Life Alert Failed to Comply with New York Law Permitting Consumers for Personal Emergency Services to Cancel Contracts Within Seven Days of Signing
New York Attorney General Letitia James today scored a victory for potentially thousands of New Yorkers locked in illegal contracts. In an agreement with Life Alert Emergency Response, Inc., Attorney General James has negotiated for more than 5,500 New York consumers to cancel their current contracts with the company before the end of the 36-month contract they signed. Additionally, Attorney General James has negotiated for Life Alert to provide refunds to more than 700 New York consumers who unsuccessfully tried to exercise certain cancellation rights in the past. The agreement resolves an investigation into Life Alert’s failure to include certain mandatory cancellation provisions — required by New York law — into the personal emergency response service contracts.
“When the elderly and disabled fall and hurt themselves, they trust Life Alert to come to the rescue, but Life Alert violated that trust when they refused to honor consumers’ rights,” said Attorney General James. “Today’s agreement holds Life Alert accountable and ensures they not only protect seniors’ physical well-being, but their rights as consumers going forward as well. New York’s seniors can trust that I will always fight for their best interests.”
The California-based personal emergency response system company — best known for its advertising slogan, “Help! I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” — offers personal emergency response systems to consumers. Emergency response systems allow consumers to notify a response center in the case of an emergency, typically through activating a pendant or bracelet worn by the consumer.
Consumers signing up for Life Alert’s service are required to sign a 36-month monitoring service agreement and pay a monthly service monitoring fee, plus upfront programming and installation fees. Depending on the specific service they choose, consumers pay between $49.95 and $89.95 per month for 36 months of service, in addition to upfront fees and a shipping charge (typically $198.00) — for a total payment ranging from $1,996.20 to $3,436.20 over the 36-month term.
In order to protect consumers who want such services from rushing into agreements, New York state adopted a law that specifically deals with these type of contracts — General Business Law § 391-l. The law requires for consumers to be verbally told, as well be notified in their written agreement, at the time they sign the contract or purchase a service, that they have seven days after signing the agreement to cancel it. Moreover, the seven-day cancellation period does not begin to run until such disclosures are made.
Attorney General James’ investigation found that — from at least January 2014 through February 2020 — Life Alert did not make these oral and written disclosures, affecting over 16,000 New York consumers who contracted with Life Alert (some continue to utilize the service on a month-to-month basis, while others cancelled the service after their contract terminated). Further, when consumers tried to cancel their service, Life Alert refused. The company instead told consumers that they had signed a 36-month agreement and that the best it could do was either lower the consumer’s monthly payments or allow them to cancel only if the consumer agreed to keep their service for six additional months. Because Life Alert never gave the oral and written disclosures explaining the seven-day cancellation right required by New York law, consumers were, in fact, entitled to cancel their contracts immediately, upon request.
Under the terms of today’s agreement, Life Alert will send notices to all of its current New York customers who are in the first 36 months of their contracts and who have never requested cancellation, notifying them of their right to cancel their Life Alert contracts immediately, if so desired. Additionally, for those consumers who had unsuccessfully requested cancellation during the 36-month term of their contracts, Life Alert will offer refunds of the amounts they paid to the company 30 days after they made the cancellation request, up to 24 months of payments or the number of payments they actually made, whichever is less. Life Alert will also pay the state of New York $750,000 in penalties, costs, and fees for the violations of state law.