I’ve always thought that the real reason corporate wrongdoers hate being hauled into court isn’t so much that they hate paying out money to the people they hurt. Heck, they’ve got insurance for most of that anyway, and besides, there certainly are examples where they admit prefering to pay claims than making a safety improvement to prevent them.
The real reason they hate being sued is that they really don’t want anyone finding out what they did wrong. That’s why, almost without exception, they insist on confidentiality before agreeing to settle a case. And they’ll usually insist that any material they turn over to injured consumers and their attorneys be kept confidential even where a product is defectively designed or otherwise dangerous, and remains on the market. Of course, not only do such arrangements force every subsequently-hurt consumer to build their case from scratch (adding tremendously to the costs of litigation), they also prevent regulatory agencies, the media and the public from learning about the problem.
So we had to laugh about a story that broke yesterday about California truck driver Matthew Spaccarelli, who in February won $850 against AT&T in small claims court after a judge found that AT&T had slowed, or “throttled” his data capacity while he continued to pay for the unlimited data plan. The Associated Press explains,
Late last year, AT&T started "throttling," or slowing down data service for "unlimited" subscribers once they reached the top 5 percent of data users in their area. The slowdown, which makes a phone difficult to use for anything but calls, texts and some emails, lasts until the end of the subscriber's billing cycle.
Following his success, writes ABC News, Mr. Spaccarelli
[S]et up a website, Taporc.com, where he posted all of his court documents and advice to help others who might want to pursue their own lawsuits against AT&T. And then he worked with the website PublikDemand, which allows consumers to band together to complain about a company's policies, to set up a page about his lawsuit there. Spaccarelli's how-to guide for suing AT&T is now posted on that website, too.
He told web site visitors that throttling creates “painfully slow access to Web browsing and causing video streaming to not work at all…It's not fair for AT&T to make a promise of 'unlimited' data to customers when they buy the phone while burying terms in their contracts that give the company the right to cut down data speeds and charge additional fees for increased usage."
“TMI!” said AT&T, apparently. So clueless company lawyers hurried off a letter “scolding him for tethering his iPhone to another device and offering a settlement to resolve their dispute, so long as Spaccarelli was willing to keep quiet about it.”
Spaccarelli forwarded the letter to the media - The Associated Press, specifically. I mean, what did they think he was going to do? Writes AP, “In its letter, AT&T asked Spaccarelli to be quiet about the settlement talks, including the fact that it offered to start them, another common stipulation. Spaccarelli said he was not interested in settling.”
He really would like his money, that you very much. (see video below) However, it looks like AT&T is appealing the $850.
And finally, just to be sure there is no misunderstanding, AT&T confirmed to ABC News, "We typically enter into non-disclosure agreements when people want to discuss the settlement of pending disputes." And apparently, even if they don’t.