Complaints Pour In Surrounding Erie Limo Business
More on the story Erie News Now broke, about an Erie limousine company, under fire for allegedly duping people in at least a dozen states, out of thousands of dollars.
After our story aired Wednesday, several more alleged victims have come forward with horror stories of their own.
As we reported, the Better Business Bureau issued a warning against Matt Barnes' several limo scheduling companies, for consumers to read the fine print, after complaints from people in 12 states.
Barnes runs several limo scheduling companies, under the names of Barnes Professional Limousine service LLC and Walten Point Productions. The BBB says the company provides limo rental services and operates around the country under names such as Erie Limo Services, Go VIP Worldwide, South Miami Limos, Barnes Worldwide, Baton Rouge Limo, and others.
According to apparent victims and company contracts, he reportedly charges people $500, just for questioning surprise overcharges.
There are now reports surfacing of terrible customer service experiences.
Like from Becca Piasecki, of Erie. Five years ago, she said "I do" at Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Erie, “Everything was great, we walked out of the church and I was thinking, ‘Oh my God.”
That shock was because she saw the limo she had rented for her big day, “It was making really loud noises, it had some sort of muffler issue, there were clouds of black smoke coming out of the limo, on the side where I had to get in with my wedding dress,” said Piasecki. “It was like, when you see a tractor trailer accelerating and you see that smoke coming out of the semi, that was what was coming out of the limo,” Piasecki described.
The wedding party chugged around Erie in the limo, which Piasecki says wasn’t even the one she requested, “I just remembered thinking, ‘Oh my gosh I'm so embarrassed.’”
So, Monday came along, and she called Walten Point Productions and Barnes Limo, the company she booked the limo with, to complain.
But the contract she signed said something like this, “Due to unforeseen problems or high maintenance costs and/or availability of all and any vehicle maintenance parts, Barnes Financial Limousine Service can not guarantee all but not limited to lighting, strobes, CD/DVD player, cooling system etc. will be properly working on the date of your service.”
“If something stops working or is not working correctly there will be no compensation to the customer.” “He (Barnes) just said that we signed a contract and he can send whatever (limo) he wanted,” said Piasecki.
Piasecki’s story is similar to many being shared, following a report on Erie News Now about alleged deceptive business practices against the Erie-base limo scheduling company, owned by Matt Barnes.
As we reported, many customers across the country say they were getting billed hundreds of dollars more than they were quoted. When they called to question the charges, soon after, they were charged an additional with $500 dollars on their credit cards.
All because of a line tucked in the contract which they signed, and many admittedly did not read. It reads, “If a purchaser charges back, disputes or inquires about any charges applied by our company to their credit / debit card, purchaser authorizes a charge of $500 per transaction to be charged to their credit/debit card to cover fees, penalties and or administration costs applied to or bared by the company."
“It was a little surprising to see some of the things that were in there,” said Erie business lawyer, Adam Williams.
Erie News Now sat down with Williams to take a closer look at one of the contracts Barnes provided a customer.
One line read, “If there is a disagreement regarding service or the contract, all decisions by the company will be final.”
“The $500 fee for questioning the company is buried in the middle of a paragraph that's 15 lines long, unless you're really reading this thing carefully, you wouldn't know that these provisions are in there,” said Williams. “So I think if this did get in front of a judge, they’d have some concerns with this language,” Williams continues.
Erie lawyer Craig Markham says there are consumer protection laws in place, to protect consumers from misleading, deceptive or confusing business practices.
Markham says there are a couple of statutes under the Pennsylvania Consumer Protection Law, the Plain Language Consumer Contract Act, which addresses the way consumer/business contracts are written. If a contract is written in a way which makes it hard for consumers to understand, or read, it could be in violation of that law.
One of the statutes addresses specifically what a contract looks like, small, congested print, may not be not legal, “The statues are designed to help consumers from entering into contracts that they don’t fully understand, or the meaning is somewhat hidden by legalese or phrase or words that maybe are not clear to most people,” said Markham. “These statutes are designed to protect consumers from businesses who try to take advantage of them,” Markham continued.
Markham and Williams say consumers can take action against any company they’re concerned about, by contacting the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, or they can hire an attorney.
Williams says if a business is found to be engaging in deceptive or misleading behavior, clients can win three times their damages, and even recover attorney fees.
But when all is said and done, both attorneys, the Better Business Bureau, even customers who feel they were duped, remind everybody to always read the fine print.
Erie News Now contacted the Pennsylvania Attorney Generals' Bureau of Consumer Protection, they say they have received complaints, but would not confirm or deny any investigation.
The AG's office says if you believe you have been a victim of deceptive business practices, regardless of where the business is based, you can file a complaint online.
Erie News Now reached out to Matt Barnes and spoke to him at length, off the record, at his request. So Barnes did not provide any comments or response to the allegations against his various companies.
Below is an example of the contract Barnes provided a customer for limo service :