Stay Classy—Class Action Lawsuits Are Great if You Represent the Class

One of the things it seems we all get in the mail from time to time is a notice of the settlement of a class action case that somehow we are a part of.  If we send in some information we can participate in the settlement.  Otherwise, we can’t.

At the beginning of the year I received a letter advising that the Emergen-C class action lawsuit was settled and I am a potential class member.  I have been a user of Emegen-C for many years.  I have no idea if it works, but I like watching the pellets dissolve in water (reminds me of when my father would take Alka Seltzer).  While not quite as exciting as winning the lottery, I had thoughts or getting free Emergen-C for life.

The first thing I needed to do was to determine whether I was actually a member of the class.  The Settlement Class includes all people who purchased Emergen-C between June 1, 2006 and February 27, 2012.  There was no doubt that I fit in that category.

The amount of the settlement?  $6,450,000.  Nice.  That will sure provide me with a huge supply of Emergen-C.  I am all set.

Now, let’s look at the fine print.  According to the settlement, the fund is to be used to pay, in order: (1) all costs and payments associated with the notice and administration of the settlement, including all payments to the Settlement Administrator; (2) any necessary taxes and tax expenses; (3) any Fee and Expense Award made by the Court to Class Counsel; (4) any class representative service award made by the Court to Plaintiffs; and (5) payments to eligible Claimants and any others as approved by the Court.

Let’s go through this one item at a time.  First to get paid are the hard costs in sending out in the notice of the settlement and the costs associated with administering the settlement.  I guess that is okay.  Second to get paid are taxes.  Can’t argue with that.  Third to get paid are attorney’s fees.  Fourth to get paid is something for the class representative.  I am okay with that.  But, let’s wait a minute.  We have now gone through four categories of payments.  Notice anyone who has not yet been included?  Right, the people who are actually supposed to benefit from this great lawsuit.  Anyone?  Anyone?  Bueller?  Oh, here we go, fifth and last are the actual claimants.

Well, I guess that is okay.  After all, while I am one of the aggrieved parties, one of the people the attorneys were supposed to protect, I am sure the settlement will take care of me.  So, what will I be “taking to the bank”?  Let’s take a look at what I will actually get:

If you have Proof of Purchase (valid receipt or box packaging), you can claim the full purchase price you paid for the Products during the Settlement Class Period. If you have a receipt you may seek reimbursement of the purchase price stated on the receipt. If you have box packaging you may seek reimbursement ranging from $4.36 to $12.97, depending on the Product(s) purchased. Claimants with Proof of Purchase may seek reimbursement up to a maximum recovery of $36.

If you do not have Proof of Purchase, you may file a claim for 75% of the average price, per box package of the particular Product(s) you purchased during the Settlement Class Period, up to a maximum recovery of $18. Those average prices range from $4.36 to $12.97, depending on Product purchased.

The actual amount paid to individual Claimants will depend upon the number of valid Claims made and may be reduced pro rata if the total value of all valid Claims is greater than the money available in the Settlement Fund.

In case you did not read all 3 of the paragraphs, let me give you the sound bite: you can get up to $36, but only if you have the Proof of Purchase for the product.  If you don’t have the Proof of Purchase, you will get between $4.36 and $12.97

I don’t know about you, but I have not kept my “Proof of Purchase” of all of my Emergen-C purchases since 2006.  Perhaps I am the only one, but I don’t keep empty boxes for 8 years (full disclosure—I throw them out as soon as I open them).

Are you wondering about how much the attorneys will make?  I looked at the actual settlement agreement.  According to the agreement, the attorney’s have agreed to limit their fees to no more than 30% of the Settlement Fund.  It certainly made me feel better, knowing that while I would get enough money to buy a couple of Mocha Frappacinos at Starbucks, the attorneys had agreed to limit their fees to $1,935,000.  As long as it was less than $2,000,000, it seems fair.

While there may be value to certain class action lawsuits, it certainly seems that the real winners are the lawyers.

by Robert M. Bovarnick

Rob Bovarnick is a graduate of the University of Miami School of Law. Prior to starting his firm, he was Vice Chair of the Bankruptcy Group at a 170 lawyer firm and head of the Creditor’s Rights practice at a 20 lawyer firm. He is the former Chair of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Conference.