By Steve Moran
Back in May of 2016, we published an article titled A Place For Mom (APFM) Gets Sued and You May Be Next. In that article we talked about a class action lawsuit that had been filed against APFM for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Disclosure: Senior Housing Forum has a financial relationship with Caring.com, APFM’s primary competitor.
The TCPA Law
With respect to senior living and APFM, the law says that companies must have explicit permission to call a prospect if the equipment/software being used has the ability to be used as an auto dialer (even if the auto dialer is turned off). And, weirdly, one more thing, only if it is being used to call cell phones.
I would also note this is a highly flawed law that does provide some protections to consumers but has all kinds of things wrong with it.
The First APFM Lawsuit
The first lawsuit was filed as a class action suit but never certified as a class action and, ultimately, dismissed. It is impossible to know the details of the settlement but I would speculate that the original plaintiff got a few dollars and the attorneys got a pretty fair payout.
It also resulted in APFM adding language to their website about telephone calls . . . more on that below. It is unclear if it resulted in any other changes in their business practices.
The new lawsuit can be accessed at the bottom of this article but the primary allegation is that APFM didn’t really mend their ways. What they did was add the required language but because of the placement of this language and the size of the typeface it, in effect, made it very unlikely that a consumer would actually see the text.
A Place For Mom’s Response
I did reach out to APFM for comment and this is what they sent me:
“Mr. Kim’s claims against A Place for Mom are similar to a claim filed last year that was dismissed. The claims are without merit and we will defend them aggressively. While we are confident of prevailing in this matter, we do not comment on pending legal issues. In the meantime, we remain true to our mission of helping families by providing a vital service that helps them find the most appropriate senior living option for their loved ones. We do so in a way that is respectful to families and complies with our legal obligations.”
I did also send them an advance copy of this article.
A Big Deal
It is impossible to know why APFM did it this way. They may have legitimately believed that it met the letter of the law but it seems clear to me that they were more interested in meeting the letter of the law than the intent of the law.
I did some research trying to get a handle on what kind of impact it might have on the number of leads generated. It appears to be a non-trivial number that might be as small as 8% and as much as 30% so it turns out this can be a big deal.
Not Just APFM
It seems likely that if you are using a call center that does outbound calls, you need this disclosure language on your website. The fines are per call and can add up. These nitpicky details will become more important as attorneys start to see senior living as fresh fertile ground.
How Will It Come Out?
I confess when it comes to attorneys and lawsuits and in particular class action lawsuits I am a complete cynic, believing it is more about generating fees than anything else. I predict some back and forth and another settlement document being filed.
A final note: I did chat with Caring.com about this story and they noted that since the law first came into force they have included consent language as a part of their inquiry form. I asked about the impact on their business and they declined to offer up a number.