Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Origin of a Million-Dollar Lawsuit

Being a lawyer, I'm more aware than most just how despised lawyers can be. Particularly when it comes to "frivolous lawsuits" - or rather, claims of frivolity where probably none exists.

So I'd like to discuss something that is usually left out of the sensationalizing (probably on purpose) - the true origin of million dollar lawsuits (most of the time): People (usually with large companies) being total assholes.

Here's an example. The woman was clearly wronged. Best Buy not only lost her computer, and all of her data on it, but they lied about it to her for weeks. Then they gave her weak-ass offers of "settlement" that didn't even cover the cost of her lost computer, and then later, they only barely covered it. Finally, when she filed suit, they offered a rather lame offer that still probably was far less than all the trouble they caused her was actually worth. So now after months and months of pissing her off, she has filed a million-dollar suit. Will she win that much? No. In fact, she doesn't really expect to - she picked the number partly to get media attention, which apparently worked - and that is also a good strategy because that puts more pressure on Best Buy to actually give a reasonable settlement offer.

To those who would complain that she (and it is interesting that there are no lawyers involved here, she filed it herself) filed a "frivolous" suit, well, it obviously isn't frivolous. She WAS wronged. They DO owe her money. And given their conduct, they don't just owe her the bare replacement value of the computer. They lost data. They exposed her to ID theft. They also lied to her repeatedly and made her waste a lot of time before finally admitting that they just lost her computer. How much is your time worth? When wasted by liars, it sure as hell is worth a lot.

And Best Buy could have avoided a lawsuit if, instead of being assholes about it, they had done the right thing from the beginning: admitted they were 100% wrong, offered her a brand new computer to replace the old one, her choice, any laptop they sell, and then a chunk of cash on top of that to cover her for her trouble with their lying employees and for dealing with her ID theft and replacing her data. That's how you not only avoid a lawsuit, but keep a customer. I don't know what that amount would be, but something in excess of $10,000 would probably be appropriate (in addition to the replacement computer). For one, that is way cheaper than the lawsuit will probably be after you account for legal fees for Best Buy. And that would also have avoided any negative publicity. I sure as hell would never buy a computer from Best Buy after hearing how she was treated.

But no, companies don't do this. Maybe they figure it is cheaper to stonewall and that most people just give up. Which is another reason why ridiculously high damage lawsuits like this are important. We need to make the bean counters factor into their little equations the fact that even if only 1 in 1000 customers totally screwed over like this actually file a lawsuit, it still needs to be cheaper for Best Buy to do the right thing with ALL of them. That's why punitive damages are so important. They are not about making the plaintiff whole -- they are about punishing horrendous conduct in an attempt to avoid having it repeated. It is especially important with corporations, since you can't throw a corporation in jail - so the only thing you can do to punish them is cost them money. Otherwise, if you just capped what she could get in compensation, then you'd be making it financially desireable for Best Buy to repeat this poor woman's experience every time, and that is just wrong.

In summation, the best way to avoid a lawsuit is to DO THE RIGHT THING FROM THE BEGINNING. People who are treated well and apologized to don't file lawsuits. (And when you do the right thing they are happy to sign an agreement not to file one).

I don't know how many cases I've seen where something has escalated far beyond what it should have simply because people were too pig headed to be reasonable.

Yes, I know there are some people who sue at the drop of a hat and just see dollar signs and a lottery payoff. Guess what - they don't get it - and a truly frivolous suit will very likely be dismissed at the pleadings stage. The system, flawed as it is, really works in that regard. Probably far, far, far more meritorious suits are dismissed than there are "friviolous" suits that make it past summary judgment. We can blame the right-wing noise machine for the false public perception that the opposite is the case.


BadTux said...

I've often pointed out on my own blog that if people would just do the right thing, there would be no need for lawsuits. Alas, some people just don't want to do the right thing... and so-called "tort reform" is just a way to hide those people from the consequences of their own immoral actions.

-- Badtux the Law Penguin

solid snake said...

I can tell you geek squad are not trained technicians. the way they ship peoples notebooks and stuff is by ups. geek squad favorite thing to tell customers is that the motherboard died or your hard drive needs to be replaced. things like that. They rely on 2 cds one called MRI 1 called customizer. how they remove viruses and spyware. they hook your computer up to something called agent johnny utah. its some one who remotely "works" on your computer or sabotages or god knows what else.
I been with the company only a few weeks I never had a single customer issue cause they deal direclty with me. it is unfortunate that geek squad agents lack intregrity and are nothing but punk kids who experiment on their parents computers who think they are technicians but they arent. all I can tell you for now but coming soon pics of how the computers are stored.