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PA Supreme Court Rules Consumers Do Not Need to Prove Intent Under ‘Deceptive Acts’ Provision of the UTPCPL

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In a recent decision in Gregg v. Ameriprise Financial, Inc., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the unlawful deceptive conduct provision in the “catch-all” section of Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (UTPCPL) imposes liability on commercial vendors who engage in conduct that has the potential to deceive and which creates a likelihood of confusion or misunderstanding without having to prove the vendor intended to deceive the consumer. The is a favorable decision for consumers across the Commonwealth.

The Gregg case concerned a married couple who entrusted a financial advisor to invest their money in a life insurance policy and retirement accounts, only to find out that the funds were diverted to an investment which increased the financial advisor’s commission with little benefit to the Greggs. The PA Supreme Court determined that the plaintiffs could bring an action for deceptive conduct under the UTPCPL without proving that the advisor intended to deceive the couple.

Section 201-2(4) of the UTPCPL outlines 20 distinct unlawful methods of unfair competition, deceptive acts and practices. In 1996, the PA General Assembly modified the “catch-all” provision to bar not only fraudulent acts, but also deceptive conduct.  ”Deceptive conduct,” the Court ruled, imposes a strict-liability standard for consumers to bring an action against companies engaging in deceptive conduct, similar to the Federal Trade Commission Act (FTCA) and other similar state laws which also carry no state-of-mind requirement for deception.

“The plain language of the current statute imposes liability on commercial vendors who engage in conduct that has the potential to deceive and which creates a likelihood of confusion or misunderstanding. That is all that is required. The legislature required neither carelessness nor intent when a cause of action is premised upon deceptive conduct,” Justice Wecht wrote for the 4-3 majority.

The Pennsylvania Association of Justice, The National Consumer Law Center, National Association of Consumer Advocates, Community Legal Services, and others filed briefs in support of the married couple and this interpretation of Pennsylvania law.

Feinstein Doyle Payne & Kravec has decades of experience representing consumers in Pennsylvania and elsewhere against large companies for deceptive conduct and unfair trade practices in life insurance matters and others.   Contact us at [email protected] if you have concerns regarding deceptive practices in the sale of your life insurance policies.

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