Bryan R. Colella, Esq.
Know Your Rights: Filing and Defending Lawsuits under M.G.L. c. 93A as a Business vs. as a Consumer
Updated: Feb 14, 2019
Massachusetts General Laws, Sec. 2 states: "Unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce are hereby declared unlawful." This law creates a means to sue or be sued for a wide array of unfair and deceptive trade practices. The law generally holds businesses liable, but also applies to any individual engaged in trade or commerce.
Claims under Chapter 93A entitle plaintiffs to an award including attorney’s fees and other costs, and may also include double or triple damages if (1) the defendant’s conduct was willful and knowing, and (2) the defendant failed to make a reasonable offer for settlement within the prescribed time limit.
There are nuanced procedures that must be followed to bring suit under Chapter 93A, and these procedures differ depending on whether the plaintiff is consumer or a person or business engaged in trade or commerce. A consumer is afforded relief under Section 9 of Chapter 93A. A person or business engaged in trade or commerce is afforded relief under Section 11 of Chapter 93A. Failure to comply with the requirements of the applicable section can lead to dismissal of a claim.
Under Chapter 93A, Section 9, a consumer must send each prospective defendant a 30-day demand letter that states the plaintiff’s name, includes a description of the unfair or deceptive practices and the damages suffered, and makes a demand for a reasonable offer for settlement. If the plaintiff rejects an offer for settlement, and a judge later finds that the offer was reasonable, a judge can reduce the plaintiff’s recovery to negate triple damages, and even attorney’s fees. Failure to send a 30-day demand letter before filing suit can be a basis for dismissal of all claims under Chapter 93A.
Under Chapter 93A, Section 11, no demand letter is required prior to filing suit. However, it is often effective to send a demand anyway. This may lead to settlement, and will also be perceived by the court as a gesture of good faith. Regardless of whether a demand letter is sent, under Section 11 each defendant has an opportunity to make an offer for settlement along with their answer to the plaintiff’s complaint.
An important distinction to note is that Chapter 11 only provides relief where the conduct complained of took place within Massachusetts, whereas Chapter 9 provides relief for conduct occurring outside the State as well (so long as jurisdiction can be established over the defendant).