Class Action Suits Piling Up Against AOL

New York state residents are joining the growing list of litigants
filing class action law suits against America
Online Inc.

The class-action suit was filed Friday in the New York Supreme Court in Manhattan. The suit claims that America Online (AOL)
knowingly released its 5.0 software upgrade that changed users’ TCP/IP
settings without warning.

The New York suit further alleges that AOL’s 5.0 software installation
rendered several personal computers inoperable and prohibited users from
connecting to the Internet through an independent Internet service provider.

Seattle-based attorney Steve Berman, Hagens Berman managing partner,
filed the New York suit under the Consumer Protection Act. The New York
class-action filing comes on the heels of similar lawsuits filed on behalf
of AOL users in Arizona, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington.

Berman said consumers are demanding satisfaction from AOL and soon the
filings may reach a national scale.

“After we filed our initial complaint in Washington, we immediately began
receiving hundreds of calls and e-mails from disgruntled AOL users from all
across the country asking how they could join the Washington State suit,”
Berman said. “We’ve filed complaints in Washington, Oregon, Arizona, and
today, New York, but could well expand our efforts to other states.”

Each suit claims the Internet giant failed to divulge to its users that the
AOL 5.0 upgrade would make dramatic changes to the users’ operating systems
and would interfere with the user’s ability to connect to the competing ISP
networks.

“AOL 5.0 promised users 500 free hours of faster, better Internet access,”
Berman said. “But in reality, many novice users found that once they
installed AOL 5.0, removing the software was nearly impossible. This was a
brazen attempt by AOL to hold these customers hostage as long as they
wanted to connect to the Internet.”

Rich D’Amato, AOL spokesperson, said that is simply not the case, and the lawsuits are meritless.

“The 5.0 software provides users with the ability to select AOL as their
default Internet connection, but only if they make the choice to do so,”
D’Amato said. “It’s designed to provide a more stable online environment,
but it doesn’t prevent users from accessing the Internet through another
provider.”

The final step in the AOL 5.0 installation process allows users to select
AOL as their provider of choice. By doing so, users override settings that
would permit access to other ISPs.

According to Berman, the AOL 5.0 upgrade is allegedly an insidious way the
company could force consumers to use AOL.

“Once the software was up and running, it changed so many of the systems
configurations, the average user had no hope of connecting with anyone else
other than AOL” Berman said. “Many who tried to unwind the installation
found that it was almost impossible since it affected more than 200 files.”

Technicians of independent ISPs have been swamped by callers asking for
help to return their personal computers to regular programming throughout
the U.S. In order to repair a computer’s dial-up properties after
installing the AOL 5.0 upgrade, users must re-program their device manager
settings.

After selecting the network adapter area and double clicking on the AOL
adapter, a user may modify the device properties of their connection. If
they operate with Microsoft Corp.
(MSFT)
Windows 95 or 98, users must disable the AOL adapter in order to surf the Internet and still connect to AOL.

The New York suit is the eighth action filed against American Online this
year. Attorneys hav

e filed class-action lawsuits in Arizona, California,
New Jersey, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington on behalf of millions of AOL
customers using the 5.0 release. Three independent Internet service
providers filed suit against AOL in Baltimore City Circuit Court last month.

The class, if approved, would represent all AOL users in New York who
subscribe to the service and installed AOL 5.0. According to Berman, the
exact number of people affected by this is yet unknown, but could number in the tens of thousands.

The complaint filed by Berman in New York, is identical to the complaint
failed on behalf of AOL users in Washington, taking into consideration
minor nuances of New York consumer law.

Berman filed the complaint on behalf of plaintiff David Drew, and similarly
situated AOL users in New York. On Feb. 8, Drew installed AOL
Version 5.0 from a CD-ROM onto his home personal computer. In addition to
being an AOL subscriber, he also had an account with MSN.

According to the complaint, after installing AOL 5.0 on his computer, Drew
could not connect to MSN. Whenever he would try to connect he would get
repeated error messages. He contacted MSN and they were unable to solve
the problem.

When Drew informed MSN that he recently installed AOL 5.0, he was advised
that the AOL 5.0 software was causing his problems. Drew has since
cancelled his account with AOL.

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