Robocalls Lead to $230K Fine for Time Warner

     MANHATTAN (CN) – After Time Warner called the wrong customer 163 times, a federal judge left the telecom a six-figure message for damages under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
     The first 10 robocalls made to Texas resident Araceli King, between July 3, 2013 and Aug. 11, 2014, could have been chalked up to an honest misunderstanding.
     King had been assigned the same number as another customer who was a month behind on his bills, triggering the company’s “interactive voice response” system.
     On Oct. 3, 2013, she explained the mix-up during a seven-minute conversation with a Time Warner representative, but she said that more than a hundreds calls kept on coming until she sued the company early the following year.
     The robocalls persisted even after King filed the March 26, 2014 lawsuit.
     For each of the 153 calls following the initial conversation Time Warner racked up a $1,500 penalty, totaling $229,500.
     U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein’s ruling called it “incredible” that Time Warner argued it did not know that King did not consent to the calls.
     “Defendant harassed plaintiff with robocalls until she had to resort to a lawsuit to make the calls stop, and even then TWC could not be bothered to update the information in its IVR system,” he wrote in a 14-page opinion issued Tuesday. “The calls placed after March 26, 2014 are particularly egregious violations of the TCPA and indicate that TWC simply did not take this lawsuit seriously. Treble damages are unquestionably appropriate to reflect the seriousness of TWC’s willful violations.”
     In his scathing ruling, Hellerstein ridicules Time Warner for painting itself as an “unwitting victim of an unpredictable statute.”
     Time Warner had urged the judge not to turn “what most people think of as an innocuous call to a wrong number” into large penalty.
     “But the statute is not unpredictable; companies like TWC are on clear notice that autodialing phones is prohibited by default,” Hellerstein wrote. “If a business wishes to contract around that rule with its customers, it may, but the risk of error falls on the caller, so it should take care to ensure that it is calling the right people with information they actually want to receive.”
     He added that a “responsible business” could have sent a live agent to the customer the company had been trying to reach.
     “Whether the agent’s call was answered by Ms. King or her voicemail, the agent would quickly realize the mistake and fix the company’s records so that the machine would not contact her anymore,” the opinion states. “The responsible company will reduce its exposure dramatically by taking proactive steps to mitigate damages, while its competitor, who unthinkingly robodials the same person hundreds of time over many months without pausing to wonder why it cannot reach him, cannot complain about much higher liability.
     “In sounding the alarm about over-deterrence, TWC also misapprehends Congress’s intent: whatever balance Congress sought to strike between protecting consumers and enabling businesses to reach them is inapplicable where, as here, the caller is merely harassing its customers about outstanding bills.
     Attorney Jenny DeFrancisco, who represents King for the Stamford, Conn.-based firm Lemberg & Associates LLC, said in a phone interview that her client feels “happy” and “vindicated” with the result.
     “The real takeaway from this case is that consumers have rights that companies need to respect,” DeFrancisco said.
     Time Warner spokeswoman Susan Leepson said that the company is “reviewing the ruling and our options to determine how we are going to proceed.”

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