Machines are wonderful pieces of technology that have made many aspects of modern life faster and easier. For example, machines that automatically dial many numbers very quickly have made it incredibly easy for large companies with thousands of customers to quickly and easily reach all (or most) of their customers. Unfortunately, many customers are not as thrilled about receiving promotional phone calls from a machine, particularly when the customers are the ones footing the bill for these calls.
In the days of landlines, phone calls were paid for by the person or entity making the phone call. When cell phones came about, that was reversed, and now many people are paying for the calls that they receive, as well as the ones they make. This means that owners of cell phones who receive automated calls on those mobile phones are not only annoyed, but may be paying for the privilege of being annoyed. To protect the rights of consumers who are being made to pay for phone calls they do not want to receive and for the annoyance and wasted time of dealing with these in most cases unwanted calls, Congress passed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which makes it illegal for companies to auto-dial customers in a non-emergency situation without the express consent of the customers.
Despite the law, many companies continue to use auto-dialers to reach customers about sales and promotions. In some cases, the defendants argue that, by providing their cell phone numbers, customers are agreeing to be auto-dialed in non-emergency situations. Consumers frequently disagree with this assertion, claiming that the TCPA requires consumers to provide more explicit permission. The result is usually a lawsuit, such as the class action that was recently filed against AT&T that alleges the phone company violated the TCPA by calling customers using an auto-dialing system.
AT&T argues that, because the customers provided AT&T with their cell phone numbers, they granted AT&T permission to receive auto-dialed phone calls from the phone company. AT&T also alleges that the dialing systems it and its outside collection agencies used did not fit the description of an “automatic telephone dialing system” as defined by the TCPA. Instead, the phone company insists that the calls made to customers were within the bounds of the law and that “any errors that might have been made were inadvertent.”
Despite insisting that it is innocent of any wrongdoing, AT&T has agreed to settle the lawsuit for $45 million without any admission that it violated the law. The class counsel will receive about $15 million for attorneys’ fees and costs. Joel Hagerman, the lead plaintiff who filed the lawsuit in early 2013, will receive an incentive award of $20,000. The rest of the settlement will be divided among class members on a pro rata basis of up to $50 per call.
It is common for defendants in large class action lawsuits to offer to settle the case while still claiming that they did nothing wrong. Settling the case allows the company to save face and avoid a long and expensive court battle. Likewise, the plaintiffs also avoid the uncertainty of a court decision and get the opportunity to resolve the matter quickly.Do you have a new cell phone number? Are you getting unsolicited marketing texts or unwanted collection or marketing calls for strangers? Unless you gave express permission, these texts and/or calls may give rise to violations ofe the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 and you may be entitled to relief of $500-$1500 per text message or telephone call. This is true even if the previous owner of the cell telephone number gave permission. What should you do? You should save copies of all the offending texts and voicemails, document the identity of the sender (i.e. which vendor, collection agency, etc.) and contact the attorneys at Nationwide Consumer Rights for a free evaluation of your potential claims. You can call us at our toll free number (877) 880-4997 or contact us online. One of our Chicago area TCPA lawyers can help protect your privacy rights.