Imagine. You visit a car dealership preparing to make one of the most important purchasing decisions of your life. You have your eye on a used car and the salesperson tells you that it is in “perfect condition,” and the odometer reads 10,000 miles. Based on this information you buy the car only to find out later on that the odometer had been rolled back from 80,000 miles, and the car had been restored from a severe car accident. For a long time, there was no law in Texas to protect consumers from these kinds of misrepresentations. Caveat emptor was the rule, and if you bought this car under false pretenses you would be out of luck. This changed in 1973 when the Texas legislature passed the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices – Consumer Protection Law (DTPA). The purpose of the DTPA is to “protect consumers against false, misleading, and deceptive business practices, unconscionable actions, and breaches of warranty and to provide efficient and economical procedures to secure such protection.”
Even though the DTPA has gone through revisions that have weakened the statute, it remains one of the best laws for Texans. The DTPA’s most innovative feature is that other consumer protection statutes “tie-in” to the DTPA, allowing consumers to sue not only under the DTPA, but they may proceed under the DTPA for violations of these other statutes as well. So the DTPA has the incredible effect of actually strengthening the protections of other statutes. In fact, the DTPA is at its most powerful when utilizing this tie-in feature, because while the DTPA itself authorizes recovery of all “economic” damages when proceeding under a tie-in statute, consumers can recover all “actual” damages, a much broader category of damages.
Another exciting feature of the DTPA is its trebling mechanism, which acts as a powerful deterrent for companies to deceive consumers in the future. If a consumer proves a violation of the DTPA, the first $1,000 of the consumer’s damages are automatically trebled. The consumer’s damages in excess of $1,000 may be trebled as well if the consumer can prove that the seller acted “knowingly.” In addition to potential trebling of the prevailing consumer’s damages, the DTPA also requires the seller that violates the DTPA to pay the consumer’s attorneys’ fees incurred in bringing the DTPA action.