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Friday, May 7, 2010

An $18,000 Phone Bill. Can you hear me now?

Verizon_guy Somehow I missed this all-too-believable story last week.  From the inimitable WSJ Law Blog (with help from the Boston Globe):

Here’s the deal, according to the Boston Globe: Back in 2006, Bob St. Germain renewed his wireless phone service contract, which included his cellphone and cellphones for his son and daughter. Unbeknownst to St. Germain, the two-year promotional period allowing free downloads had expired, and Verizon was now charging for downloaded kilobytes.

But St. Germain’s son, Bryan, a student at Framingham State College, didn’t realize this, and started downloading a lot of stuff to his phone. The August 2006 bill was for $12,233. When St. Germain called to complain, Verizon told him that since that last bill, he’d run up an additional $5,000 in downloading fees.

“You can’t print what my husband said’’ when the bill came, Mary St. Germain said. “He was very shocked.’’

According to the Globe, Verizon eventually offered to reduce the bill by half. But St. Germain would have none of it. He rejected the offer and Verizon responded by sending the bill to a collection agency.

Verizon officials said that the charges were legitimate and that they have tried to work with St. Germain to resolve the dispute.

“We go to great lengths to educate our customers on their products and services so that they avoid any unintended bills,’’ two Verizon spokesmen wrote in an email to the Globe. Verizon also says the amount of the charges were laid out clearly in St. Germain’s agreement.

* * *

On the one hand, Verizon claims its charges were clearly stated. It’s also agreed to cut the charges down by half.

On the other hand, the St. Germains say the charges are ridiculous, that someone should have let them know that something odd was going on with their account. Others say consumers can’t be blamed for failing to read or comprehend the fine print of a user agreement. It also seems fair to wonder how much it cost Verizon to provide the 816,000 kilobytes of stuff to Bryan Germain’s phone, though telecom companies often argue that demand on their networks, and the costs to expand networks to allow for it, can add up.

Gotcha contracting?  Is Restatement (2d) 211 up to the task?  Or, should St Germain be held to the old "duty to read"?  

[Meredith R. Miller]

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