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Blockbuster Late Fee Case Creeping North of the Border

4 Feb, 2002 By: Joan Villa

The case against late fees has crept north into Canada after attorneys there filed for class action status against Blockbuster Video for separate lawsuits filed in three provinces.

The class action request filed in Quebec Superior Court comes on the heels of settlements in the United States for some 20 cases filed around the country. Those will conclude when a U.S. District judge finalizes the agreement, which awarded free rental coupons to some 40 million American consumers without changing the retailer's extended viewing fee policies, according to Blockbuster spokesman Randy Hargrove.

"We consider [the Canadian cases] to be without merit and we're going to defend them vigorously," Hargrove said.

The Canadian filing claims the chain's late fees are "exorbitant" and violate Canadian laws including Quebec's Consumer Protection Act, according to a report in The Montreal Gazette.

Hargrove says there is a difference between how Blockbuster handles the charges in the two countries. In Canada, an overdue tape triggers a fee prorated from the original rental term, so if the rental originally cost $3 for four nights, an additional day of extended viewing would cost 75 cents, he said.

In the United States, late tapes activate a new multiday rental term of either two or five evenings, along with the original charge for that term. Prior to February 2000, when some of the U.S. cases were originally filed, Blockbuster charged late customers a daily rental rate for each 24-hour period that the tape was overdue, regardless of the original rental term.

Hargrove said Blockbuster has successfully fought some extended-fee cases in the past, but ultimately decided it was too costly and impractical to defend all of them.

"When you have a lot of cases in courts around the country, we looked at the most efficient way to move forward and that was to settle," he said.

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