Panamanian consumer protection group Uncurepa has filed a USD45 million class action lawsuit against Cable & Wireless Panamá (CWP) on behalf of customers alleging overcharging, writes BNamericas citing local daily La Prensa. The lawsuit is based on observations made by former telecoms regulator ERSP that from January 2003 to May 2005 CWP charged its wireless customers USD0.15 for every 40-second pulse. In response to ERSP’s observations, CWP claimed that only 40 seconds of each minute had been used and it had applied an additional charge for what it perceived as the 20 seconds of each minute not initially charged for. The billing error applied to local, national and international calls. Uncurepa first presented the suit in the name of 246 individuals seeking damages of USD3,000 for every consumer wrongly billed. However, since then other subscribers have joined the action. According to Uncurepa, the filing is the first class action suit brought before Panama’s courts.
The case came to court because CWP managed to stall via injunctions a July 2005 pay back order from ERSP. ERSP’s statutes were changed in February 2006 when it became the national public services authority ASEP. In October 2006 CWP’s corporate affairs director Roberto Mendoza said the company was in possession of a letter from ERSP confirming that the 40-second billing method was valid. However Uncurepa has argued that the 40-second billing method could only be proven valid if there had been a formal ERSP resolution, and that a letter was not enough evidence in this case.