When the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 was enacted, it offered a means to counter the actions of both telemarketers and aggressive collection agencies. By placing limitations on robo-calls, the Act gave consumers potential for relief from the automatic calls placed by companies to both landlines and to cellular telephones. The Act gives various powers to the Federal Communications Commission to enforce requirements, including accurate caller identification, violation of which includes civil forfeiture penalties of up to $10,000 per violation. See 47 U.S.C.S. Section 227(e)(5). But for consumers, the Act offers a private right of action, including $500 in damages per violation, which can be trebled at the discretion of the court upon a finding of a knowing or willful violation. See 47 U.S.C.S. Section 227(b)(3).
And consumers have put their rights to good use. Class action complaints have won large awards under the statute from legitimate companies calling cellular telephones without permission. See 2012 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 7416 ($17.1 million settlement); 2012 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 6360 ($9 million settlement). Companies have also seen large judgments for violating the Act and other statues by sending unsolicited faxes. See 2010 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 43733 ($459 million judgment on appeal).
Individual plaintiffs have also successfully received verdicts against companies for automatic calls. See 2011 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 208626 ($24,000 award); 2011 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 199795 ($6,000 award); 2010 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 41498 ($12,000 award). Individuals have also fought and won regarding calls to cellular telephones. See 2011 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 204182 ($3,000 award); 2010 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 41473 ($13,500 award); 2010 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 21831 ($6,000 award); 2009 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 436064 ($37,500 award). Sometimes, companies combine violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, leading to repeated calls combined with failure to identify themselves or falsely stating the status of the debt or legal action. See 2010 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 22883 ($39,000 jury verdict). Of course, there are times when the involved companies have prevailed. See 2009 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 415369 (consumer found to have provided cellular telephone number to company); 2010 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 40773 (pleadings did not raise claims under Act or other statutes).
An interesting side issue has also cropped up as companies seek to have their insurers defend and indemnify them in suits brought under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. See 2010 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 24021 (insurer owed duty to defend under advertising injury clause); 2010 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 23748 (no coverage under CGL policy); 2010 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 23898 (no duty to defend under policy).
While the amounts awarded to individuals may not seem large when compared to the aggregate amounts received in a class action case, they can at least compensate the consumer for the aggravation of the calls. Added together, the judgments will start to make a difference to the bottom line. For legitimate companies, this means that complying with the requirements of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and the makes good business sense. For those companies bent on violating the law, it may not stop them, but it should certainly slow them down.
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