Last December, Theodore Karantsalis received a letter from Sprint, where he was a customer, telling him that someone who banks with Wells-Fargo—where he’s not a customer—was presented with his invoice and personal data when they logged into their Wells-Fargo Checkfree account. The customer contacted Sprint, and Sprint contacted Karantsalis. Karantsalis decided that he’d deal with the issue on his own instead of bringing a lawyer into it or throwing his hands up in frustration, so he took both companies to small claims court.
Neither company bothered to send a lawyer to the hearing—although the day before the hearing, they contacted him with a settlement offer if he agreed not to discuss the case with the media—and last week Karantsalis won damages plus court fees for a total of $756.80.
Okay, so that’s clearly not enough money to hurt either company—Sprint easily spends 50 times that every day giving lobotomies and tongue-bobs to Customer Service new hires—but we’re impressed with Karantsalis’ DIY approach to legal justice. As Evan Schuman notes in a related article, there are lots of ways you can define “winning” in a situation like this, but few of them can beat the odds of wrapping up a small claims case quickly and in your favor:
Is the objective to make the consumer whole, in the sense of getting them to the point financially where they would have been the data privacy booboo never happened?
Is it to make it much more likely that the wrong will never be repeated, sparing other consumers of the headache? Is it to make money for the consumer? Is it, dare I say, to make moneys for the law firms?
The recent TJX lawsuits, for example, could be said to have failed for their consumer plaintiffs on all of those objectives, other than making money for the law firms and even that money was rather paltry.
Schumann wistfully describes a mass consumer uprising, where everyone foregoes class-action lawsuits and uses small claims court instead to seek reasonable damages—for instance, Karantsalis came up with his figure by tripling the cost of a year of data encryption services.
With this settlement publicized, will tens of thousands consumers now take these frequent breach notification letters and drive to their local small claims court? The onerous nature of a retailer having to defend against literally tens of thousands of virtually identical accusations was precisely the kind of situation that class-action lawsuits were supposed to eliminate. But the civil demands for financial losses create a crack for these cases to slip into.
Theodore Karantsalis as a Small Claims Court Johnny Appleseed! Small Claims FTW! Oh, wait… we signed all those damned arbitration agreements.
(Thanks to econobiker!)
“The Librarian Wins In The Data Breach David Vs. Goliath Battle” [StorefrontBacktalk]