What You Need to Know
- The state Supreme Court issued a 4-3 ruling.
- The justices were interpreting the state's Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.
- The majority held that consumers relying on the law need not prove a seller had intent to deceive.
A ruling that Ameriprise Financial engaged in deceptive conduct in selling a couple insurance and financial services has been upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which held that proving intent to deceive is not necessary to succeed in state consumer protection litigation.
The justices ruled 4-3 to affirm the Superior Court’s decision that protections of the state’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law extended to Gary and Mary Gregg in their lawsuit against Ameriprise and related entities.
An Allegheny County trial judge previously found that an Ameriprise agent duped the Greggs into obtaining certain life insurance policies that were to their financial detriment, and awarded them $52,000.
In response to Ameriprise’s appeal that the plaintiffs did not prove there was an intent to deceive of verdict, the Superior Court ruled that the statute functioned in a strict liability manner. The Supreme Court’s majority, consisting of Justices David Wecht, Christine Donohue, Sallie Mundy and Kevin Dougherty, agreed.
Wecht wrote in the majority’s opinion that proof of intent was not required.
“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,” Wecht said.
“Accordingly, under the plain meaning of the statute, deceptive conduct during a consumer transaction that creates a likelihood of confusion or misunderstanding and upon which the consumer relies to his or her financial detriment does not depend upon the actor’s state of mind,” Wecht added. “Liberally construing the CPL as we must, the amended language places the duty of compliance with the CPL on commercial vendors, without regard to their intent.”
Dissenting from the majority’s ruling were Justices Debra Todd and Max Baer and Chief Justice Thomas Saylor.