“What’s the point? They’re so big and I’m just one person.” Everyone has experienced this moment of frustrated defeat. It usually comes immediately after hanging up with some faceless person on the other end of a corporate “helpline.” For the hour and half of time you just wasted, all you receive is the knowledge that there was nothing that that person could do to help. The corporation has ripped you off, you tried to get them to fix it, and all they’ve done is make you even madder. AWWWW!!! It is at this moment that the crushing feeling of helplessness sets in. So what’s the point?
Actually, there may be something you can do. Perhaps you remember the ruckus raised over “natural” foods. As consumers became more health conscious, the food industries responded by providing “natural” foods. These ranged from granola to toothpaste. But some of these claimed “natural” foods were full of synthetics. The FDA refused to get involved, so some consumers began public awareness campaigns against these pseudo “natural” products. Individual consumers also turned to the courts. By using class actions, consumers caused whole industries to begin taking synthetics out of their “natural” products and today many (but not all) “natural” products are actually natural.
Public awareness can be an effective means of social change, but it requires a great deal of effort. Believe it or not, the courts provide us with another powerful mechanism – a collective lawsuit where consumers band together to seek corporate change. Corporations typically have a singular goal; increasing shareholder value through increased profits. This is where they are focused, so this is where consumers need to place pressure for change.
When a corporation cheats consumers, one person can be the plaintiff in a class action on behalf of all consumers. Even better, by using the courts to tell a corporation, collectively, “you have ripped us off, and we want our money back,” the corporation cannot give you the metaphorical middle finger through its “helpline.” Rather, it must listen to your complaint, take you seriously, and respond.
Is it really worth it? Will an attorney talk to me about losing $5 on a bottle of shampoo that claims to be “natural” but isn’t? Do I really need to go to court if I lost $100 on an insurance scam? The truth is, yes. Class action consumer law attorneys can bring lawsuits in your name and on behalf of the collective group of people who all lost $5 or $100 or whatever amount.
By stepping in, and representing a class, consumers can change industries. How does this happen? By taking one corporation to court, other corporations running similar scams are put on notice to shape up. When corporations do not want their bottom line hit by the same lawsuit, they often do shape up. In this way, one individual bringing a class action can change an entire industry.
Class action lawsuits give individuals a mechanism to achieve change. It does not matter how small a loss, no one has the right to rip us off. And we are not helpless. Next time you get that sinking frustration, remember, there is something you can do.