A Fort Lauderdale company that markets free cruises over the phone will have to pay tens of millions of dollars in a class-action settlement with consumers who complained they were targeted in violation of junk-call telemarketing laws.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act is designed to curb indiscriminate robocalls by marketers. It is intended in part to separate legitimate phone marketing, such as the follow-up on leads when consumers indicate an interest in a cruise, from random automated dialing to troll for prospects.

In the settlement, Caribbean Cruise Line has agreed to pay consumers a minimum of $56 million and possibly up to $76 million. The company denies the calls violated the law and said the settlement is a compromise to avoid the risk and cost of a trial.

According to the suit, Caribbean Cruise Line marketed timeshare and vacation properties through the calls.

Consumers who answered the phone were asked to participate in a political survey in exchange for a free cruise. Many of the surveys were from Political Surveys of America. If the caller took the survey they were transferred, at their option, to a Caribbean Cruise Line agent who made a timeshare pitch.

At minimum, the unsolicited cruise calls were annoying, said consumers who joined the suit.

"As a business owner, I am plagued by numerous sales calls and surveys all day long. It can be quite irritating," Thomas J. Taylor, a Lackawanna, N.Y. doctor, wrote in a letter to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, where the suit was filed. "I remember these particular calls because of what they were offering and the frequency of when they were calling me back."

The settlement provides for a $500 payment per call. If the total claims exceed $76 million, the amount could be less, while if claims do not reach $56 million individual payments could be more.

Caribbean Cruise Line has ties to a previous cruise marketer, Imperial Majesty Cruise Line, which entered into a consent decree with the Florida attorney general in 2010 and agreed to pay $16 million in fines and restitution for failing to disclose extra fees not included in the advertised price of a cruise.

One of Imperial Majesty's owners was Fort Lauderdale businessman Daniel Lambert. Although not an officer of Caribbean Cruise Line, Lambert is listed as the sponsor of its 401(k) retirement plan in forms filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Imperial Majesty and Caribbean Cruise Line also share the same Fort Lauderdale address.

Caribbean Cruise Line agreed to settle the suit in September just prior to the start of a trial. A judge recently signed the settlement. Consumers have until Feb. 1 to submit a claim for payment.


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