Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lawsuit Lottery: You, too, could be the winner!!!

On an earlier post, I mentioned the brand spankin' new semi-rigid dryer vent hose, that I received as part of a class action lawsuit with a big box store from which I bought my washer and dryer. Mind you, I didn't bring this legal action up against BIG BOX. I got a notice in the mail that I was one of many that had a dryer vent hose that might catch on fire and some nice lawyers were worried about the possibility of my house burning down. (if you didn't get the sarcasm please note: WARNING:BE AWARE OF SARCASM)

Yesterday alone I got two notices of upcoming litigation that we may participate in. Seems the Hertz Car Rental has been over charging some fees out in New Jersey. Evidently, hubby went through Newark's airport a couple years ago and got stuck paying a little too much. Now there is a throng, ( a herd? a gaggle? ah....) a team of lawyers working diligently to help us recoup the unfair charge. The other notice  is from some Bank that was part of a mutual fund that must of screwed us in some way but I haven't taken the time to read that one yet. Really, because I get these things all the time, it is nearly a full time job trying to figure out all the ways companies have abused us.

The thing about all this litigation that comes to us in a form that looks  like "a whole lot like junk mail" is that I never tend to do anything with it. I toss it in a file for future reference on the chance there was something that really did require some action on my part. Even with my "shove  it out of sight and ignore it" method of handling it, I usually get a settlement down the road in the form of an $8.00, $13.00 or the big money like $28.50.

I still occasionally get something related to ENRON. This one actually does fry my a**. Like everyone else we took a bath on this one. They really owe everyone way more than ten or fifteen dollars for the lying cheats that walked away rich and left us with little note cards saying we can try to recoup a couple of bucks.

Here is part of my point, everyone is suing everyone else in hopes of the big pay off. It is like going after the Powerball or Mega Millions but the odds might be slightly better because you are in a smaller pool of ticket holders. Who would of thought the day would come that suing and being sued would become so normal. For that matter, who would have thought it would turn out so lucrative for so many.

Which brings me to some points for today's little topic. Nearly everyone has a "lawsuit story".  We have several.  I will share one today. Some of the others might actually be more interesting but they are even longer than this one. We, however, have never sued for money. That fact takes some of the fun out of my examples.

When we moved to Texas, we had a new home built. It came up in the final inspection that the terraced slope of the back yard might be an issue in the event of a severe rain storm,  so we had it put into the contract that prior to closing that they would install French drains and bring those drains to the front of the property. For some ungodly reason, we were led to believe that the drains had been installed and we went to closing like lambs to a slaughter.

 At that time there were no homes built behind us.  During the first year, two more homes were built on the lots behind us.  The builder brought in a ton (figuratively speaking) of fill.  What was once flat land now sloped toward our slope. Visualize that our house is now sitting at the bottom of a very pretty terraced hill.

That first year we lived there it was a hot and dry.   Texas that year had record hot  temperatures and the drought conditions  lasted  all summer and into fall.  Unfortunately, when the rain started the following Spring our house was coming up on it's first birthday.  (ONE YEAR WARRANTY)
 On a particular  rainy day, I noticed the upper terraced area of the backyard had a waterfall coming off of it. I decided that might  NOT be a good thing so I set up a tripod with a camcorder looking out to the waterfall.  By the next day, there was a large waterfall and some movement of shrubs and trees.  Never a good sign. As luck would have it, hubby was out of town for an extended consulting gig, and got the privilege of listening to me tell him that I was really needing to build an ark. Mr. Optimism is sure I am exaggerating the whole thing and probably was watching TV and holding the phone away from his ear.

The rain continued into the next day and by this time I am going nuts.  (not a far distance for me) By day three we had a mud slide hitting the back of our house along with a LOT of water.  Enough to lift the ceramic tile right off the kitchen floor in fact, not to mention the vanishing act preformed by our back yard. Well, it didn't really vanish so much as come in the house to relax in my kitchen.

OK builder, where is that French drain that was supposed to be a helper here.  The builder was pretty secure in the "should have been taken care of before the year expiration of that warranty".  Seriously, you are talking to a crazy woman that has her garden growing next to her kitchen table and you are going THERE.

I went schlepping around to several lawyers.  The first lawyer was a coward.  It turns out that the developer of that community was a huge company with one of the owners being Ross Perot.  This guy didn't want to take on someone that had the lawyer power that this particular development  company had.  I wanted  the lawyer to make Ross and his buddies  come over and clean up the mess, put in a effective drainage system and replace all the crap that was damaged in my kitchen esp. the floor.

I continued my quest for a lawyer.  After 2 misses, I went to #3 and when he said.  "I can't think of anyone I would rather sue than Ross Perot".  Now we are talkin'! So he started by sending letters to the developer, builder, and the city government (for approving the additional fill sloping into my yard and not enforcing run off procedures mandated by the city).

After months of me and my lawyer going to meetings where the developer, city and builder all of which had dozens of lawyers that kept referring to me as "Little lady" and "maaaam"  (that is maam with a Texas drawl)  we were getting  NO  WHERE.

By this time I am thinking I need to be creative.  I took my camcorder video to a professional recording studio.  I asked them to enhance the sound track of the "wooshing" water and crunching branches and clean up the sequences so it looked nice. (I use the work "nice" loosely here).  It is really too bad, readers, that I can't put a VHS tape into this blog because that really was the piece de resistance. (see that 3 years of French continues to be useful).

We called one last meeting about 3 weeks before we were actually to go before a judge. My lawyer is still maintaining that no panel of Texans (I think the jury was to be 6 people???) would favor the builder, city and developer over me.    I wasn't prepared to take a chance.
So at the final meeting.  My lawyer puts in this glorious film that shows a great waterfall of muddy water complete with flowers and shrubs washing into my house. He then said it was going to be released to the local CBS affiliate.  (Big fan of the media when it works in my favor, not so much when it is going on and on about things like Paris Hilton etc)

The next day I get a call.  Out of the goodness of their hearts and certainly not because they did anything wrong, the developer and the builder were going halfies on  repairing my house, replanting my terraces and putting in the French drain. We didn't get completely off the hook as the amount of drainage they were willing to do seemed inadequate so we ended up doing some on our own.  But still not a bad outcome.  I said in retrospect, I should have added some punitive damages in the form of big moolah for the "little lady" condescending crap.

The good for the day....If you have a problem you can't resolve, it is great to find a really GREAT lawyer that will try to resolve the issue.  (not necessarily with buckets of money but if deserved not a bad thing)

The bad for the day... I can think of 3 families right off the top of my head that their only source of income is from suing people.  One of these families has been really successful at this.  Turns out you can sue someone for the most ridiculous reasons and get a decent amount of "GO AWAY NOW!" money. Hubby and I have been on the receiving end  (as in we were sued by some D****ss  for a ridiculous reason) of this once.  Luckily, it got kicked out because it was frivolous.  VERY STRESSFUL. I am sure that story will appear down the road for your reading pleasure.

The Weird...there are some fun and interesting cases that have been filed.(not necessarily won). Of course, everyone knows the Stella Liebeck suing McDonald's for the hot coffee that spilled on her crotch. (first judgement for 2.7 million and later reduced on appeal for a confidential amount.)
Most of the sources I looked up think the final settlement was less than $600,000. HOW MUCH LESS??? 500K would be a lot for a burn on one's lady parts.

Another example of an interesting lawsuit was the E trade baby commercial that Lindsey Lohan sued claiming that the baby was a take off of her. It does bring up some questions, I guess, the baby's name was Lindsey and she was a "holic". Kind of sad when you think people mean you because they reference an addition.

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