Actions Against Developers Resulting in Damage Awards
The timeshare industry has been plagued by allegations of fraud, deception and preying on the elderly. These are some of the cases that have been tried and resulted in damage awards in favor of the individuals.
CASE # 6:19-cv-02178 | US DISTRICT COURT, MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA (ORLANDO)
In this lawsuit, timeshare owners Kenneth and Linda Palmer, represented by attorneys Aaron Swift, Jon Dubbeld and Jordan Isringhaus of Swift, Isringhaus & Dubbeld, P.A., claimed violation of the FCCPA (Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act) and TCPA (Federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act). After Diamond agreed to a settlement offer, the parties attempted were made to formalize the written document.
According to the complaint, Diamond sent collection letters to the timeshare owners despite actual knowledge that the timeshare owners were represented by counsel (Finn Law Group) related to the subject debt and that they used predictive dialing to call both husband and wife’s cell phones 45 times.
An agreement could not be reached because Diamond took issue with the term “confidentiality” as used in the agreed settlement via email, and Diamond sought to include a requirement that the timeshare owners’ counsel personally sign and be bound by the confidentiality term.
In response to a dispute over the terms of the settlement, the judge noted: “What is lurking below the surface here, and what became clear at the hearing, is that Defendant is a timeshare company and Plaintiffs’ Counsel are attorneys who work with timeshare exit companies. What Defendant truly – and subjectively – seeks is to secure confidentiality from Plaintiffs’ Counsel in order to prevent Plaintiffs’ Counsel from using this settlement as a means to advertise success in extracting a timeshare owner from a timeshare contract. … This Court has extensive experience involving several still-pending actions in which timeshare companies (including companies utilizing the ‘Diamond’ name) are suing attorneys (in much the same position as Plaintiffs’ Counsel) in a bid to obtain damages and injunctions against those attorneys offering purported timeshare exit services.”
OUTCOME: On March 2, 2020, Judge Dalton granted the timeshare owners’ motion to enforce the parties’ settlement agreement. The Judge ordered Diamond to pay $30,000 to the timeshare owners and to forgive their outstanding mortgage. The order was made notwithstanding Diamond’s protestation that it had not reached an agreement to settle the case.
DANIEL VENDL v. DIAMOND RESORTS
CASE # 2:19-cv-00672 | US DISTRICT COURT, NEVADA
In Vendl v. Diamond, a former Diamond employee represented by attorney Esther Rodriguez claimed that he was terminated after he took stress leave. He had been told to falsify documents including preparing a chart that had no basis in facts to induce customers to buy timeshares. He alleges that he complied under fear that he would lose his job. This case was brought under the American Disabilities Act. A judgment was entered in favor of the employee against DRI on his ADA claim, and he retains the right to bring claims under other statutes and theories, including state laws protecting whistleblowers.
Case # CGC-12-526187 | THE SUPERIOR COURT OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA IN AND FOR THE COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO
This is an order filed in the case of Williams v Wyndham, a whistle-blower complaint brought by Patricia Williams. The judge was asked to rule on Wyndham’s motion for new trial and to reduce the jury’s award of damages. Williams is a former Wyndham employee who presented evidence to a San Francisco jury that she was fired in retaliation for reporting fraud when working at a Wyndham sales office.
After the jury entered a verdict in William’s favor, Wyndham sought to reduce the jury’s punitive damages award from $18.6 million to $130,000. The jury based its punitive damages award on evidence that Wyndham defrauded customers and sold elderly consumers more time than they could reasonably use before death. The evidence presented to the jury included sales representatives telling customers that Wyndham would buy back the timeshares it sold and that maintenance fees would not increase. Additionally, the jury heard evidence that sales persons opened credit cards for customers without their permission. In denying Wyndham’s motion for new trial, the court ruled that Wyndham’s conduct was “highly reprehensible,” and the jury’s award was “dispassionately sound.”
Based on due process considerations, however, the judge reduced the jury’s punitive damages award to $12.8 million.
Case # E2014-00303, TENNESSEE COURT OF APPEALS
In this lawsuit, timeshare owners Nathan and Patricia Overton successfully sued Westgate to get out of their $39,280 timeshare contract (rescission). The timeshare owners testified at trial that at a sales presentation that lasted almost eight hours, Westgate sales manager had promised they could book unlimited “Owners’ Nights” at any Westgate resort for $49-$69 per night and to book a reservation for the same week in December each year at Westgate’s Gatlinburg resort for an annual trip with their extended family to celebrate Christmas and their wedding anniversary. They testified that the sales manager had also promised to purchase a Foosball table to be kept at the resort for them, and to refund a portion of the commission he received on the sale of the timeshare. After the sale, they learned that they did not have unlimited “Owners’ Nights” privileges, and were unable to confirm the promised December reservation. They testified that even after multiple calls to the timeshare developer, and a written request to rescind the contract, Westgate refused to let the Overtons out of their timeshare.
The judge ruled after trial that Westgate was guilty of fraud, and that Westgate knowingly trained its salespersons to promise unlimited Owners’ Nights, even though written documents provided to purchasers did not mention the program. The court granted rescission of the contract, and ordered Westgate to refund the money the Overtons had paid. The judge additionally ordered Westgate to pay the Overtons punitive damages due to the reprehensibility of Westgate’s conduct.
Westgate appealed, challenging the trial court’s refusal to force the Overtons to litigate in Florida, and arguing that the punitive damages award of $600,000 was improper or excessive. On appeal, the reviewing court found that an award of punitive damages was warranted, given the trial court’s findings. The court additionally found that the punitive damages award was reasonable, however, due to the state’s statutory cap, reduced the award to $500,000.
Disclaimer: While the Coalition to Reform Timeshare’s summaries attempt to concisely reflect timeshare owners’ and whistleblowers’ allegations, for full context and accuracy, the reader is encouraged to review the court-filed pleadings that are linked for the reader’s reference to the caption for each lawsuit.
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