What does It Mean to File a Complaint?

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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 19 December 2019
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Filing a complaint involves reporting to a regulatory agency about violations of laws or standards that protect consumers from unsafe products and unprofessional conduct. Complaints can also deal with improper advertising and misleading sales tactics that dupe consumers into buying a faulty product. Different countries regulate various industries, but most regions employ a process to complain about businesses, doctors, and attorneys.

Laws that pertain to businesses cover a wide range of protections, from how a contract is written to timely delivery of products. Some laws allow a designated cooling-off period when a customer signs a contract for a costly purchase, giving the consumer time to change his or her mind. Various countries also require a written contract for goods that cost more than a predetermined amount. The terms of the contracts should be clear and not misrepresent the true cost to the consumer.

Canada asks citizens to file complaints with specialized agencies that deal with specific disputes. Regulatory agencies in the country include those that oversee amusement rides, elevators, funeral companies, vehicle purchases, and real estate. If a Canadian citizen wants to file a complaint about the rating on a film or video game, an agency exists for that sole purpose. One consumer protection law in Canada states if a person has paid more than two-thirds the amount owed on a product, it cannot be repossessed without a court order.


Consumers may file a complaint against a lawyer for violations of ethics rules that define conduct in the profession. An attorney may not use client funds for his or her own purpose and should report to the client how funds are spent on the case. Ethics standards also require that the lawyer stay in contact with the client and file all paperwork in court that aids the client’s case. State bar associations commonly investigate complaints against lawyers, which can result in sanctions, including disbarment.

When someone chooses to file a complaint against a doctor, a medical board usually investigates the claim. A complaint might center on the physician’s competence, training, or mental or physical health. Doctors who do not properly diagnose an illness or provide adequate medical care might be subjected to a complaint. A doctor who violates laws or ethics can be suspended, fined, placed on probation, or lose his or her license to practice.

In many areas, a person can file a complaint online with the agency that handles the particular dispute. Before a complaint is filed, the consumer might try to contact the business to state his or her dissatisfaction and ask for a remedy. Written correspondence is generally the best way to document the steps taken to file a complaint. If the matter cannot be resolved through the company or consumer protection agency, the consumer may file a lawsuit.


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