Consumers are increasingly taking to the courts to compel companies to stop robocalls.
In New York, a federal judge recently awarded a consumer more than $200,000 for Time Warner’s unrelenting calls meant for someone else.
Now, a Philadelphia woman is contending that Comcast Corp.’s incessant calls were tantamount to harassment in a suit filed in federal court.
Consumers in both instances used a 1991 consumer protection law intended to curb unwanted calls from telemarketers.
In the federal district court that covers Philadelphia, more than 100 lawsuits alleging violations under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act have been filed in five years.
“You’ve seen an explosion of these cases because you’ve seen an explosion in how businesses are using computers and the Internet to reach out to people,” said attorney Craig Thor Kimmel, who is representing the Philadelphia women in the complaint against Comcast. “If you don’t want these calls, all you have to do is say, ‘Stop calling me,’ and write down when you said ‘Stop calling me.'”
The suits started to accumulate after 2013, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit delivered a consumer-friendly interpretation of the 1991 Act. The Philadelphia-based judges ruled that consumers can end their consent to receiving annoying cellphone calls whenever they want.
Previously, a consumer had only one opportunity to say “no thanks” to bothersome calls: during an initial application.
If a company continues calling after a consumer asks it to stop, that person is entitled to sue for damages of up to $1,500 per call, as provided by federal law.
Pennsylvania has a “do not call” list, but Kimmel said it’s without bite, since violators face few penalties.
Kimmel, whose primary business is suing companies under the 1991 Act, said unwanted calls can be malicious. He compared it to a vacuum cleaner salesman ringing your doorbell.
“And each time you answer your door, you tell them, ‘I don’t want your vacuum cleaner,’ and they say, ‘But yes, you’ve bought vacuum cleaners form us before, so we’ll keep ringing your doorbell every time we want to sell you a vacuum cleaner.’ How many times would you receive a ring at your door before you say, ‘Wait a minute, this is malicious, I don’t want to talk to you anymore?'”
Officials at the Federal Communications Commission recently said it receives more complaints about robocalls – about 215,000 in 2014 – than about anything else. The commission has given phone carriers new leeway to block automated calls, and automated texts, at a consumer’s request.
Kimmel said his client paid a $527 cable bill in 2011, but Comcast persistently called about it for 10 months ending in June 2015.
Comcast called up to twice a day, which means, theoretically, the calls could trigger up to $900,000 in fines.
A spokesman for Comcast declined to comment, saying the company has not yet been served with the complaint.