ALBANY, N.Y. – The
Attorney General's office is going after a tree removal company in Lake George
– accusing it of ripping off victims of Tropical Storm Irene.
Eric Schneiderman's office
says the American Tree Company was gouging prices, accusing them of hiking
prices between 100 and 1,000 percent.
“American Tree engaged in a breathtaking scheme to
price gouge innocent New Yorkers out of thousands of dollars,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman
said. “The tactics used, and the excessive amounts charged, by this
company during a time of crisis in the community shocks the conscience. Whether
it is Tropical Storm Irene or Hurricane Sandy, our office has zero tolerance
for price gouging and we are fully committed to enforcing the law.”
According to papers the Attorney General filed in court,
American Tree not only charged consumers unconscionably excessive prices, but
also failed to disclose its fees prior to beginning work. In addition, the
company provided inaccurate “lowball” estimates or false promises of full
insurance coverage; failed to provide consumers with written contracts as
required by law; inserted pricing information on documents after they were
signed by consumers; charged consumers “emergency service call” fees
even when consumers did not call them for services and issued invoices that
contained false information.
The lawsuit follows an investigation by the Attorney General
that found the company hiked its fees exponentially for Irene-related work,
charging as much as $10,000 per tree for tree removal services and also hitting
consumers with undisclosed $1,500 “emergency service call” and $1,000
“after hours” fees. As a result, many consumers were hit with bills totaling
tens of thousands of dollars. In fact, at least ten consumers were charged
exorbitant amounts ranging from approximately $11,000 to nearly $50,000,
including an elderly consumer who was charged nearly $29,000 for work he never
authorized. In contrast, in the month before the storm, American Tree charged
no more than $4,000, and many bills were in the hundreds, not thousands, of
The lawsuit seeks an injunction prohibiting the business
from engaging in illegal and deceptive practices. It also seeks restitution and
damages for consumers who were victims of price gouging, disgorgement of profits
for Irene-related work, penalties and costs.
Consumers who used American Tree's services in connection
with Tropical Storm Irene and think they may have been the victim of price
gouging are urged to contact the Attorney General's office at 1-800-771-7755 or
www.ag.ny.gov. Consumers with price gouging
complaints arising from Hurricane Sandy can obtain a price gouging complaint
form at www.ag.ny.gov/hurricane-sandy-price-gouging-complaint-form.