Months after the Equifax data breach, consumers are taking the Atlanta-based company to small claims court — and winning.
A librarian from Vermont took the credit-reporting agency to court shortly after the massive hack was disclosed. Jessamyn West, 49, filed suit in small claims court, arguing that the ordeal she went through from the recent death of her mother that July was only compounded by having to sort through her finances along with the prospect of having her other family members’ data exposed, according to an account from cybersecurity blogger Brian Krebs.
West sued Equifax for nearly $5,000, but the judge agreed to give her $690 ($90 of which was for court fees), Krebs reports.
These are aren’t typically massive judgments, but rather very modest damages. They are, however, costing the embattled company a ton of money in legal fees.
Consumers file lawsuits against Equifax
One of the plaintiffs, Christian Haigh, decided to document his case against the company because, like around 148 million other Americans, he was affected by the breach. Haigh, who is co-founder of litigation finance startup Legalist, wrote a couple of blog posts about the experience.
He said that although he had a business interest (his company was offering to pay the court fees for small claims litigants on a contingency basis) he was also acting as a duped consumer.
“I also filed my own lawsuit against Equifax, half expecting to have my case dismissed, and half expecting Equifax to not even show up. In fact, Equifax did appear,” he writes. Going toe to toe with Equifax’s representative in front of a judge, Haigh won $8,000.
He said that Equifax successfully filed to delay the lawsuit in an attempt to get similar cases lumped into one court session. On court day, 12 of them were supposed to present their respective cases during the one-hour session, but seven of them were no-shows.
Haigh, who admitted that he had never set foot in a courtroom before, despite having a law-oriented company, said that he came to court that day prepared to do battle.
“I handed over the print-outs I had made the night before: of my screenshot saying I had been hacked, my Lifelock receipt, and the news articles on Equifax executives leaking our data, dumping their stock, and subsequently sharing links to phishing websites that lured consumers into (yet again), giving hackers their data.”
He even quotes money expert Clark Howard, who said in an impassioned video the week of the hack, “When your whole business is cataloging information on Americans without our permission, packaging us, slicing and dicing us, building these dossiers, and then selling us off over and over again, you gotta keep our data secure.”
End of story, right? Not so fast. Equifax filed an appeal, according to a second blog post Haigh wrote. This time, they brought high-powered lawyers. Not only was the vice president of Equifax’s legal department there, but among the suits was an attorney from big-time law firm King & Spalding, known to charge clients more than $1,000 an hour.
So why would Equifax spend that kind of money on an $8,000 small claim? Some have speculated to Haigh that the company didn’t want to open itself up to be nickle-and-dimed to death by 148 million consumers. Others reason online that it was just a show of force to scare the little guy.
Either way, Haigh came prepared again, this time enduring cross-examination and a battery of procedural haymakers by fancy lawyers intent on sowing confusion in the court.
“All three of them sat at the Defendants’ table, and I sat alone at my Plaintiff’s table. I presented my case, for the second time, and brought plenty of evidence to back myself up, including a report done by Senator Elizabeth Warren’s office with aid from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which described in detail how Equifax actually may profit from its negligence,” he writes.
In the end, he won again. Score one for the little guy!
In an interview with Inc.com, Haigh said that he looked up the cases of two litigants who came before and after him. “They both got similar awards, in the $8,000 range,” he was quoted as saying. “Just showing up to court could mean a significant judgment.”
Although this is definitely a feel-good story, the larger takeaway here is that just because Haigh had a successful experience against Equifax, we can’t assume that everyone will have the same success. Different judges rule differently in various situations.
More importantly, even though you may win a judgment in court, you’ll still need to be vigilant about securing your personal information from here on out. With that being said, here are the two things you should do right now to protect your credit.
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