Class action settlement

American Express judgment

Brought to justice

Wanting to reassure myself that I had paid my American Express credit card bill I went online to check my account. I was surprised to see that I had received an award in a class action settlement.

Class action settlement appears in my "current transactions"

Big woo. My share of the settlement is the princely sum of forty-one cents (41¢). What can you buy with 41¢?

  • 82% of The Desert Sun from a newsstand
  • 2 oz of a Venti Mocha at Starbucks
  • 1 bite from a Snickers bar
  • 2/3 of a can of Coca-Cola
  • 1 glass of "two-buck Chuck"
  • 1 serving of potato chips from a "Big Grab" bag — that's not the whole bag, by the way!

I'm definitely of two (or more) minds about all the class action lawsuits.

On the one hand, it's always satisfying to know that a big company has been "brought to justice" and made to pay for their negligence, perfidy, crass exploitation,  [your favorite crime against humanity] .

But on the other hand, you know that even a multi-million dollar judgment hardly makes a blip in the bottom line of a big international company.

And on the third hand, you know that the only ones who have truly benefited from the lawsuit are the lawyers who have collected millions for their part. When it comes to the members of the class itself, the amount is just piddling. C'mon — nobody who can afford to carry an American Express card is going to be impressed by 41¢!

Over the years I've been a member of dozens of class actions. In only one case — a settlement against a mortgage company — did I receive anything actually worth something. Most of the time it's a certificate that is only worth something if you spend more money with the company that screwed you in the first place.

And speaking of certificates, has anybody gotten their certificate from the Microsoft class action suit?

I know I should be pleased that a company has been called to account for its actions. I should say, "It's not the money; it's the principle of the thing." But that would be a real stretch. All I can think of is the enormous waste of resources. I'm sure there have been several letters advising me about the American Express class action lawsuit, and think of the effort in figuring out who gets how much of the pot after the lawyers have taken their share!

Is American Express, or any other company for that matter, chastened by this slap on the wrist? Highly unlikely.

I surely don't know what the answer is. The reform bill recently passed and signed into law isn't the answer. All that did was make it harder for class action suits to be filed in the first place. If the objective is to reduce the number of class action suits, the quickest, surest way to do that would be to specify that the lawyers have to be paid in certificates. But that, of course, would be the wrong objective. A more worthy objective would be to make reparations to the aggrieved more immediate, more signficant, and more certain.