A King County Superior Court judge ruled Thursday that Comcast violated Washington state’s Consumer Protection Act by misrepresenting its service protection plan to customers.
Judge Timothy Bradshaw found Comcast violated the law more than 445,000 times by charging customers for its service protection plan without their consent, and ordered the telecommunications company to pay $9.1 million in penalties, in addition to paying restitution to thousands of customers in the state, according to a state attorney general’s office news release.
“Despite Comcast’s systemic guidelines and policies, the practice of subscribing (Washington) customers without meaningful consent was widespread,” Bradshaw wrote in his ruling.
The restitution amount has not yet been determined, but is “expected to be significant” and the $9.1 million penalty is the highest trial award in a state consumer protection case, according to the attorney general’s office.
The court found that Comcast added the service protection plan to more than 30,900 customer accounts in the state without their knowledge. Subscribers paid $73 million to Comcast for the plan from January 2011 to January 2015, according to the lawsuit, which was filed by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson in 2016.
In a statement released late Thursday afternoon, Comcast said Bradshaw ruled in the company’s favor on several of the state’s claims and awarded less than 5% of what Ferguson was seeking in damages.
“The Judge recognized that any issues he did find have since been fully addressed by Comcast through the significant investments we have made in improving the customer experience and consent process, and that throughout Comcast acted in good faith,” the company said.
When filing the suit, Ferguson announced he would seek full restitution for the $73 million paid by subscribers as well as penalties for violations of the state Consumer Protection Act totaling more than $100 million. The CPA allows a penalty of up to $2,000 per violation.
“Comcast refused to accept responsibility for its egregious conduct that resulted in Washingtonians losing money every month for a product they did not want or request,” Ferguson said in a statement. “Instead of making things right for Washingtonians, Comcast sent an army of corporate lawyers into court to try to avoid accountability.”
In 2017, Bradshaw ordered Comcast to provide the attorney general’s office with recordings of more than 1,400 telephone calls in which Comcast agents sold the service protection plan to Washington customers.
The attorney general’s office found in more than 34% of the calls that agents signed up customers without their consent. In some calls, agents told customers the plan was added for free to their account.
Comcast also charged thousands of customers for service calls that resulted from an equipment or network problem, and internal documents made it clear the company had known for years it was improperly billing its customers for service calls, according to the attorney general’s office.
Comcast made changes to its subscription practices in mid-2017.
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