A Perth tree lopper with a dubious history of bad behaviour when dealing with consumers has been ordered by the Supreme Court to pay a total of $22,380.60 in fines and costs after being convicted on appeal of breaching consumer laws relating to unsolicited sales.
Sean Robert Weinthal, who at the time of the offences was operating under the business name West Coast Trees, was fined $7,500 and was required to pay costs of $9,880.60 for the Magistrates Court trial and $5,000 for the appeal. He was originally acquitted of the charges by the Perth Magistrates Court in June 2019 but this was overturned by the Supreme Court on appeal by Consumer Protection on 30 April 2020.
The charges arose from Mr Weinthal’s dealings with a Mosman Park consumer in January 2017 after the home owner requested a quote to remove a palm tree on her property. A quote was provided and accepted under pressure with the work due to be carried out next day.
However, upon reflection, the consumer cancelled the contract that afternoon and asked for a refund of $480 which wasn’t provided, but the credit card payment was reversed by her bank four months later.
The Supreme Court determined after hearing the appeal that, because the consumer had only asked for a quote, the transaction was regarded as an unsolicited consumer agreement and a ten business day cooling off period would have applied. Mr Weinthal should have also provided information about the consumer’s cancellation rights and instructions on how to cancel the contract, which he failed to do.
In handing down the penalty, Justice Tottle stated that the offending involved a deliberate disregard for the Australian Consumer Law, in particular provisions intended to protect consumers at their most vulnerable.
His Honour accepted that Mr Weinthal’s history demonstrates that this was not an uncharacteristic aberration but an attitude of disobedience to the law, and that the previous penalties have not proven effective and may indeed be seen as a cost of doing business.
Commissioner for Consumer Protection Lanie Chopping hopes that this penalty will deter further bad behaviour by Mr Weinthal in the future.
“Since 2006 we have issued numerous public warnings and taken numerous legal actions against Mr Weinthal as the owner and employee of various tree lopping businesses under a variety of names,” Ms Chopping said.
“Despite this, we have continued to receive complaints about his behaviour towards his customers and his questionable methods of securing business. We can only hope that this court penalty will result in Mr Weinthal changing his business practices so that they comply with the law.
“Our warnings against Mr Weinthal are still current and we would advise consumers when getting quotes to seek out more reputable tree loppers, of which there are many.”
Complaints against tradespeople can be lodged on the Consumer Protection website