Now that Governor DeSantis has declared a State of Emergency because of Coronavirus (COVID-19) various sets of laws go into effect to protect the consuming public. It is important that you as both a consumer and as a business owner, operator, or key employee are aware of some of those laws.
In particular, we are focusing on Florida’s price gouging statute. Price gouging is the act of greatly increasing the price of a good, which may be in short demand due to a particular state of emergency. Price gouging is illegal, heavily prosecuted, and a crime! You cannot charge $100 for your case of water, or sell toilet paper for $10 a roll.
Florida Statute 501.160 states that once a State of Emergency has been declared it is illegal to sell any commodity for more than the price that commodity was selling for prior to the state of emergency. The prices for commodities can only increase during the State of Emergency if the seller can show its costs for the commodity increased and the price for commodity is then marked up in a similar proportion to reflect the increased costs. A Commodity is defined as “any goods, services, materials, merchandise, supplies, equipment, resources, or other article of commerce, and includes, without limitation, food, water, ice, chemicals, petroleum products, and lumber necessary for consumption or use as a direct result of the emergency.” In the case of COVID-19 these are things such as water, hand sanitizer, cleaners, soap, paper towels, toilet paper, canned foods, etc.
As a Consumer, if you are a victim of price gouging Florida has established a hotline where price gouging can be reported by calling 1(866) 9NO-SCAM or by visiting MyFloridaLegal.com. There may also be civil penalties against the retailer who has price gouged.
As a Business Owner – remember you are responsible for what your employees do! If your business sells commodities make sure each of your employees are aware that they cannot price gouge. If an employee is attempting to price gouge stop it immediately. Ultimately the business will likely be responsible for the employees’ actions and any penalties or lawsuits which may occur. These penalties can be very severe. We also understand that as a business owner you may have questions about who deals commodities, or you may have questions about what can you do as a result of the State of Emergency. We are here to help and answer those.
This blog was written by Hunter Business Law Partner, Adam Hersh, Esq.
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