Florida Court Bars Comcast From Changing Customer Agreements

A Florida court has upheld cable TV subscribers' rights by barring cable giant Comcast from unilaterally changing subscriber agreements by requiring customers to submit to binding arbitration.

The Florida First District Court of Appeal upheld a trial court decision, clearing the way for certification of a class action suit filed against AT&T Broadband, purchased by Comcast in 2001.

The class action suit was filed on behalf of then-AT&T cable TV customers throughout Florida and Georgia for breach of contract, unjust enrichment and fraud related to customer service and billing problems.

Prior to the filing of this class action suit, AT&T had adopted the practice of sending out a fine print notice as an insert in customer bills that attempted to essentially eliminate subscriber's rights against the cable company.

In addition to eliminating the right to bring a claim in court, the provision shortened the statue of limitations, prohibited class actions, imposed a confidentiality agreement, and prohibited punitive damages. This was a take-it-or-leave-it policy that gave consumers no option except to cancel service.

After the class action suit was filed, AT&T petitioned the Fourth Circuit Court of Duval County, asking Judge L. Haldane Taylor to stop the suit based on the position that all customers were subject to binding arbitration and therefore had no right to participate in a class action suit.

On September 30, 2004, Judge Taylor wrote in his ruling that this policy by AT&T was "procedurally and substantively unconscionable ... it was presented on a take- it-or-leave-it basis and provisions unilaterally benefited AT&T."

"The arrogance of these companies reminds me of big tobacco," said attorney Norwood "Woody" Wilner, whose landmark tobacco case Carter v. Brown & Williamson resulted in the loss of $14 billion to tobacco stocks in one single day.

Copyright 2003-2005 ConsumerAffairs.Com Inc.

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