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LAWRENCE COUNTY Class-action lawsuit targets Alltel contracts



Published: Mon, August 6, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



PLEASE FORWARD TO PA. WIRE

A suit alleges that Alltel did not have permission to sell insurance in Pennsylvania.

By LAURE CIOFFI

VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU

NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- A lawyer in a class-action lawsuit estimates that hundreds or thousands of Alltel cellular telephone customers in Pennsylvania will be affected by the action, filed in Lawrence County.

New Castle Attorney Gary Lynch filed the suit alleging that Alltel has been selling cellular telephone replacement insurance, something that guarantees maintenance on a cellular telephone, without a license from the Pennsylvania Insurance Department, an office that regulates insurance sales in the commonwealth.

That violates the Pennsylvania Insurance Statute and possibly the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, according to the lawsuit.

What is sought: The lawsuit, which was filed recently in common pleas court here, asks that the court order Alltel to refund triple the fees customers paid for the insurance and to void all contracts for the insurance.

Lynch, who said he specializes in class-action lawsuits, said he filed the suit after his secretary, Elaine Ehrheart of Euclid Avenue, purchased a cellular telephone and insurance from Alltel's New Castle office in June.

"She was in there talking about how she bought this cell phone, and I said 'Let me see the contract.' I knew about other cellular telephone companies doing that [selling insurance without a state license]. I think it's a common practice in the industry," Lynch said.

Principal plaintiff: Ehrheart is the principal plaintiff in the lawsuit, but Lynch has filed a class-action suit, which means anyone else in Pennsylvania who bought the insurance could be entitled to refunds and damages.

The lawsuit also asks the court to order Alltel to pay attorney's fees for Ehrheart and give her an incentive fee, which is an extra cash payment that is often given to the named plaintiff in a class- action lawsuit, Lynch said.

Alltel spokesman Andrew Moreau said the company has not received a copy of the lawsuit at its headquarters in Little Rock, Ark., and could not comment.

Lynch said Alltel will be given about 20 days to respond to the lawsuit and then the court will determine if the lawsuit can go forward.

Lynch estimates that hundreds, and possibly thousands, of people in Pennsylvania could be affected by the claim.




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