Life Alert, whose catch phrase, "I've fallen and I can't get up!" was a staple of late-night television commercials, has settled a consumer protection lawsuit by the state for $1.35 million, Atty. Gen. Daniel Lungren announced Thursday during a stop in Costa Mesa.
The state took issue with Life Alert's claim that its emergency response system was superior to other emergency systems and the company's high-pressure sales tactics on the elderly, the state attorney general's office said.
The settlement, reached late Wednesday in Sonoma County Superior Court after five days of trial, requires Life Alert to pay $700,000 in restitution to a victim restitution fund, $350,000 in civil fines and $300,000 in prosecution costs.
Lungren said people who feel they are entitled to funds have 45 days to contact the state attorney general's office.
A court order prohibits Life Alert, a Chatsworth-based company, from claiming that customers receive a faster response than with regular "911" calls and get preferential treatment and that its system is staffed by ex-police and ex-air traffic controllers who have special access to emergency services, Lungren said.
Life Alert must also limit in-house sales pitches to three hours. Lungren said he knew of at least one presentation that lasted for seven hours.
Sonoma County Dist. Atty. Gene Tunney said in a prepared statement that "California consumers, especially seniors, deserve full protection against those who engage in unscrupulous and predatory in-home practice sales."
In response to the settlement, Life Alert President Isaac Shepher said, "Unfortunately, small and medium-sized companies do not stand a chance against the massive resources of the state of California."
Shepher added that "If we could have mobilized more than a dozen lawyers as the state of California did . . . believe me, we would not have settled under these terms."
William McGivern Jr., an attorney representing Life Alert, said: "The violations in this case related to the practices of a small number of independent commission sales agents, who operated in the field, and whose actions took place away from company headquarters."
McGivern also said that quality of the Life Alert products was never an issue in the suit.
"This is a need some people have," Lungren said, of the Life Alert system. "We don't want to suggest it is not appropriate."
In September, 1991, district attorneys from nine California counties, including Los Angeles and the state attorney general, filed a $2-million suit against the company.