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Follow the money trail and watch the lawyers

Sometimes the lady who delivers the mail to my home leaves correspondence I could do without. Such was the case recently when I received a notice of a proposed “class action settlement” in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
It seems I am a prospective plaintiff in a civil suit. Since being a plaintiff is much better than being a defendant, I read the form letter.
If I was charged for certain computer software purchased between July 1, 2008, and Aug. 23, the letter said, I might be able to participate in the proposed settlement. The hook was set.
A claim form must be submitted by Jan. 17, or later, depending on when the court enters an order of final judgment. I could, the notice explained, do nothing; exclude myself from the class action, hire an attorney and file my own lawsuit at my expense; write to the court and tell the judge what I thought of the proposed settlement; or attend a hearing Dec. 6 in Chicago and ask to speak to the judge.
The software program never worked right. I wrote the company and complained that following directions were as clear as mud and simply didn’t work.
And their reply: It seems the instructions were written before the software and it didn’t work out as planned, the reply stated, adding a set of instructions that matched the software in my possession would be sent as soon as they could get around to it.
They did send the revised instructions a year or so later, but by that point I had thrown the non-functioning computer disc in the trash. The new instructions were useless.

A class action is a lawsuit in which one or more plaintiffs — in this case, three people I have never met — sue on behalf of themselves and other people who allegedly have similar claims. The three can enter into a written settlement. The notice said the court has given preliminarily approval to the agreement.

The fine print – always check the fine print when attorneys are involved — was included in the second amended complaint. The firm that designed the software and two companies that were licensed to sell the product naturally “deny claims of wrongdoing, but have agreed to settle all claims against them to avoid the expense of continued legal proceedings.”
The important information was on page 16 of the notice under “payments to settlement class members.” I read the long paragraph three times to make sure I had not overlooked a comma or period:
“A cash payment of $12.50 to each settlement class member who submits a valid claim form in accordance with the procedure set forth. … In addition, the settling defendants have agreed to pay class counsel’s attorneys’ fees and costs not to exceed $1.2 million, incentive awards to the class representatives collectively totaling $3,000, and the administrative cost of the settlement.”
If I understand the notice, each consumer who paid $39.99 for the software will receive $12.50, while the attorneys will be paid $1.2 million.
I could tell the court what I think about the settlement, but I doubt the $12.50 would cover the cost of a contempt citation.
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Larry Fugate is a veteran journalist and former editor of The Pine Bluff Commercial. He can be reached by e-mail at fugatel@sbcglobal.net or at (870) 329-7010.