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Harris v. Liberty Travel

A-3738-05T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2006) (Unpublished)

CONSUMER FRAUD — The purpose of the Consumer Fraud Act is to address sharp practices and dealings whereby the consumer could be victimized by being lured into a purchase through fraudulent, deceptive or other similar kinds of selling or advertising practices and not to address legitimate contract disputes.

A married couple sued a travel agency and the administrator of a travel insurance program because the couple’s trip was interpreted by a hurricane causing them to be evacuated from a resort. The travel agency gave the couple a credit on account of the value of the couple’s loss of personal belongings not covered insurance and offered trip interruption reimbursement for two nights at the resort. The couple was not satisfied with that offer and sued, seeking reimbursement for five nights of interrupted travel. They also made a claim under the Consumer Fraud Act. A jury found in favor of the couple and awarded them a sum of money, whereupon the lower court trebled the award. The travel agency and the travel insurance administrator appealed, arguing “that the damage award was against the weight of the evidence…” and that the claim under the Consumer Fraud Act should have been dismissed. The Appellate Division would not upset the jury’s factual finding, holding that the outcome was not unreasonable for the jury to reach its factual determination even if another jury would have found otherwise. On the other hand, the Court found no evidence that any fraud or deception had taken place in this transaction. It pointed out that “[t]he purpose of the Consumer Fraud Act is to address ‘sharp practices and dealings ... whereby the consumer could be victimized by being lured into a purchase through fraudulent, deceptive or other similar kinds of selling or advertising practices.’” Here, the dispute concerned the amount of money that the couple was “entitled to receive under their trip cancellation/interruption insurance plan.” The travel agency and the travel insurance administrator both believed two days was appropriate whereas the couple claimed reimbursement for five days. According to the Court, “[t]his was a legitimate dispute about the severity of the weather, its impact upon the trip and the amount of money, if any, [the couple was] entitled to receive under their trip cancellation/interruption plan.” Because this kind of dispute “cannot be considered the basis for any consumer fraud violation,” and because there were no aggravating factors, the award of treble damages was reversed.


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