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Class-action suits target money for tort lawyers

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POSTED January 7, 2014 1:51 a.m.

I am not upset at Target.

Yes, it was a hassle of sorts to get a new ATM card due to their security breach that impacted 40 million consumers. But who is kidding who? It took less time than finding a space at the DMV parking lot.

Bank of Stockton did the lion’s share of the work. They issued the warning letter. They secured and sent out the new cards. All I had to do was open my mail, make a call, and punch in some numbers.

And if by some chance I had become a victim of charges due to the theft of information from Target’s servers the company has made it absolutely clear I wouldn’t be on the hook. Their website clearly states — as did their corporate spokespeople — “You have zero liability for any charges you didn’t make.”

I shopped at Target after the security breach with my old card and have shopped at Target since I got my new ATM card activated. If that’s a hassle, bring it on.

Now let’s talk about the real crime being committed against Target customers .

On the day the security breach was announced, seven suits seeking class-action status against Target were filed in federal court. The number swelled to 40 by year’s end.

Amazing. Seven people alleged financial damages from the data swiped from Target’s point-of-sale terminals even before there was any proof that they had incurred any loss. Twelve days later as 2013 came to a close and 33 others joined them again without any proof that anyone has even incurred a loss of a penny via the data breach.

Behind all of this is greed practiced by a handful of lawyers that have a special place reserved for them in Hades — class-action lawsuit attorneys.

They operate on the assumption that any wrong is the Mother Lode and can be justified by emphasizing that the law was broken and therefore the firm in question must be punished. The problem with many tort attorneys is every alleged wrongdoing is Mt. Everest. What happened at Target is no asbestos case. There isn’t even evidence that anyone has been financially damaged except for the banks scrambling to replace cards and Target itself.

The plaintiffs seeking class-action status demand Target provide credit monitoring services to anyone suffering bogus charges due to the data theft. Only one problem: Target has already said it will do that.

What the class-action suit filings are all about is tort lawyers profiting off Target.

Two of the most egregious examples include:

• The 2007 California lawsuit against Ford for alleged defects in the Explorer that lawyers proclaimed was a $500 million settlement. One little problem: The lawyers got $25 million in cash, members of the class (the alleged victims) all received coupons worth $500 off the purchase of a new Ford. Only 148 took advantage of the settlement for a combined $74,000. That’s right. The lawyers got $25 million and those allegedly damaged got $74,000.

• The1995 Bank of Boston settlement where the bank had collected too much in mortgage escrow accounts. The lawyers bragged about the settlement that secured those in the class $2.19 to $8.76 from the bank while they pocketed $8.5 million in legal fees. There was one little problem. The settlement terms allowed the bank to deduct those legal fees from the various plaintiffs that benefited. That meant they may have “won” as much as $8.76 but it cost them $91 apiece in the end. The big winners were the class-action lawyers that earned a cool $8.5 million.

Not all class action lawyers are in it for the big payoff.

That said, too many class-action lawyers troll for business.

Just over 10 years ago one worked Manteca trying to convince enough folks who bought Raymus-built homes that they had defects that they should be compensated for.

Forget that none of them had contacted the law firm. Forget that Raymus Homes had a solid track record of responding to — and correcting — defect complaints. And forget that the late Antone Raymus when there seemed to be no pleasing a customer would go as far as offer to move them into a new home and take the one they had issues with back.

To the credit of those homeowners contacted, the Santa Monica-based law firm of Verboon, Milstein & Peter couldn’t get a class-action suit going. The firm essentially would troll California trying to whip up class-action lawsuits against builders.

In the end, guess who will pick up the tab for Target’s legal costs and if for some chance they are forced into a settlement? Those who shop at Target will pay the price.

Consider yourself lucky. Class-action lawsuits that have been based on less solid grounds in terms of injury have cost people their jobs when tort lawyers have secured outrageous punitive damages against companies they sue and forced them to close.

Why people sue is obvious. Lawyers pitch class-action lawsuits as a way they can become rich or get at least some amount of money with the only effort needed is to fill out a questionnaire.

Yet the odds of that happening are worse than winning big in the lottery.

But unlike them losing a  dollar or two a week playing the lottery the real losers are other consumers, employees and stockholders that end up paying the price of litigation that more often than not is mostly money that ends up going into a lawyer’s pocket.





This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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