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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Only in America

A while back I got a notice informing me that I'm a member of a class in a class action lawsuit being brought against a life insurance company with which I have a policy. The company apparently wronged all us policyholders somehow. But have no fear, a law firm in Los Angeles is vigilantly vindicating our rights!

I get quite a kick out of these lawsuits. I've been a class member a few times before. When the case winds up, everybody in the class gets something like a coupon for $1.19 off at Pizza Hut, and the law firm who brought the case gets seven or eight figures as its fee. Great.

Anyhow, I got another notice in the mail yesterday, informing me that yes! Hurray! A settlement has been reached! If we just sit back and do nothing, we class members will get a check in a little while. How much will our check be? It doesn't say. But it does say that if we want to opt out of the class and pursue our own remedies, we have to act fast:

This is quite interesting, because as I say, I just received this notice in the mail yesterday, which was four days after the deadline. Guess my chance to opt out wasn't much of a chance at all.

Oh well. I'm looking forward to my big settlement. I'm thinking mushroom, pepperoni, and olive.

Comments (14)

Well of course getting notice of your right to opt out after the opt out deadline simply means that a short note to the court explaining the situation would probably preserve your right to opt out, if you wanted it. And letting the court know that the lead attorneys screwed up on the notice would probably help get their cut knocked down so that more would flow to the class.

Trial Lawyers for Public Justice has a nice effort going to intervene against abusive class action settlements that only benefit the attorneys. http://is.gd/aSXf

I was in a class against a drugmaker -- I got a pretty nice check ($70 or so) for doing absolutely nothing and am glad that the drugmaker got stung hard for its misconduct, so I also don't mind that the attorneys did well.

Given our corporate-owned government and "regulators" like the FDA staffed with nothing but executives from (and who will return to) the regulated companies (Lilly, Merck, etc.), class actions are about all we have left to hold these turds accountable.

I'm guessing that your reward in this case will be more or less commensurate with the effort you're devoting to the cause.


Maybe you need to take something that really messes you up to get the big payday. I received five figures on a contact lens suit. $210 on a drug claim. My dad got $400 +/- on price gouging. The big winner? was my cousin who got $450K, but those meds really screwed him up, so winner probably not what he is thinking right now.

a short note to the court explaining the situation would probably preserve your right to opt out

That would be great, except that the address of the court is nowhere to be found on the notice or the lawsuit website. There are, however, quite a few warnings not to bother the court -- for anything.

I normally boycott these because I don't want to encourage the law firms. But recently I received one about a power adaptor that I had to replace for my laptop computer. That particular power adaptor was truly deficient and I had to replace at least two or three of them. Now they promise me $50 to $80 for each one.

I am not quite sure how these things work. Should I go along? If I refuse, will it just mean more money for the lawyers? Or will they get more if I accept the settlement?

I'm looking forward to the day that some judge presiding over a class action suit like this would tell the attorneys "Let's be fair, a normal profit margin in our socialist order for many industries and professions is 5%. Your fees for this $5 Million award for your five years of effort will be $250,000. Thank you for helping the masses."

I am not quite sure how these things work.

In short: imperfectly. What they are supposed to do is aggregate your small but legitimate claims, that you could never economically pursue only for yourself, with other similar ones so that the aggregate is big enough (a) to justify legal work being done on your behalf for pay, and (b) to raise the stakes for the defendant company to a level that can't be ignored. Without this mechanism, lots of small injuries could be inflicted with, as a practical matter, impunity. To have the benefit of all that, we seem to have to live with a system that can be very lucrative for plaintiffs' lawyers, often at the expense of the real claimants.

Allan L: yes, bringing - and, don't forget, winning (a case or a settlement) can be lucrative for the lawyers, but it's not at the expense of any real claimants, unless you think they are entitled to have benefit of the lawyering done for the class without paying for it.

I personally think it would be swell if we had salaried state attorneys who would act as the attorneys to pursue class actions on behalf of state residents and do it for no cut of the damages recovered.

Oddly, the companies that fund election campaigns to the state legislature see it differently.

I personally think it would be swell if we had salaried state attorneys who would act as the attorneys to pursue class actions on behalf of state residents and do it for no cut of the damages recovered.

Not sure that would be so swell. I would presume they are granted a monopoly to do this; after a while, such entities tend to forget who the client is.

I agree with Lee regarding the attorney's fees in these class action cases. As a business owner, I was part of a class action against one of the major credit card companies regarding excessive fees on debit cards. And the tiny check I got was so small I think I threw it away. But I'm sure the law firm representing the class got a nice payout.

Dave A: Oh, it has definitely happened. That's why I became interested in TJPJ's project against abusive class settlements that do more for the lawyers than the class members.

You might also be interested in a group called HALT, halt.org, which "provides a powerful voice — working for consumers in Washington and across the nation — to make America's civil justice system more accessible and accountable for everyone."

George: winning is one thing; when I think of short-changed claimants, I'm thinking more of court-approved settlements, which I think still are the bulk of the cases. In these, I think claimants often get short shrift (with or without the "r" and the "f").

Allan: Understood. But if you look at the TLPJ link, you see that those cases--collusive settlements that benefit the defendants and the lawyers, but not the class--are precisely the ones that TLPJ challenges.

Here's one involving a class my Dad was in:

Dotson v. Bell Atlantic (Maryland State Court)

TLPJ challenged a proposed class action settlement of late fee claims by Bell Atlantic (now Verizon) customers in Maryland.The original settlement reached with the phone company would have paid $156,000 in relief to the class, but $13 million to the plaintiffs’ lawyers with the firm of Beins, Goldberg & Gleiberman. TLPJ represented objectors to this settlement and the state court rejected the settlement. As a result of three years of hard-fought litigation by TLPJ and other objectors’ counsel, a new settlement was reached that increases the amount paid to consumers to almost $17 million, while reducing the attorneys’ fees paid to class counsel to $6.1 million. TLPJ’s Michael Quirk was lead counsel for two objectors to the settlement; Kieron F. Quinn of Quinn, Gordon & Wolf, Chtd. in Baltimore, was lead counsel for ten objectors. The objectors in this case were also represented by TLPJ’s Paul Bland, Baltimore’s Richard Gordon and Martin Wolf, Philip Foard of Towson, Maryland, and Philip Friedman of Washington, D.C.

Press Release Regarding Final Court Approval of Improved Second Settlement (May 23, 2006) (link)

Maryland Circuit Court, Prince George's County, Final Approval Order (March 21, 2006) (link)

TLPJ’s Brief on the Merits to Maryland Court of Appeals Challenging Approval of Second Settlement (June 20, 2005) (link)

Maryland Circuit Court, Prince George’s County, Opinion and Order Denying Final Approval of Proposed Class Action Settlement (November 13, 2003) (link)

TLPJ's Reply Brief (May 2, 2003) (link)

TLPJ's Initial Objections (April 11, 2003) (link)

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