Welcome to another edition of Friday’s Letter from America, this week Inside Timeshares Irene Parker reports on day 1 of the trial she attending in Orlando, Florida. This is a case between Diamond Resorts and Aaronson Law Firm, this is yet another law firm being taken to court by the timeshare industry.
So unlike our usual Friday editions, we will forego news from Europe and go straight to Irene’s report.
Diamond Resorts v Aaronson Law Firm Trial
Day 1 of 6: Jury Selection and Opening Arguments
Anatomy of a Timeshare Trial
By Irene Parker
May 3, 2019
Having recently experienced Part I of a deposition that lasted six hours against another law firm that provides timeshare exit assistance, I was motivated to attend a six-day timeshare trial in Orlando District Court that began Tuesday, April 30. The cost of a deposition or a six-day trial is staggering. Ultimately, the timeshare member pays. It’s too bad we can’t just sit down and talk to each other, but I guess attorneys have to make a living.
Diamond Resorts International Inc., Diamond Resorts U.S. Collection Development, Hawaii Collection Development LLC, and Diamond Resorts Management Inc, filed a lawsuit against Austin N. Aaronson and Aaronson, Austin, PA.
Case No. 6:17-1394-ORL-37-DCI
Attorneys Richard W. Epstein, Jeffrey A. Backman, and Olga M Vieira of Greenspoon Marder LLP are plaintiffs’ attorneys. Mr Aaronson is represented by Charles J. Meltz of Grower Ketcham, Eide, Telan & Meltz, P.A.
As reported by ABA Journal January 30, 2018:
The Florida suit was filed against Orlando lawyer Austin Aaronson and his firm Aaronson, Austin. In a Jan. 26 ruling, U.S. District Judge Roy Dalton Jr. of Orlando tossed RICO and malicious prosecution claims by Diamond Resorts but allowed claims for false advertising under the Lanham Act, tortious interference with contract, trade libel and deceptive trade practices.
Diamond Resorts had claimed Aaronson and his law firm solicited timeshare members in an advertising campaign that weaves a false narrative, causing timeshare members to stop contract payments and subjecting Diamond Resorts to baseless arbitration proceedings.
Aaronson had claimed his firm’s advertising was not false or misleading because it constituted opinion or puffery.
Opening day started with jury selection. Six of the eighteen potential jurors reported a negative timeshare experience:
- Lots of pressure from a timeshare presentation in the 80s,
- Purchased Marriott 30 years ago, lots of pressure,
- Westgate was difficult to exchange and was unsellable. An attorney was contacted. The attorney said Westgate is not sellable. Timeshare is a waste of money.
- Negative experience,
- Agents are pushy and don’t give up,
- An engineer said he had a negative bias.
Judge Dalton explained that Plaintiffs are required to convince the jury that Austin Aaronson is guilty by a preponderance of evidence. Criminal trials require a stricter standard – beyond a reasonable doubt.
The four claims against Austin Aaronson are:
- False advertising that harmed the reputation of Diamond Resorts and caused damages,
- Tortious interference,
- Intentionally publishing disparaging information on a website,
- Deceptive and unfair practices.
There are a total of 134 joint exhibits.
Mr Epstein, attorney for Diamond Resorts stated that there are few complaints against Diamond Resorts. He alleged Aaronson accused Diamond of wholesale unsavoury conduct.
Mr Meltz, attorney for Aaronson, reported how maintenance fees had more than doubled from 2007 to 2015 from $.07 per point to $.145 per point and that there is no secondary market for Diamond points. He explained how Diamond Resorts controlled Board of Directors hires Diamond Resorts managers to manage Diamond properties. As to the claim that Diamond misappropriated maintenance fees, both sides will bring in accounting expert witnesses to prove or disprove how maintenance fees were misappropriated.
In a lighthearted moment, Judge Dalton asked one of the Plaintiff attorneys if she was chewing gum. She was. She was asked to leave the courtroom to dispose of her gum.
Judge Dalton instructed the jury not to read newspapers, Facebook posts or blogs about the case. He said in the old day’s reporters attended the trials, but these days they just talk to those who attended as they exit the courtroom. He said he was amazed that when he reads an article about one of his trials, how little of what was reported actually happened in the courtroom. I was proud that Inside Timeshare will be in attendance for the duration of the trial taking copious notes.
Inside Timeshare and our readers just want the timeshare industry to admit that unfair and deceptive sales practices exist on the front end of the sale. I have always said half a problem goes away when confronted, but I doubt this will happen.
I have contacted four timeshare exit providers. Two of the larger firms report receiving 3,000 calls a month from members desperately seeking release from a timeshare contract. These firms only accept 100 to 150 cases as they require a strong case of unfair and deceptive practices. This stay vacationed or else strategy has created a timeshare exit industry timeshare developers want to crush, but Social Media is not going to put this Pandora back in her box. The lack of a secondary market is financially devastating family after family.
Greenspoon Marder contends all is well because Diamond Resorts has 460,000 timeshare members with few complaints. I feel 6,000 families reaching out to just two timeshare exit providers monthly is a real problem. There is no other product that has spawned an entire industry devoted to responding to customers with nowhere to turn, desperately seeking release from unused and unwanted timeshares. Many report they learned they were duped just days or minutes past the rescission period.
In Florida, timeshare division reviewers received 1,600 complaints in 2017 and 1,600 complaints in 2018, mostly about the initial sales presentation, 50% seniors. The AG engaged 42, mostly about timeshare resales. That means 1,600 families annually feel they were duped by a timeshare, there is no secondary market, maintenance fees doubled in seven years for at least one timeshare company, and this is not a problem.
Yes, it is.
We seek to provide timeshare members with a way to proactively address membership concerns; to advocate for timeshare reform; to obtain greater disclosure from the company; to advocate for a viable secondary market, and to educate prospective buyers.
Than you Irene, we look forward to further reports on this trial and I’m sure that all Inside Timeshare readers are hoping that the outcome will be in Favour of Aaronson. One thing is certain, Diamond does not like criticism, but Inside Timeshare will continue to publish the “Nightmare on Timeshare Street” stories of our readers, be they Diamond or any other timeshare company.
In Spain, Diamond has lost in the courts for selling illegal contracts, along with other timeshare companies, many of them are the big players in Europe. Spanish timeshare law is based on the European Timeshare Directives but has been strengthened to protect consumers of unfair, misleading, predatory sales tactics and illegal contracts. It leads the way in Europe and we may see other countries following suit.
If you have any comments on this or any article or have a “Nightmare on Timeshare Street” story of your own, then use our contact page and get in touch we look forward to hearing from you.
Have a great weekend and join us again next week.