The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s recent decision in Gregg v. Ameriprise Financial holds vendors that provide goods and services to consumers in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania strictly liable for fraudulent or deceitful conduct under the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (PUTPCPL). As a result, a vendor’s state of mind—and that of its employees—when engaging consumers is irrelevant. The imposition of strict liability requires vendors to exercise the utmost care in their dealings with Pennsylvania consumers, particularly since a successful plaintiff can recover attorney fees and treble damages under the PUTPCPL.
The Gregg case involved a more than decade-long dispute in which the plaintiffs filed suit related to the advice of the defendants to purchase certain financial products. The plaintiffs asserted claims for, among others, negligent misrepresentation, fraudulent misrepresentation, and violations of the PUTPCPL. The defendants obtained a favorable result on the misrepresentation claims, but the trial court found them liable under the PUTPCPL. The defendants appealed the decision, arguing that the PUTPCPL requires evidence of a misrepresentation and that the prior defense verdicts on the misrepresentation claims barred the court from finding in favor of the plaintiffs on the PUTPCPL claim. The intermediate appellate court affirmed the trial court’s ruling. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed in a 4–3 decision.