Making sure you and your family are safe is the highest priority, especially during hurricane season. With Hurricane Harvey approaching in the Gulf, and the coastal area having been declared a “disaster area” today by Governor Abbott, Texans all along the coast are rushing out to grocery stores and gas stations to prepare for the worst. Amidst preparations, it may be helpful to know that during a disaster event, Texas law provides extra protections against unscrupulous business practices and criminal activity in a disaster or evacuated area.
The Deceptive Trade Practices Act ("DTPA") prohibits false, misleading or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce. In addition to a laundry list of false, misleading, or deceptive practices that are generally prohibited, the DTPA especially provides that during a disaster declared by the governor, it is unlawful for any person to take advantage of a disaster by either selling, leasing, or demanding an exorbitant or excessive price for fuel, food, medicine, or another necessity. This prohibited practice is often referred to as "price gouging."
A consumer who falls victim to price gouging may file a civil lawsuit under the DTPA against the person or business taking advantage, but to do so, the consumer must first provide 60 days written notice to the person or business violating the DTPA and detail the specific complaint and amount of mental anguish, economic damages and costs associated with making the claim. If the person or business took advantage knowingly or intentionally, the consumer may recover up to three times the amount of damages.
In addition to a lawsuit, the Texas Attorney General consumer protection division may seek an injunction against the person to stop the unlawful conduct and the imposition of significant fines. To file a complaint with the Texas Attorney General consumer protection division, visit https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/cpd/file-a-consumer-complaint.
The Texas Penal Code also enhances penalties for certain crimes – including assault, theft, robbery, and burglary – occurring in a disaster area or area subject to an emergency evacuation order at the time of the offense. The enhancement increases the punishment range to the next higher category of offense. For example, if a person assaulted a peace officer during an evacuation, the possible punishment range would increase to between 2-20 years, rather than 2-10 years.
This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The reader is strongly urged to consult with counsel for an opinion on a particular fact situation.
I can be reached for questions on these and other legal issues at 281-513-9880 or firstname.lastname@example.org.