Final Stats On Heartland Payment Systems Class Action: $1,925 To 11 People, $600k To Lawyers

from the class-action-system-is-broken dept

We’ve been discussing for years just how broken the “class action” lawsuit system is in the US. The idea behind it sounds like it makes sense: if a company wrongs a bunch of people, the ability to bundle them all into a class, and get recompense via a single lawsuit seems like a good idea. But, in practice, class action lawsuits have basically just become a feeding trough for lawyers to become rich, with very little done to help those wronged. In some cases, the end results of class action lawsuits are completely laughable. Years ago, for example, we highlighted how Netflix “settled” a class action lawsuit by giving everyone a free one-month “upgrade,” but if you failed to downgrade by the end of the month, you were kept on the higher plan and charged for it. As I said at the time, that wasn’t a “settlement” so much as a marketing program. And, oh yeah, the lawyers who brought the lawsuit against Netflix got $2.5 million.

Law professor Eric Goldman, who’s spoken out about the broken class action system in the past, has another ridiculous example, this time involving Heartland Payment Systems. You may recall Heartland as being the company that had the largest security breach ever (at the time), losing data on over 100 million credit cards. A class action lawsuit (of course) followed, and Heartland agreed to pay up to anyone who could show that they were a victim of fraud from the loss. The company didn’t have cardholder addresses, so it spent $1.5 million to advertise the settlement, and estimated that over 80% of the potential class saw an ad at least 2.5 times. Either way, not too many claims came in. A total of 290 claims were made, but only 11 were found to be valid.

Heartland had to pay a maximum of $175 to those individuals. Assuming it did pay the maximum, that means the “victims” of the breach got a grand total of $1925 (perhaps less). According to the settlement agreement, Heartland was supposed to pay out at least $1 million to victims (and up to $2.4 million). If less than $1 million worth of victims were found, the rest would go to non-profit organizations focused on protecting consumer privacy rights. That leaves $998,075 for those non-profits.

So, let’s summarize:

  • Actual victims got: $1925
  • Heartland spent $1.5 million to find the people to give out that $1925.
  • Somewhere around $998,075 goes to non-profits
  • The lawyers who brought the lawsuit? They got $606,192.50. For helping 11 people get less than $200 each. Nice work if you can get it.

That $600k is actually a “discount.” The court recognizes the absurdity of using the full $1 million in calculating the “settlement,” so it knocks down the “value” (but not the payment) of the money going to the nonprofits, and then uses a bunch of random magic to award the attorneys that $600+k. And, of course, Heartland also ended up paying its own lawyers a ton. In the end, this system involved Heartland paying many millions of dollars… to benefit a “class” of 11 people and giving them less than $2,000.

As Goldman notes, the whole thing seems bizarre:

Thus, it appears they spent over $130,000 to generate each legitimate claim. Surprisingly, the court blithely treats the $1.5M expenditure as a cost of doing business, but I can’t wrap my head around it. What an obscene waste of money! Add in the $270k spent on claims administration, and it appears that the parties spent $160k per legitimate claimant. The court isn’t bothered by the $270k expenses either, even though that cost about $1k per tendered claim (remember, there were 290 total claims).

Something is broken with the system.

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Companies: heartland payment systems

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Comments on “Final Stats On Heartland Payment Systems Class Action: $1,925 To 11 People, $600k To Lawyers”

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Re: Re: Let them run amok.

“hypocritically pious” might not be a bad characterization here.

There is more then one element to this. It’s not just about the client pay day. The more important question is whether or not this will discourage the defendant from further acts of corporate wrongdoing.

Regardless. Merely letting corporations run amok isn’t the answer.

If a corporation paid dearly for a mistake, then that is not necessarily a tragedy. Perhaps they will view “Fight Club Math” as not being in their favor next time.

MrWilson says:

Re: Re:

I’m interested in getting into the trolling business since I hear it can be very lucrative. Can you point me to the software you use to automatically post the most random and inane comment on this website within minutes of each posting? I know you can’t possibly be so obsessed (or have so much free time) that you’re constantly refreshing the screen waiting for a new article to shit on.

Anonymous Coward says:

Something is broken with the system? Why?

The lawyers got paid to do the work. The litigants got a settlement, and the company in question paid a sum as a penalty for their misdeeds.

Now, if you think the lawyers are too expensive, that is one thing. However, consider the alternative:

The lawyers get nothing, the litigants get nothing, and the company keeps all their money and keeps on abusing people.

The system is only as broken as you imagine it to be. Reality says otherwise.

Donnicton says:

Re: Re:

However, consider the alternative:

The lawyers get nothing, the litigants get nothing, and the company keeps all their money and keeps on abusing people.

That’s the alternative? Why? Why is it only one extreme or the other?

Does the term “reasonable” no longer exist to people anymore?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

What do you consider reasonable?

A good lawyer charges for their services, and the amount of work required to collect the plaintiffs, and make the case is not simple. Are they lawyers not entitled to get paid?

The alternative is that you get less expensive lawyers, who perhaps don’t do as good a job, and get a lower settlement, or worse, lose. Or you could just try to do it yourself, paying your own lawyer to go after the company as a stand alone lawsuit, and see how you do.

If you are going to propose “reasonable”, then put something out there for us to work on – and no, government regulation of lawyers to make them charge less isn’t exactly in the cards.

WysiWyg (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“The alternative is that you get less expensive lawyers, who perhaps don’t do as good a job, and get a lower settlement, or worse, lose.”

There, right there, is a big part of the problem. Most of us don’t consider $175 a good job.

I think the problem is that people who defend the system look at the entire figure, what it costs the company, and the people who criticize look at the actual payout to the people who have been wronged.

The question the becomes; are the lawyers worth $600+k if their clients only get $175?

Anonymous Coward says:

Class action lawsuits only with thousands of wronged people. They don’t work when it’s just a couple dozen people, that’s not enough for it to be worth the time and money suing. Unless you’re each owed at least several hundred thousand dollars each, but still, you might benefit with that few people suing separately to make it more expensive for the defendant to fight each of you instead of just settling out of court.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You probably mean well, since you seem to be on the side of the plaintiffs and are upset that they’re not getting their due. A lot of well meaning people are for tort reform because they think that’s what it means.

The reality is that tort reform is just code for less corporate liability. It’s code for damage limits so that the Great and the Good cannot be held accountable for their actions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Let’s break this down… No one knew there would only be 11 valid class members. How many people’s privileged information was actually compromised? These 11 were just the only ones who could demonstrate that they suffered losses when their information reached the wrong hands. No one could have known in advance that there would be such a poor turnout.

I blame the dirty pirates! If they had made better use of the information they stole, there would have been many more victims, and then perhaps we’d be thinking the lawyer’s $600k was chump change. /sarc

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Re:

No one knew there would only be 11 valid class members.

That’s a reasonable point. Considering that Heartland lost data on 130 million credit cards, we can make the reasonable conclusion that there should be more. Many, many more. So something is broken. Instead of trudging onward with the only 11 legitimate claims, why not focus on why there were only 11?

Could it be that spending 1.5 million on advertising that someone may have been the victim of this data loss was completely and utterly useless? I bet those ads were on late night TV right next to the commercials asking me to contact a lawyer if I’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma.

So Heartland didn’t have addresses for the 130 million card numbers they lost. I wonder how they could reach the owners. You know who has those addresses? The banks and credit card companies that Heartland has to deal with as a part of their business! I imagine it might cost a few tens of thousands of dollars, but I bet Heartland could work with those banks and credit card companies to pay for a direct mailing to most of the card holders. Maybe they could also spend a few tens of thousands of dollars to make it super incredibly easy for someone to make a claim!

But why do that when you can piss away a million and a half dollars for something that will convince a court you “tried” when you damn well know it wouldn’t work, and thus don’t have to pay out any claims.

Digitari says:


I had a bank rip me off a few years ago. It was terribly one sided when I pointed out the flaw. Well, it came down to a “class action” lawsuit, I lost about 400$ in funny accounting to over draw my account. the lawsuit was won, with treble damages.

I have no Idea the total, a few million was the final “fine” to the bank… here’s the kicker

there we “too many complainants” in the lawsuit my “treble damages” 40$

Still not sure how much the lawyers got cause I moved out of state since then. So even when the “company” is wrong and more folks sue, you STILL get screwed, cause too many of US asked for and proved malfeasance.

Anonymous Coward says:

High Court Low Court

It all worked out as intended. The lawyers and the company are “high class” people, so they get paid lots when they do something. They also get punished little, when they victimise someone. The ordinary people are “low class” people so they get zero or little recompense when they are victimised.

Getting zero are the (100 M – 290) who never claimed. Getting less than zero are the (290 – 11) who claimed but were paid nothing. However, they incurred costs, so they ended up with a financial loss as well as being victims. The 11 remaining people might have got some recompense, provided their costs were lower than their payout of $175. Chances are, none of them fit into that category, so they all effectively ate a loss as well.

The judge knew perfectly well what he was doing. This is a case of deliberate judicial incompetence, motivated by anger against the ordinary people who had the temerity to object to being victimised.

Is that judge delivering justice to ordinary people? Should that judge keep his job?

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