What Do I Need to Sue Someone for False Advertising?

What the consumer law says in California

By Super Lawyers staff | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on March 6, 2023

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Everyone knows that advertising is not unbiased. At the same time, you should be able to rely on advertising for reasonably accurate information about a company’s products or services.

Under state and federal regulations, businesses are prohibited from using outright false statements or misleading advertising.

This raises an important question: When can you sue a company for false advertising in California? In this article, you will find an overview of the most important things consumers should know about false advertising and California state law.

California Law: False or Deceptive Advertising is Prohibited

California has some of the strongest and most wide-reaching consumer protection laws in the entire country. Under state law (California Business and Professions Code § 17500), false and deceptive advertising is strictly prohibited. A company that violates the state’s false advertising regulations could be held both civilly and criminally liable.

Common Examples of False Advertising

California advertising law defines false advertising as the making of a false or misleading claim in an effort to induce consumer(s) to purchase a product or retain services. To be held liable for false advertising, a business (or its representative) must have known the claim was false or should have known it was false with the exercise of reasonable care. False advertising takes many different forms. Some examples include:

  • Material misrepresentations
  • Material omissions
  • Hidden fees
  • Bait-and-switch tactics
  • Misleading comparisons

False Advertising Involves Misrepresentation of Objective Truth

It is important to emphasize the difference between unlawful false advertising and “puffery.” As long ago explained by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), “puffed up statements” or “puffery” is a lawful form of advertising. The general rule is that companies are permitted to make exaggerated subjective statements, but not misleading statements from an objective view.

As an example, a restaurant advertising its pizza as “The Best in Town” is not falsely advertising. It is simply a subjective opinion. In contrast, a restaurant claiming that it was named “Best Pizza Place” by the local newspaper when no such award was given is false advertising. It is an inaccurate representation of an objective fact.

How to Bring a Successful False Advertising Claim in California

All false advertising claims are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Close attention will be paid to the precise representation made by the business or organization. In order to bring a successful false advertising lawsuit in California, a plaintiff must prove the following three things:

  1. The business (defendant) knowingly or recklessly misrepresented an objective fact.
  2. In reliance of the misrepresentation or omission, products or services were purchased.
  3. Actual financial harm was suffered as a consequence of false advertising.

If you or your loved one suffered financial losses due to a company’s false advertising, contact a law firm and seek legal advice from an experienced California consumer law attorney for immediate assistance. A lawyer will review your case and help you determine the best path forward. Many provide free consultations. For more information on this area of law, see our overview of business law and consumer law.

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