or trade. A consumer who suffers pecuniary loss as a result of an unlawful business action has the right to take legal action against the business. Consumers can bring suit in any court of competent jurisdiction and they are not required to provide the defendant with a pre-suit notice beforehand.

What damages are consumers entitled to?

Consumers who file successful lawsuits are entitled to receive actual damages in the amount of any pecuniary loss, as well as reasonable attorney’s fees and costs. Additionally, the court may also award a consumer twice the amount of any pecuniary loss, and the consumer’s costs and reasonable attorney’s fees, if the pecuniary loss is because of a violation of any injunction issued under Chapter 100.18.

What is the statute of limitations?

For claims under Chapter 100.18, the statute of limitations is three years from the occurrence of the alleged violation.

Are there exemptions?

The regulations provided in Chapter 100.18 are not applicable to publishers, radio stations, or other businesses that disseminate information without knowledge of the deceptive nature of the information or advertisements that they are providing.

Wis. Stat. § 100.20: What Is It?

Wisconsin Statutes Chapter 100.20 (“Chapter 100.20”) is a consumer protection law that aims to promote fair business practices by regulating the conduct of businesses during trade. The law provides the state with the authority to adopt rules and interpret the law. Additionally, injured consumers may sue a business for damages under Chapter 100.20.

What is prohibited?

Chapter 100.20 broadly prohibits the use of unfair methods of competition and unfair trade practices by businesses. The law also contains a few specific practices that are considered to be unlawful. For example, businesses are prohibited from holding closing-out sales if they are not actually going out of business or disposing of their stock.

Who does the law apply to and how can consumers sue?

The law applies to any business that engages in trade or commerce. If a consumer suffers a pecuniary loss because of an unfair business practice, they have the right to file a lawsuit against the offending business in any court of competent jurisdiction. For Chapter 100.20 claims, consumers do not have to send the business a pre-suit notice before taking legal action.

What damages are consumers entitled to?

Under Chapter 100.20, consumers are able to recover two times the amount of their pecuniary loss. They would also be able to receive reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

What is the statute of limitations period?

There is no statute of limitations period that is stated in Chapter 100.20, so it is presumed that a general statute of limitations period of six years would be applicable to Chapter 100.20 claims.

Wis. Stat. §§ 427.101 through 427.105: What Is It?

Wisconsin Statutes §§ 427.101 through 427.105 is known as the Wisconsin Consumer Act – Debt Collection (“WCADC”). The WCADC contains rules that regulate the actions of debt collectors during collection processes for consumer transactions.

All provisions of Wisconsin’s broader Wisconsin Consumer Act, which cover the different types of consumer transactions, including debt collection, range from Wisconsin Statutes §§ 421 through 428.

What is prohibited?

There are a number of debt collection actions that are considered to be unlawful under the WCADC. For example, debt collectors are prohibited from doing the following which includes, but is not limited to:

  • Using force or physical violence to collect a debt; and
  • Harming or threatening to harm a consumer’s property; and
  • Threatening to criminally prosecute a consumer; and
  • Harassing a consumer by communicating with them repeatedly or at unusual hours; and
  • Using profane or abusive language when speaking with a consumer; and
  • Using any form of communication that imitates legal process or falsely appears to have been authorized or approved by a government or an attorney; and
  • Communicating or threatening to communicate information about a consumer’s debt to a person that is not the consumer or their spouse which would affect the consumer’s reputation.

Who does the law apply to and how can consumers sue?

The WCADC applies to debt collectors. As defined by the law, the term “debt collector” encompasses any individual that engages in debt collection, either directly or indirectly. If a consumer is injured by an unlawful debt collection practice, they have the right to take legal action against the debt collector.

What damages are consumers entitled to?

If a consumer prevails in a lawsuit in regard to WCADC claim(s), they are entitled to recover their actual damages, which notwithstanding any other law will include damages caused by emotional distress or mental anguish with or without accompanying physical injury proximately caused by a violation of the WCADC. If the consumer was induced to surrender collateral, then they are entitled to a determination of the right to possession of the collateral, and if they are successful in that regard and the collateral is still in the merchant’s possession then they are entitled to recover it, in addition to any other damages available under the WCADC, and to receive actual damages for the consumer’s loss of use of the collateral.

Pursuant to the WCADC, a consumer would also be entitled to additional damages under Wisconsin Statutes § 425.304, of two times the amount of any financial charge in connection with a transaction (except that such liability would be between a minimum of $100 and a maximum of $1,000) or actual damages, whichever is greater.

A consumer that pursues claim(s) under the WCADC may also be able to receive attorney’s fees and costs pursuant to Wisconsin Statutes § 425.308 which states that attorney’s fees and costs are available if a consumer prevails in any action arising from a consumer transaction.

What is the statute of limitations period?

For claims under the WCADC, pursuant to Wisconsin Statutes § 425.307, any lawsuit brought by a consumer to enforce rights pursuant to the WCADC must be started within one year after the date of the last violation of the WCADC, two years after consummation of the agreement or one year after the last payment, whichever is later, except with respect to transactions pursuant to open-end credit plans which must be started within two years after the date of the last violation; but no action can be started more than six years after the date of the last violation of the WCADC.

The statute of limitations period for debt in Wisconsin:

In Wisconsin, the statute of limitations period for most types of debt is six years, so creditors generally cannot sue a consumer for nonpayment of a debt that has been in default for more than six years. Different types of debt have different statute of limitations periods. The statute of limitations periods for auto loan debt, credit card debt, medical debt, and mortgage debt in Wisconsin are all six years long.  Once the statute of limitations period on a debt expires, a creditor cannot successfully sue a consumer for nonpayment of the debt. If a consumer promises to make a payment on an alleged debt, or makes even a small payment, it could potentially restart the clock on the statute of limitations.

Some of the places that a consumer can look to for help or answers to questions:

The laws and statutes discussed above can change. So, in the state that a consumer resides in, a consumer protection agency, the Office of the Attorney General, and/or a consumer protection attorney who is licensed in a consumer’s respective state can help a consumer in getting help, up to date information and interpretations, and/or with determining the answers to their questions in regard to the aforementioned laws. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can assist as well.