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Private Rights of Action

Private Rights of Action

Overview

Private rights of action (PRAs) are a specific type of lawsuit. PRAs give private individuals the right to sue to enforce a civil law normally enforced by the government. Some examples of California Laws with PRAs include:

  • Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 – “Proposition 65”
  • California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)
  • California Labor Code – Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA)
  • California Business and Professions Code 17200 – “Unfair Competition Law”
  • Unruh Civil Rights Act for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Some PRAs can be brought even when there is no proof of damages or actual harm. This allows lawsuits against businesses by merely alleging the business did something wrong. Additionally, some PRAs can be brought when there has been a technical violation but insignificant harm, e.g., not listing the employer’s full name on the pay stub.

The ease of bringing these PRAs make them vulnerable to abuse by plaintiffs’ lawyers wanting to make a quick buck or run up attorneys’ fees. A common abusive tactic is to make a money demand to a business under threat of a PRA, e.g., pay $5,000 or you will get sued – “shakedown” lawsuits. Small businesses are often the targets of shakedown lawsuits. Plaintiffs’ lawyers know they don’t have the resources to fight lengthy court battles and will feel forced to settle out of court.

There are a number of ways to help ensure PRAs are not abused, including:

  • Don’t create PRAs in the first place. Rather, provide adequate funding and resources to the government enforcement entity.
  • Provide an opportunity to fix errors or “cure” before a PRA can be brought.
  • Only allow PRAs where there is proof of an actual victim and actual damages.

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