Bell Mobility customers in rural Yukon have been added to a class action lawsuit against the telco.
The company is being sued for charging northern customers a fee for cellphone 911 services that aren’t available.
Whitehorse is the only northern community that has 911.
Father and son James and Samuel Anderson filed the lawsuit in the Northwest Territories four years ago.
Because of the small amounts involved – $9 annually per customer – the Andersons petitioned to certify the lawsuit as a class action.
Bell Mobility fought vigorously against that.
The court certified the class action a year ago in the Northwest Territories.
And in a decision last week Justice Ron Veale expanded the scope of the class to include anyone in the three territories who had been paying for nonexistent 911 services on their cell phones.
In a separate judgment Veale also awarded the Andersons more than $40,000 to cover some of the expenses incurred in certifying the class action.
Bell Mobility has to pay those costs regardless of the final outcome of the case.
They have 30 days to make the payment.
“It’s not the usual result of a motion in the territory as I understand it, so we’re pleased with that,” said Sam Marr, one of the Anderson’s lawyers.
The original claim was taken out for $6 million, but Marr said that the actual amount would likely be significantly less.
“Part of the problem was we didn’t know how broad the class would be,” he said. “In a class action a lot of the information you need is in the hands of the defendant, and you only get it as you go along.”
Veale’s recent decision set the parameters.
With almost 30,000 customers being charged $9 a year, spread over six years, it works out to less than $2 million.
However they are seeking an additional $1 million in punitive damages.
This is only the second class action lawsuit that has been brought forward in the Northwest Territories.
The NWT has no class proceedings act, unlike most Canadian jurisdictions, said Marr.
“We’re dealing with judge-made law in this area,” he said. “That’s sort of unique.”
Marr called the case “an important consumer issue.”
All Bell Mobility customers that are eligible are automatically included in the lawsuit, unless they choose to opt out.
Current Bell customers will get a notice with their cellphone bill, and the company is also required to issue notices by mail and email to former customers.
There will also be advertisements in local newspapers.
The case is set to go to trial on May 7, 2012.
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