My Lucky Day

American justice at work

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O! Happy day. Word came last week via email that there had been a settlement in my lawsuit against Expedia, the Internet travel site. What made this especially thrilling is that I was, until that moment, unaware that I had a lawsuit against Expedia. But apparently there was a "class action" lawsuit against Expedia, I had been notified, and had not replied. According to the class action rules, this made me automatically a plaintiff in the suit.

I'm not exactly clear what outrage Expedia committed. It may have cost me literally dozens of dollars. But I'm a reasonable man, apparently. My lawyers, Messrs Hagens, Berman, Sobol and Shapiro, LLP, settled the case for a coupon worth $29.80 off the price of any hotel room, provided that it is booked through Expedia, by the end of July 2011, at a hotel where Expedia has a "special rate," and must be used by the end of January 2012. Wow. A bit of googling revealed that the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit got $7500 each for their troubles. Berman et al got $10 million. That's right: ten million dollars. And that's in cash, of course. The lawyers don't have to spend their haul at an Expedia Special Rate hotel.

It turns out that I did pretty well compared with my fellow plaintiffs. One reported on his blog that his settlement coupon was worth $4.17. If you wanted cash instead, you had to fill out a form and send it to them by December 31 of last year. And you would only get a dollar of cash for every $2.17 of coupon value you gave up. A blog called Lawyers and Settlements is running a contest to see who, among those who requested cash, got the smallest check. The winner so far received 39 cents.

Expedia says its total payout to allegedly aggrieved customers (including the value of the coupons) will be under $20 million, which means that the lawyers are getting a dollar for every two dollars they deliver to Expedia's supposed victims. And that's just my lawyers (mine and the other plaintiffs'). Expedia needed lawyers too. It's like putting a dollar stamp on an envelope in which you're mailing someone a dollar.

You may be thinking that American justice ought to have more important things to worry about than whether Expedia has fully explained the nature of a special tax or fee. But justice is indivisible. If we can do right by those who have been unintentionally cheated of a few cents by their travel agents, maybe we can begin to think about doing right by other oppressed minorities in our society.

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This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.