Wisconsin law governing fraudulent misrepresentations can fairly be described as charitable. It’s too bad the law doesn’t apply to so-called charities, which are some of the worst fraudsters operating in this state.
Section 100.18 creates a private cause of action for fraudulent misrepresentations in advertising regarding the sale of goods, services, securities, real estate or employment. The statute allows the recovery of full attorney fees, and in some cases, double damages.
As noted, the law is liberally construed.
“The public” is defined to be as small as one person. Kailin v. Armstrong, 252 Wis.2d 676 (Ct.App.2002).
Unlike common law causes of action for misrepresentations, a plaintiff is not required to show reasonable reliance on the misrepresentation. K & S Tool & Die Corp. v. Perfection Machinery Sales Inc., 301 Wis.2d 109, 732 N.W.2d 792 (2007).
The economic loss doctrine does not apply. See Kailin.
And all damages are recoverable, regardless of whether they flow from the misrepresentation. Stuart v. Weisflog’s Showroom Gallery Inc., 311 Wis.2d 492, 753 N.W.2d 448 (2008).
I’m not taking issue with any of these interpretations. I’m simply observing that, whether you agree with them or not, the law is friendly to consumers bringing false advertising claims. As one former judge once remarked to me, “You can tell the good attorneys, because they always allege some type of statutory misrepresentation claim in any contract dispute.”
Now, if only we could bring these laws to bear against charities that ask for donations based on patently fraudulent claims.
I saw one of the most egregious examples of this sort of fraud the other day. Some envirofacist organization ran a commercial asking for money to prevent global warming. The thrust of their appeal was that the habitat and population of polar bears is shrinking, and that two-thirds of the polar bear population will soon die, unless you give them money.
The reality, of course, is quite to the contrary. The polar bear population is actually expanding exponentially, as is their territory.
Do the math. Polar bears are expanding south, not retreating north, which is what they would be doing if the global warming myth was actually real.
Nevertheless, these hucksters and snake-oil salesmen air commercials on television stations in Wisconsin asking consumers to send them money so they can prevent the extinction of a species that is actually expanding its boundaries and increasing its population.
In a civilized state, we would have a statute like sec. 100.18 that included within its purview the grifters seeking donations to solve a non-existent problem like the extinction of polar bears.
A $1 contribution would enable me to bring a class action on behalf of everyone who contributed, even though I knew it was a scam, because reasonable reliance is not an element of a statutory misrepresentation claim.
But we don’t live in a civilized state. We live in Wisconsin, which means con artists are immune from the reaches of sec. 100.18, provided they don’t even pretend to offer fair goods for a fair price, but unabashedly sell lies for grossly unearned profits.