Westgate hit with $1 million judgment
A court in Utah County ordered a Florida-based timeshare firm to pay $1 million in punitive damages for attracting people to its Westgate Park City Resort and Spa using travel vouchers that were too difficult to redeem.
"They weren’t telling them they were getting a voucher, they were telling them they were getting an Anaheim trip," said attorney Scot Boyd, who represented the plaintiffs in the case. "For all timeshares, they have to get bodies through the door so they can do the sales. Now how different companies choose to get people through the door may tell you who’s reputable and who’s not so reputable in the industry."
His client, Consumer Protection Group, was created to sue Westgate Resorts on behalf of nearly 30 Utahns who the business defrauded, Boyd said.
"[Consumer Protection Group] sent out letters to people who toured Westgate in late 2000, 2001, saying, hey, you may have been defrauded, and out of that got a very, very strong response from about 930 individuals," Boyd said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
In exchange for touring Westgate’s new spa, the company promised free California trips including airfare and lodging for two in Anaheim worth about $500, Boyd said.
"Of course you don’t get your ‘gift’ until after you have toured at Westgate," Boyd explained. "Two or three of the people took one look at the restrictions, including the fact that they had to pay money up front, and just threw it out. A lot of people actually followed all of the instructions and were told dates were not available."
The travel certificates and $135 needed to be sent to the redemption company within 21 days for the coupons to be valid, he said.
"Then they find out that you can only fly on Tuesday, you have to fly back on Thursday and you cannot fly either the week before or the week after any of the following holidays. There are 10 of them," Boyd added.
The judgment was levied Friday in Provo following a nearly three-week jury trial.
"In the trial itself the jury gave damages to the individuals who didn’t get to travel of $500 apiece," Boyd said. "They found it was a fraudulent scheme and fraud across the board and that’s why they gave punitive damages. This is to make a point to the timeshare industry, to Westgate, that you cannot have a fraudulent scheme."
Consumer Protection Group was formed because of the expense involved pursuing smaller individual claims separately, he said.
"The 15 [parties] who are involved don’t stand to make a lot of money from all this," Boyd said.
Westgate will appeal a final civil judgment, he added.
"Westgate knew early on that there was a problem, yet they continued to use this certificate literally until they got sued," Boyd said.
Because Westgate only paid $32 for each travel certificate the company should have known the vouchers had little value, Boyd said.
"There’s your hint right out of the gate that there’s a potential problem," Boyd said.
Attorneys for Westgate claimed the independent telemarketing firm that helped schedule the tours failed to warn callers of travel restrictions, Boyd said.
A Westgate attorney and corporate officials in Orlando, Fla., were not immediately available to comment Tuesday.
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