Westgate replies to lawsuit
Lawyers for Westgate Resorts plan to fight a $1 million verdict a Utah County jury levied against the Park City timeshare firm Nov. 14.
The Florida-based company used travel certificates that were too difficult to redeem to lure people to its Westgate Park City Resort and Spa, the jury ruled.
The plaintiff in the case, Consumer Protection Group, was created to sue Westgate on behalf on several Utahns who claim the business defrauded them by issuing travel vouchers that were nearly impossible to redeem.
In exchange for touring the new spa in the Snyderville Basin, Westgate promised free trips for two to Anaheim, Calif., worth $500.
But some who received certificates didn’t attempt to redeem their vouchers, lawyers for Westgate claim.
"A number of them had made a habit of visiting other timeshare resorts and receiving gifts, and based upon the testimony, they had no intention to buy anything, they were coming solely to get a gift," said Michael Marder, an attorney for Westgate based in Orlando, Fla. "Some of these people came three or four times to other places."
Nobody complained until Consumer Protection Group used stolen information to solicit criticism from people who received travel certificates, Marder said in a telephone interview.
A Westgate employee stole thousands of documents so the names could be given to a man in Park City who began Consumer Protection Group and had worked as a Westgate broker, Marder said.
One of the parties who sued Westgate took the trip to California, he said.
"Others tossed their certificates and never tried to redeem their travel," Marder said, adding that nobody complained directly to Westgate about the certificates. "Westgate firmly believes that these claimants would not have surfaced had their claims not been solicited illegally."
Issues in the case must still be addressed, he added.
"This matter remains in litigation. There are quite a number of issues yet to be addressed both by the trial judge and the appellate courts," Marder said. "We, obviously, when the time comes, will be pursuing appellate remedies. We’re certainly not going to be content to let this jury verdict stand."
The amount of damages awarded was too high, he said.
"This has not been signed off on by the trial judge," Marder said. "There are limitations on how much can be awarded via punitive damages. Those issues remain to be litigated."
The accusations concern a marketing program in 2001 at Westgate that lured hundreds of Utahns to the firm’s Park City spa, Marder said.
An outside firm was hired by Westgate to generate the prospects for real estate sales, he said.
"The plan was to have this company provide prospects to visit Westgate and one of the incentives that were offered was a vacation certificate," Marder said.
Meanwhile, Consumer Protection Group offered money to people who received travel certificates in exchange for singing formal complaints against Westgate, Marder said.
"Westgate feels like we complied with our legal obligations and did nothing wrong," Marder said.
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Court report: Week of June 22