Those in debt know what a hassle it can be to deal with phone calls from debt collectors. They can be relentless, often because they have to be, but when they step outside the bounds of the law, then the debt collectors may be the ones that have to pay up. If debt collectors use automated dialing systems to call people on their cell phones, they may be in violation of the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).
The TCPA was enacted to protect consumers from the the invasion of privacy, annoyance and waste of time, or having to pay for calls they receive from companies using automated dialers. These calls are disruptive and can cost money. When cell phones became more popular many users were charged for the calls they received, as well as the ones they made. This meant that promotional calls that companies sent out to many customers using autodialing systems were not only annoying customers, they were costing them money if they don’t have unlimited plans. The TCPA made it illegal for companies to use autodialing systems to contact customers in non-emergency situations without the customers’ express consent. Since the law has been enacted, plaintiffs and defendants have argued over what constitutes consent and the definition of an auto-dialing system.
Wells Fargo Bank NA recently faced a class action lawsuit alleging the bank violated the TCPA by using an automated dialer to contact alleged debtors on their cell phones without their express consent. The lawsuit was filed by Lillian Franklin, who alleges Wells Fargo made multiple calls to her cell phone in 2010 in attempts to collect on an alleged credit card debt. According to the complaint, the calls coming from Wells Fargo included a pre-recorded message, which Franklin points to as evidence that the company was using an autodialing system.
Wells Fargo continues to deny that it participated in any illegal behavior or violated the TCPA. It argues that its equipment does not qualify as an “autodialer” under the TCPA, but the bank has decided to settle the lawsuit anyway. The two parties have agreed to a settlement amount of $14.5 million, an amount that Franklin points out is much higher than most settlements for TCPA class action lawsuits. Under the terms of the settlement, about $3 million of the $14.5 million will cover notice and administration costs and $3.6 million will be paid to the plaintiffs’ attorneys. The rest will be divided among the class members.
According to the proposed settlement, Wells Fargo has agreed to settle the lawsuit, despite insisting it did nothing illegal, in order to avoid a lengthy and costly court battle with an uncertain outcome. Large lawsuits can drag on for years in the courts and the longer it goes on, the more legal fees and costs the two parties rack up. If Wells Fargo were to continue to fight the matter in court, it could find itself ordered to pay a much higher award, in addition to all legal fees and costs for both parties.
Likewise, the plaintiffs benefit from the settlement because no one can predict how a jury will rule. There is always the possibility that the jury will agree with Wells Fargo that the equipment does not qualify as autodialers, or that the plaintiffs somehow expressed consent to receive calls on their cell phones from Wells Fargo in a non-emergency situation. The settlement still needs to be approved by a federal judge in order to be finalized, but so far, both parties seem satisfied with the outcome.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 630-333-0333 or contact us online. One of our Chicago and Naperville area TCPA lawyers can help protect your privacy rights.