5 On Your Side

Keep an eye on class action lawsuits to get money you're owed

Posted November 11, 2019 6:00 p.m. EST
Updated November 11, 2019 6:25 p.m. EST

— Are you getting your share of money owed to you for purchased products?

Unwanted phone calls, data breaches and even leaky refrigerators are just some of the products where settlements reached in class action lawsuits translate to money for proven customers. Class action lawsuit settlements involve a group filing a lawsuit against a company that decides to settle out of court instead of going to trial.

“I've probably gotten close to $1,000 now in all total," said Durham resident Angel Powell.

She checks for new settlements every week.

There can be dozens to sort through.

"Some things take two minutes, some take, like, 10," Powell said.

It’s time she said is well spent.

“The least amount has probably been around $12,” she said. “The most has been, like, $320."

She uses TopClassActions.com, a site that connects claimants with cases.

Scott Hardy created it and is its president and CEO.

The site is “connecting people to that cash that otherwise just goes away,” he said.

Attorneys pay the website to post investigations and class actions suits.

Class action cases target products, companies or entities and usually claim customers were somehow harmed or misled.

“All you need is one plaintiff to file it, but it affects thousands, if not hundreds of thousands or millions, of people,” Hardy said.

A judge has to certify or approve the case for it to move forward. Sometimes companies will settle rather than go to trial.

Payouts can range from cents on the dollar to thousands.

“It's not just trying to get money back in your pockets, but it's also trying to change the behavior of the corporations,” Hardy said.

That can include changing the promises made on product labels.

The maker of Roundup, Monsanto, agreed to clarify mixing instructions on labels after a class action suit claimed the weed killer concentrate made only half of what the label claimed.

Customers could get a second check if there’s money left over.

But sometimes, people can get less money than expected.

A class action suit that targeted StarKist Tuna and under-filled cans initially promised either $25 in cash or $50 in tuna coupons.

But more people than expected filed claims, so the payout was $2.38 in cash or $5.03 in tuna coupons.

Hardy encourages people to look at TCPA settlements — violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

“Those are, like, if you get those spam phone calls on your cellphone that are super-annoying,” Hardy said. “Those have the potential of paying out hundreds of dollars.”

Hardy said settlements have paid between $250 and $450 per claim because people don’t often participate in them.

To see whether you got a text or phone call and to prove eligibility, visit the settlement administrator’s website and enter your phone number.

When it comes to filing claims, Hardy has four points to keep.

First, it’s best to have proof. “If you want to maximize your claims, you're going to want to save those receipts,” Hardy said.

Be sure to register your products. That way, you’ll automatically be contacted if that product is ever part of a case.

Third, a little extra effort can pay off. “If, God forbid, you have to print out a claim form and send it in or email it in, do it,” Hardy said. “I've seen claims that were supposed to be $50 pay out $350 or more from those types of settlements because people just don't bother."

Finally, patience is key. Settlements can take months, if not years, to pay out.

“It’s a nice surprise because you don't know when it's coming,” Powell said. “It's nice to just to have free money.”

There are checks in place to flag fraudulent filings, and people trying to cheat the system can be prosecuted.

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