A Florida store's $4.8 million settlement of a robocalling lawsuit is the latest wake-up call for dealers to remain vigilant about unwanted advertising messages to current and prospective customers.
Grieco Ford of Fort Lauderdale's agreement resolves a federal class-action suit under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The 76-page settlement filed Nov. 13 sets the store's liability at up to $4,781,160. Recipients of unwanted calls and text messages would get up to $180 each.
The suit filed by Vincent Papa accused the store of "unsolicited marketing directly to consumers' cellular telephones, harming thousands of consumers in the process" to promote its services. That "illegal conduct has resulted in the invasion of privacy, harassment, aggravation and disruption of the daily life of thousands of individuals," the suit alleged.
The telemarketing campaign was designed by Reliable Response, a marketing firm with offices in Las Vegas. Reliable Response wasn't a defendant in Papa's suit.
Reliable Response's website said a "properly managed buyback campaign" to a dealership's customer database results in a response rate between 10 and 20 percent, and dealerships sell as many as 20 to 30 vehicles by contacting 1,000 clients.
Reliable Response was founded in 2016, and according to its website, as of January had more than 250 dealership clients.
One of Papa's lawyers, Andrew Shamis of Miami, said he couldn't discuss the case because of a confidentiality provision in the settlement. A lawyer for the dealership didn't respond to questions from Automotive News.
Other dealerships have also faced Telephone Consumer Protection Act lawsuits. For example:
- A 2017 suit accused Lokey Volkswagen in Clearwater, Fla., of sending unsolicited text messages to owners with open recalls. The suit alleged that the owner of a 2003 Jetta had received an unsolicited text on her cellphone to schedule an appointment for an unrepaired 2007 recall. The plaintiff hadn't taken her Jetta to the store for more than a decade.
- In 2017, Naples Nissan in Naples, Fla., reached a $5.7 million settlement in a class-action suit on behalf of several hundred thousand recipients of unwanted calls.
- A 2015 suit accused Green Brook Mitsubishi in Green Brook, N.J., of violating the law with a robocall to a former service customer's home phone on the Do Not Call list. A federal judge dismissed the case in 2017, ruling that the call asking whether the plaintiff was satisfied with service work wasn't telemarketing.
- In 2012, Lithia Motors Inc. agreed to a $2.5 million settlement for sending more than 100,000 unwanted sales-related text messages. The company's third-party text vendor agreed to pay the judgment. Lithia, headquartered in Medford, Ore., ranks No. 4 on the Automotive News list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S.