Unfair or Deceptive Business Practices

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A means to get even with the unethical Massachusetts is among the leaders in encouraging fair business dealings by making unfair dealings risky and expensive. General Laws c.93A, §§2 and 11 injects morality into the market place by making unfair or deceptive practices unlawful, and by penalizing severely those who injure others by such methods. Those penalties may include double or triple the actual damages inflicted, plus the victim’s legal fees and expenses. G.L. c.93A does not define unfair or deceptive acts subject to penalty, but courts usually describe it as unethical conduct beyond the ordinary. That means a run of the mill breach of contract, such as failure to pay on time, would probably not qualify as an unfair or deceptive act. But a breach of contract coupled with some ulterior motive might well qualify. For example an owner’s refusal to pay an undisputed balance unless the contractor accepted some disputed back-charge, or gave up part of its balance or conferred some other undeserved advantage on the owner would probably violate c.93A. A Mass. Appeals Court described the type of breach qualifying for c.93A penalties as where “the breach of contract has an extortionate quality that gives it the rancid flavor of unfairness”.

Whether multiple c.93A damages are awarded depends upon the judge’s view of the degree of culpability involved in the unfair conduct. Particularly outrageous conduct merits triple damage, and may be collected separately from corporate and individual defendants for the same conduct and the same injury. The justification for this apparent bonanza is that c.93A is intended not merely to compensate victims but to penalize unscrupulous wrongdoers in the marketplace. Used properly, c.93A is a powerful legal tool for contractors subjected to unfair or deceptive treatment. The threat of multiple damages and legal fees is strong inducement to even the most hard headed predator to settle up quickly. And where settlement cannot be achieved, c.93A makes litigation worthwhile for the victim. It offers compensation plus a bonus in the form of multiple damages plus legal expenses, while exacting a measure of sweet revenge in the name of morality.

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