The era of Coronavirus is unprecedented. Shortages at the stores, long lines and restaurant closings are the new normal for people in Pennsylvania and throughout the United States. One of the many problems that may occur during the Coronavirus crisis is price gouging. Is it illegal to raise prices during the Coronavirus crisis? Our criminal defense attorney team explains.
Yes, coronavirus price gouging is illegal in Pennsylvania. Sellers may not raise the price of any goods or services to an unconscionable level. The reasonable price depends on what the price was seven days before the emergency started. Coronavirus price gouging is illegal based on the Pennsylvania Price Gouging Act which applies during the Coronavirus crisis.
Coronavirus and price gouging laws
The State of Pennsylvania has long had laws that prohibit price gouging. Pennsylvania law 1210, No. 133 is the Price Gouging Act. Passed in 2006, the law states that natural emergencies and civil unrest can create an uneven supply of consumer goods. The law says that it is inappropriate and unconscionable to charge unfair prices during a period of unrest.
The law says that a price is illegal if it is unconscionably excessive. The law goes on to define unconscionably excessive as any situation where this a gross disparity between the current price and the price seven days before the crisis started. There isn’t a specific dollar amount or percentage for what amounts to price gouging. It depends on what’s a reasonable increase in price in any given situation. However, the law clarifies that a 20% change in price is strong evidence of price gouging.
There is an exception for circumstances where the nature of the emergency changes the production of the good. If a good or service suddenly becomes much more expensive to provide because of what has happened, the producers of the product or service are allowed to change their prices in order to account for the change in circumstances. However, producers should take care in order to keep records of supply costs in case there are questions about their behavior.
Penalties for price gouging during Coronavirus
The Bureau of Consumer Protection division within the Attorney General of Pennsylvania has the authority to investigate and take action with regards to price gouging. They may bring charges, gather evidence and subpoena witnesses to testify. A person who faces a charge of price gouging faces a penalty of up to $10,000 per offense. They may have to pay costs, restitution and other penalties in addition to fines.
How our price gouging criminal defense attorneys can help
While price gouging is a civil offense, the consequences and penalties are steep. You have the right to aggressively defend yourself. You have a right to notice of hearings against you and the opportunity to present your case. If you’re facing an allegation of price gouging, you risk serious fines and damage to your reputation. Our criminal defense attorney team can help. Call us for a consultation about your case.