Can I sue university for compensatory and punitive damages?

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Can I sue university for compensatory and punitive damages?

If my school was deceptive in their
marketing practices, and it resulted in
40,000 in student loans, a useless
and poor regarded masters degree,
loss of quality of life, undue stress, and
significant loss of potential income,
could I sue them for Compensatory
AND punitive damages?

Asked on October 29, 2016 under Business Law, Illinois

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

It depends on what you mean by "deceptive." Fraud is an intentional lie or mistatement, made to induce you to do something (like go to the school) and upon which you reasonably relief. However, advertising "puffery", or a difference of opinion as to the value of the degree, would not be fraud--it does not qualify as a lie for this purpose. So say they claimed that you could get a masters degree from and that getting master could help your career--even if the school and its degree are not as well regarded as you'd like, if you received a masters, that's not a lie, and so not fraud. 
On the other had, say that they claimed to be accredited, when they are not--then that would be fraud. 
So the answer is, if the statements you now object to are provably an actual *lie*, not merely not perfectly accurate or subject to disagreement, they may have committed fraud and you may be able to sue them on that basis for compensation. (Though be aware that punitive damages are rarely given and are reserved for the most egregious cases.) A good way to test whether under these specific facts you have a case is to consult with lawyers who offer a free initial consultation (you can ask about this in advance, before making the appointment) and describe the situation to them: if no attorney wants to take the case, or else they will only take it you pay them a very high hourly fee (which is a polite way of saying "I don't want this case, but if you insist on paying me enough, I'll give it a try), that's an indication that you may have a weak case at best.


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