VRBO’s Anti-Fraud Guarantee Doesn’t Support Claim Over Fraudulent Listing–Hiam v. HomeAway

A vacationer found a listing of interest on VRBO (owned by HomeAway). After back-and-forth negotiations with the lister, he sent $46k for a week’s rental. The property proved to be fictional, so the vacationer got fleeced. VRBO investigated and, oddly, didn’t conclude the listing was fraudulent, even though VRBO had gotten other complaints about the same property. The plaintiff sued HomeAway for his losses. The district court ruled for HomeAway. My blog post on that ruling.

The appeals court frames the question: Does “use of the word ‘guarantee’ [constitute] a representation or warranty by HomeAway to its users that some degree of pre-screening or verification of listings takes place”? The court says no. HomeAway offered two refund programs, but the plaintiff didn’t want (or qualify) for either. Neither of the refund programs promised that HomeAway would prescreen or verify listings. The closest HomeAway came to making such a promise: “when a qualified user timely makes a claim for a limited refund, HomeAway at that time checks out the listing and pays the specified refund if it determines in its reasonable discretion that the offering is illegitimate.” This indicates HomeAway reviews only after a refund request is tendered. Further, HomeAway’s T&Cs disclaim any prescreening (“[w]e have no duty to pre-screen content posted on the Site by members, travelers or other users”) or database accuracy (Homeaway “specifically disclaim[s] any and all liability arising from the alleged accuracy of the listings” and says users are “solely responsible for verifying the accuracy of . . . content and descriptions”). Therefore, the claim fails.

The district court also relied on Section 230 extensively, but the appeals court expressly sidesteps Section 230 despite its broadly-worded Doe v. Backpage precedent.

Case citationHiam v. HomeAway.com, Inc., 2018 WL 1755803 (1st Cir. April 12, 2018)