Class Action Suit Filed Against America Online (AOL)

February 9, 2000 / 6:45 am

MIAMI (February 9, 2000) — The Law Firm of Colson Hicks Eidson today announced that it filed a class action suit this morning in Miami Federal Court against America Online, Inc. (AOL) for unfair business practices and anti-trust violations.

The suit alleges that subscribers to AOL who install Version 5.0 of AOL’s Internet software experience problems after downloading the program. The suit further alleges that the installation of Version 5.0 deliberately interferes with the use of non-AOL communications programs and with connections to non-AOL Internet service providers (ISP), resulting in the calculated and intended prevention and destruction of competition in the ISP industry.

Problems resulting from installing Version 5.0 include replacing or modifying critical windows files and communications setting, which makes it virtually impossible to connect to alternative ISPs. Once the program is installed, it makes it harder, if not impossible, to use another ISP.

“We feel it is an attempt by AOL, the largest Internet service provider in the world, to monopolize the ISP industry through deceptive tactics,” said Mike Eidson, partner at Colson Hicks Eidson, which handles cases in the burgeoning legal arena of emerging technologies.

The suit was filed as a class action brought by Miami residents Juan and Elizabeth Cofino on-behalf of an estimated 8 million AOL consumers who have already attempted to install Version 5.0. The complaint alleges anti-trust violations, common law state claims and a statutory unfair deceptive trade practice claim.

At no time did AOL alert its customers that during the installation process, AOL Version 5.0 would unnecessarily ‘customize’ the host system’s communications configuration and settings such as to interfere with any non-AOL software and service the customers might have or have in the future.

In addition to downloading Version 5.0, AOL has mailed CDs containing the program to millions of mailboxes across the country as part of AOL’s massive bulk-mailing program. Potential customers or even unsuspecting children can cause extreme damage to both the target computer and its existing file.

The named Plaintiffs, Mr. and Mrs. Cofino, have been AOL customers for a long time. Shortly after Version 5.0 was made available, they downloaded it from the Internet, primarily because AOL touted its additional features, such as the ease of attaching pictures to email. When they installed it, they were not warned that the software would make major changes to their Windows operating system.

In the Cofino’s case, the changes caused such havoc that they were unable to restore their system and lost very important personal and financial information. After losing such valuable data as tax returns, health care information and their children’s poems and schoolwork, they had to resort to reconfiguring their entire operating system.

“The problem is that users who have not yet experienced difficulties may do so when they connect to non-AOL service,” added Eidson. ”It is not yet clear the extent of the damage brought on by installing Version 5.0; the ultimate consequences of this evolving global dispute are unknown.”

The Law Firm of Colson, Hicks, Eidson, Colson, Martnez, Mendoza, Kalbac & Kane, P.A., is one of South Florida’s oldest and most prestigious trial law firms. The members of the firm, who are listed among the top trial lawyers in the United States, specialize in personal injury and wrongful death practice, commercial, securities, business tort, insurance, professional liability litigation, white collar criminal defense, and domestic and international arbitration.

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