SEATTLE — A Washington judge ruled Thursday that Comcast violated consumer protection laws, with the attorney general saying the company was at fault “more than 445,000 times when it charged tens of thousands of Washingtonians for its Service Protection Plan without their consent.”
Judge Timothy Bradshaw handed the company nearly $9.1 million in penalties and ordered Comcast to pay back customers who unknowingly paid for the plan or were misled about its cost plus 12% interest.
This applies to customers who were subscribed by phone between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2016.
“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,” Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. “Instead of making things right for Washingtonians, Comcast sent an army of corporate lawyers into court to try to avoid accountability.”
The court found Comcast added the service plan, and extra $5.99 charge, to 30,946 customers without telling them and didn’t tell an additional 18,660 customers about the true cost of the plan.
Comcast was ordered to issue the refunds within 60 days and report the specific details and amounts back to the state.
It’s unclear how much the total amount Comcast will have to pay back is, but the court believes it to be a significant amount of money.
Comcast released the following statement after the ruling:
“We’re pleased that the Court ruled in our favor on several of the Attorney General’s key claims and awarded less than 5 percent of what he 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. We will continue to make significant investments in how we serve our customers because it is the right thing to do and are fully committed to our customers in Washington state.”
The initial lawsuit, filed in 2016, claimed the company profited from the misleading service protection plan and that Comcast committed more than 1.8 million violations of the state's Consumer Protection Act by charging improper service call fees and using improper credit screening practices.
The state says Comcast initially refused their request for recorded customer service calls as too burdensome, which launched a court fight.
The state said it found cases where the company charged customers for the service protection plan even if they refused it outright or would mislead them about the cost. Half of the time, the Comcast employee didn't even discuss the plan but would charge the customer for it anyway, Ferguson said.
At the time of the lawsuit, a representative for Comcast said, "The Service Protection Plan gives those consumers who choose to purchase it great value by covering virtually all service charges over 99% of the time."