Showing posts with label lawsuits. Show all posts
Showing posts with label lawsuits. Show all posts

04 October 2020

Small Claims 0


Previously I described the steps I used to take a conglomerate to court. Long before, I was sued by a dishonest man and lost a small claims case that, had I been more knowledgeable, I might have won.

My friend Geri lived a mile from me and I watched over her house when she vacationed. Often she’d schedule work while she was away, and this time she wanted to replace her fence.

Thanks to hurricanes and moisture, fences have short life spans in the Sunshine State. Fences were a concern for me too, so I researched ways to give fences extra years, a realm of excitement beyond words. The following are the fruits of my labor, otherwise called ‘best practices’:
  1. Embed posts in concrete.
  2. Shape the concrete into a dome to run off water away from the post rather than collect moisture around it.
  3. Don’t install panels at ground level, but elevate them an inch or so above.
  4. Don't use staples or ordinary nails. Use ring-shank nails to resist winds.

I typed a list of the above and sketched a diagram of setting posts in concrete. These I stapled to the sales proposal given Geri and agreed to the extra charges and signed off. The installer missed their start date, so on her way out of town, Geri asked a neighbor to phone me at work whenever construction commenced.

The First Hint

The neighbor gave me a heads-up at eight the next morning. By the time I arrived, workmen had already set several posts… without concrete. After I explained they were supposed to use cement, a worker with a garden trowel spread dry sandmix around posts.

No, I said, they’re supposed to be set in concrete shaped to aid water runoff. I returned to work leaving them to it.

I flew to Miami and returned the following afternoon. The job had been wrapped minutes before my arrival. Except…

The pickets (paling panels) rested directly on the ground. Grounded palings made wood rot more quickly, wicking moisture from the soil up through the grain.

The crew had removed and reset only the first post in concrete; they hadn’t bothered with the others. Many showed a sprinkling of dry concrete but nearly as many went without.

Now suspicious, I looked closer. On the plus side, they hadn’t used staples but, after pulling one nail, I discovered they’d used ordinary smooth box nails. They company had completed none of the requirements they’d agreed to.

I’d let Geri down. I was so ticked off, I missed the most obvious mistake of all.

“Uh,” said the neighbor. “Why did they install half the fence backwards?”

“What?”

“Half of the fence is inside out.”

The workmen had installed the left side of the fence facing out and the right side facing inward. Stick with me if you can handle the excitement.

stockade fence

20 September 2020

Small Claims 3


Hal 2001
Home Automation Interface
Last month, I told you about purchasing expensive name brand home automation that madly malfunctioned. The dealer/installer and the manufacturer’s tech support added insults to injury… literal insults, telling me the device failure was my fault. I was stupid. I was annoying. I misrepresented or misinterpreted the sales literature. I was trying to cheat them into getting something for nothing. Surely their mothers wouldn’t have taught them to behave like that.

So what would an American do? I took both parties to small claims court.

Perhaps it’s a character defect, but I’d have loved to witness the deputy striding into the corporation’s Tallahassee headquarters to serve the complaint. No, that’s not quite true. I really wanted to see the consternation of the so-called customer support guy when faced with a subpoena to produce their tech line audio tracks “recorded for training purposes.” Finally! A useful purpose for those things.

First Contact

A few weeks after filing, I received a telephone call from California, a vice president within the conglomerate’s North American legal department. My little case garnered more attention that I’d anticipated. He courteously enquired if I’d hired counsel and then discussed the case.

I was mindful to guard my tongue. Attorneys and competent interrogators know people feel a need to elaborate. Therein lie traps for the unwary. I simply laid out the facts without revealing how much proof and documentation I’d gathered. When he’d question one aspect or another, I simply said I was prepared to demonstrate this or that.
He asked if I’d vented on-line. I had not.
He asked if I would allow their technician to inspect the unit in situ. I was.
He asked if I was willing to settle. I was.
He asked if I was willing to settle for only a replacement. I wasn’t.
He asked if I was willing to continue the conversation. I was.
While cordially but carefully phrasing regrets, he explained I was unlikely to prevail on several accounts, such as loss of income and violations of sharing personal information. Likewise he predicted a judge wouldn’t award me expenses, but might award them attorneys’ fees. He was surprised to learn his conglomerate’s web sites offered no way to opt out of the distribution of shared personal information.

Leigh in pod capsule
HAL Gone Bad

A technician sent by the vice president arrived. He confirmed everything I said and more. The device wasn’t merely a brain-dead dud, it was a hulking, marauding, unpredictable Frankenstein of a dud.

He verified the firmware serial number 00001. My court filing argued if this were accurate, it meant the assembly line hadn’t yet learned to build this new machine. And if it wasn’t true, then it opened scarier possibilities. A user in California or Calcutta might use their app and suddenly find themselves inside my house.

Mediation

Florida’s Small Claims Courts require pre-trial mediation. This mandatory session takes place prior to a trial in the hope the parties can reach a resolution and avoid tying up the court’s time. I was prepared to back down twenty percent or so, but little more.

Many court-appointed mediators are retired attorneys. They know what they’re doing. The one assigned to my case was pleasant and professional. When the opposing attorney stepped out of the room, he complimented the case’s preparation and suggested, should mediation fail, I might want to move for a jury trial rather than rely on the stricter view of a judge. Good point.

The conglomerate sent down an attorney from Tallahassee. He turned out cordial and likeable. However, he informed the mediator their California Vice President of Legal suggested the gadget wasn’t as bad as claimed, and they’d settle for no more than a replacement product. The lawyer gave an impression he’d urged California to compromise, but they were hanging tough.

This lawyer spent seven hours driving and three hours in the courthouse just to say no. He did what he was told to do, but he didn’t appear pleased as he packed to leave. We shook hands. He said he’d stay in touch and departed on his 3½-hour journey back to Tallahassee.

The Other Party

The independent dealer/installer didn’t appear at all, forfeiting his part of the case. Before leaving the courthouse, I petitioned for a summary judgment.

My intent wasn’t to crush the little guy, crappy as he was. What he had in mind by not appearing, I don’t know, but he panicked. He begged me to settle for a lesser amount, saying he could afford little, and then named a figure more than I would have asked.

I didn’t need an invitation and he had acted a right ass. “Sure,” I said. “Have it to me before the hearing, then I’ll ask the court to dismiss.”

People's Court letter
As Seen On TV

Besides court filings, I received a letter with a charming picture of People’s Court Judge Marilyn Milian. Oops, not quite– it was from Lori Mooney, a producer for The People’s Court. They wanted my case on television.

Bad enough I burden SleuthSayers with my laundry, but I’m too private to air it on national television.The dealer’s opinion was immaterial, but I felt certain the conglomerate would not risk publicly broadcasting the problems in their fancy flagship device. They might win the case but lose their appeal, so to speak.

Two more People’s Court letters arrived. They guaranteed I’d receive the money sought if I won the case. They’d pay for my time, which as a writer is about 2½¢ per minute or word or some such. They’d pay my travel expenses. I pictured a coronavirus motel off a Connecticut interstate. I ignored the offer, but I didn’t blame them for trying. It’s not every day a little guy takes on a $2.3-billion conglomerate.

The opposing lawyer wondered how our case came to their attention. I didn’t know, but I hazard producers might offer court clerks rewards or bounties to bring interesting cases to their attention.

Countdown

The court date approached. The Tallahassee attorney said he regretted to tell me California decided to play hardball. Would I accept one last offer of a replacement before they prepared for court? Umm, no but thank you, I said.

Meanwhile, I reminded the absentee dealer I hadn’t received a check or money order. He said negotiations to sell his company had kept him busy. The toad had set the terms of the agreement and he wasn’t meeting the conditions he set for himself.

Subpoenas
Subpoenas are writs or instructions to bring to court a person or thing. A subpoena ad testificandum commands the appearance of a person. A subpoena duces tecum commands the appearance of a thing.
I checked on the subpoena duces tecum for the tech support’s recordings. I gathered company sales brochures, went over my notes, and spent hours creating visuals to explain the technology and why their product failed. Wifi inside the courthouse was next to nil. Accordingly, I loaded their advertising videos on my computer so they could be played without internet.

The date neared. Their lawyer phoned. Would I accept a replacement plus a little (very little) extra to ship the old unit back to them for study? I declined. I contacted the dealer, who said he was travelling out of state and could I wait? He couldn’t get on-line. Use priority mail, I suggested.

The date grew closer. The lawyer enquired if I’d accept a replacement, deinstallation, reinstallation, removal of the old unit to their lab, and a bit more money? I told them they were getting closer.

The date loomed three days hence, then two days. Would I, asked the attorney, accept pretty much all I’d sought if we could finalize an agreement in the next few hours? I went, “Mmm,” drummed my fingers and said, “Of course. That’s all I wanted.”

Thus began a flurry of emails and overnight posts. I had no way of knowing whether the two corporate lawyers were a case of good cop / bad cop, but I believed the Tallahassee counsel encouraged the California Legal Department to stop with the hardball and settle.

I called the twisty dealer and informed him I was out of patience and he was out of time. He was in the hospital, he said, palpitations of the pump due to the stress of this case. Just deliver a check, I said, then you’re done.

In the final hours before the hearing, the conglomerate’s attorney prepared motions to dismiss their part of the case. In our non-disclosure agreement, I consented not to bad-mouth their company. Not a problem– I didn’t hate them, but I refused to accept failure of responsibility for a failed product. One tech support guy could have solved the problem a year earlier.

In the middle of the final exchanges, the phone rang– the dealer. He suddenly remembered he had a wife and she could deliver a bank draft to me in the remaining ninety minutes.

Closing the Case

The dealer’s wife squeaked in with the check. That released him from further obligation.

Several days later, a different installer phoned. Under corporate instruction, he was ready to swap out the defective unit for a… he sounded puzzled… lesser model?

Their company’s flagship ‘smart’ gadget couldn’t be trusted, but their top-of-the-line ‘dumb’ models had a good reputation, I worked out a deal to trade down and then provide my own intelligent controller. The installer swapped gadgets, I attached a new electronic brain, and that’s worked well since.

I emailed the California vice president and the Tallahassee lawyer, thanking them for resolving the problem. I love almost being a Southerner. The email to the Florida lawyer might have been a bit more genuine.

And Now…

Smart appliances, intelligent gadgets, and home automation are running smoothly. The homestead feels secure except… Well, a few weeks ago a burglar attempted a break-in. He made it into the garage. The system notified me and I notified the police. They got him. The state prosecutor loved the videos of the baddie picked up by multiple cameras.

I’ll reveal more about this after the burglar hearing. You won’t believe his last name.

06 September 2020

Small Claims 2


Hal 2001
Home Automation Interface
The goal of going to court is to be ‘made whole’. If you were injured, either physically or financially, you seek redress. Don’t try to profit, don’t attempt to win the lottery.

If you proceed to Small Claims court, you might find a few useful hints in the following. Otherwise, feel free to skip my scintillating prose and entertain yourself with 9gag.com or that old favorite, Wimp.com, whereupon farewell and I’ll see you in two weeks.

9Gag Wimp

Meanwhile, on to the article!

23 August 2020

Small Claims 1


Leigh in pod capsule
“Open the pod door, Hal.”

“I’m sorry, Leigh. I can’t do that.”

“Hal, open the door.”

“Nope, sorry, no can do.”

“Hal, open the ¡@#$%£¢†€‡ door!”

“D’accord, Dave. It’s open.”

“Name’s Leigh, and no, it isn’t.”

“Is.”

“Isn’t.”

“Is.”

“Hal!”

“You can’t make me. Nyaa-nya-na-na-nah-nahhh.”

Geek Chic

This was not a conversation from 2001, but one in my own house in 2019. The name Hal has been changed to protect the guilty.

I’ve been upgrading my house with security features and smart home automation. Devices hooked up thus far include several lights and lamps, entry locks and garage doors, ceiling fans, air conditioner, water heater, thermostats, entertainment center, security cameras, a robot, a NAS storage device, and a number of talk-to-the-pod gadgets and displays.

My friend Thrush and I installed most of these as inexpensive, tinker toy, erector set, do-it-yourself doodads. I’ve avoided big, brand name products, which are less fun and très cher. They’re also proprietary– they might reject third party add-ons or charge you subscription fees to maintain connectivity to your products after the first year.

But, for a critical component, I deviated from the DIY rule. It was not cheap. I bought the latest name brand thingamajig from a well-regarded manufacturer, the latter part of a $2.2-billion conglomerate with $2.5-billion in home automation and security sales. Also, *gasp* I paid for dealer installation instead of assembling it myself. I had to wait two months for the initial product to roll off the assembly line. I’m also well aware of ‘bleeding edge’ technology, but with an engineer and a couple of software gurus on the premises, how risky could it be?

As it turns out… there’s a reason I’ve not mentioned the product and brand name– I signed a settlement agreement not to. After a multitude of ‘Hal’ interactions not unlike the above, I sought remedies.

What Could Go Wrong? Wrong? Wrong?

The device would not obey Apple, Android, or Google demands. It often reported contrary information, e.g, it claimed the device was on when it wasn’t, and vice versa. Worse, I couldn’t tell it to turn on the doohickey because it thought it already on, and I couldn’t tell it to turn off the box because it was already off. The only solution was to reboot.

Mashing the on/off buttons often proved fruitless. I pictured some poor schlep in California helplessly watching his kitchen devices cycling on an off, his lights flashing, and his garage door bouncing up and down thanks to a signal routed from Florida.

Meanwhile, lights would go on and doors would unlock and open at three in the morning. Picture Captain Kirk slamming face first into Enterprise doors that abruptly open and close. Fortunately the blast from the rudely awakened entertainment center frightened away any curious burglars.

Internet capability either wasn’t installed or it refused to work. Even if internet had been fully functional, it was poorly designed. If the internet was down (as mine constantly is!), their version of software couldn’t operate the device. You’d have to get out in the rain to open doors and turn on lights, even if you had electricity.

I’d purchased battery backup that of course spectacularly failed. I’m hard pressed to think of anything that did work. Believe me, the situation was so much worse than I’m allowed to describe.

The Consumer’s Fault School of Customer Support

So call tech support, right? Exercise my warranty and call the installer too?

The first techie admitted they didn’t yet have manuals and guidelines, but agreed the unit wasn’t behaving as promised in promotions, including expensive video ads. He'd request a replacement.

Then the second guy I’ll call Dan, but his real name is Butthead. He aggressively began by insisting nothing could be wrong with the device. He said I expected behavior it wasn’t intended to do. Dan dismissed the lack of functionality as a misreading of their advertising. This ‘gentleman’ (Sarcasm cleanup on aisle 4) told me I was annoying, nasty, and abusive. (I never was, but we’ll return to that.) Joining in with the installer, Dan accused me of cheating his company and trying to get something for nothing. From there on out, he fielded subsequent incoming calls and refused to forward me to either the original tech guy or their boss.

People's Court Judge Marilyn Milian
Wow. Not only did I pay out $2500, but failure of the device was sucking $100 a month out of my (personal) micro-economy. Details might violate the settlement confidentiality agreement, but the point is that the device was slowly bleeding me.

Believe me, I’ve understated the problems. So what’s an American boy to do? I sued. I took the $2.2-billion conglomerate to small claims court.

Wait! What is she ➡︎ doing here?

In a subsequent article, I’ll explain my experience and offer tips to anyone considering this route. See you in two weeks!

17 August 2017

Goat Glands, Radium, and Dr. Blood


I was watching cable TV the other night, and they were running the usual ads for losing weight, avoiding erectile dysfunctions, the occasional mysterious ailment and the latest patent medicine cures.  I will quote none of them, for none of them were memorable enough.  Whoever's writing these ads, they don't have the ring of
"Amazing Blue Star Ointment!  Cures jock itch, ringworm, tetter, psoriasis!  Ask for it by name!"  (See the original ad HERE).

But Blue Star Ointment still doesn't cure erectile dysfunction and, amazingly, doesn't even claim to. Not so with three of my favorite patent medicine doctors of all time, if you exclude James Thurber's "Doc Marlowe".   

Brinkley-KSHS.jpg
Doc Brinkley
Let's start off with J. R. Brinkley (1885-1942), a/k/a the Goat Gland Doctor.  Doc Brinkley claimed to be a licensed physician, but he bought his degree from a diploma mill called the Kansas City Eclectic Medical University.
NOTE:  Can you imagine the school song for this one?
Eclectic!
Cathartic!
We could sell ice in the arctic!
Sorry.  (Not really)  Anyway, Doc Brinkley's first go at being a professional something-or-other was in Greenville, SC, with a partner who called himself J. W. Burks (one can't help but think he just misspelled "Burke").  They promised to restore men's manly vigor by injecting colored water (which they called "electric medicine from Germany") into their veins for $25 a shot.  (To give you an idea of pricing, an average worker made between $200 and $400 a year back then.)  Well, sooner or later the chumps catch up, and our physicians had to move on.


Doc shed his partner, and went back to Kansas City, while Brinkley took a job as the doctor for the Swift and Company meat plant, patching minor wounds and studying animal physiology. When he learned that goats were the healthiest animals slaughtered there, he did a little study, then set up a clinic, and started implanting the testicular glands of goats in his male patients for $750.00 per operation.  The surprising thing is the number of men willing to undergo such a process.  Even more surprising is that some men claimed it worked wonders. When the wife of his first goat-gland transplant case had a healthy boy... Well, the ad's on your left. What's less surprising is that there were a number of patients who got infected, and some died.  Brinkley would be sued over a dozen times for wrongful death between 1930-41.

Meanwhile, he made a lot of money and built his own radio station, KFKB ("Kansas First, Kansas Best" or sometimes "Kansas Folks Know Best").  Brinkley was KFKB's lead DJ, speaking for hours about his treatments (for which a lot of goats gave up their testicular glands: As a contemporaneous joke put it, What's the fastest thing on four legs? A: A goat passing Dr. Brinkley's hospital!") and giving medical advice (which were always to undergo his treatments and take his medicines). He also featured other entertainment: French lessons, astrology, storytelling and music ranging from military bands to gospel and early country. And the customers came.  In 1924, a San Francisco grand jury handed down indictments for fake medical degrees and doctors operating with them, including Brinkley (he'd illegally applied for a California medical license).  But when agents from California came to arrest Brinkley, the governor of Kansas refused to extradite him because he made the state too much money.

But in 1930, the pressure was on for cutting back on fake medical degrees, and Brinkley lost both his medical and broadcasting licenses.  So he did the logical thing and ran for governor of Kansas.  He damn near won.  He got over 29% of the vote on a write-in campaign.  (He lost to Harry Hines Woodring, who was later FDR's Secretary of War.)  Four years later, he ran again, and won over 30% of the vote.  This time he lost to Alf Landon, future GOP Presidential candidate.

But, debts and irate patients were hounding him, so Brinkley moved to Del Rio, Texas, just across the bridge from Ciudad Acuna, Mexico. He set up a clinic and a "broadcast blaster", radio XER-AM. the "Sunshine Station Between the Nations".

He sold airtime to other advertisers (at $1,700 an hour), who sold stuff like "Crazy Water Crystals", "genuine simulated" diamonds, life insurance, and all sorts of religious paraphernalia and beliefs.  

Image result for Dr. Mel-Roy book of dreamsNOTE 1:  Among them was Dr. Mel-Roy, Ps.D and Ms.D, the "Apostle of Mental Science," who, with his Book of Dreams and his cape and turban, explained the secrets of the sub-conscious world. Sam Morris, a 1940s "Radio Temperance Lecturer" told Americans about the evils of alcohol and explained the true reasons why nations fell from positions of prominence and power...  Rev. George W. Cooper, a former moonshine runner from North Carolina, cowboy evangelist Dallas Turner and Rev. Frederick Eikenreenkoetter II (better known as Rev. Ike preaching "get out of the ghet-to and get into the get-mo!") who called himself unreal and incredible to those with limited consciousness all made rounds on XERF and the rest. Dr. Gerald Winrod pushed cancer cures, scripture and attacks on communism, and Brother Mack Watson and Brother David Epley sold holy oil, prayer cloths and even "the hem of His garment."  
"If there was a sick person between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains who wasn't listening in to Doc, it was because he had no radio set." Furthermore, "the new radio powerhouse had enough juice to blanket any United States or Canadian station operating within fifty kilocycles of its wavelength."  (History of XER-AM)  
NOTE 2:  All I can say is that Reverend Ike must have been a child when he was on XER-AM, because he was just getting started, metaphorically, in the 1970s, when I caught a broadcast of him on Atlanta's own Ted Turner channel TBS, sitting on a golden throne, draped in ermine, while telling his listeners to "send me your money today."  I had to hand it to him; at least he was honest about it.
Image result for reverend ike 

Doc Brinkley also gave a start to up-and-coming country and roots singers, including Patsy Montana, Red Foley, Gene Autry, Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, the Pickard Family, and more.  (See Wikipedia).  Del Rio became known as "Hillbilly Hollywood".

"We can all thank Doctor B.
Who stepped across the line.
With lots of watts he took control,
The first one of its kind.
So listen to your radio
Most each and every night
'cause if you don't I'm sure you won't
Get to feeling right."

Finally, under pressure from the US, Mexico revoked Brinkley's broadcast license in 1934.  But he still practiced "medicine":  the traditional goat gland transplant, as well as "slightly modified vasectomies" (I don't even want to know...) and prostate "rejuvenations".  But eventually the times - and the regulations - caught up with him.  In 1941 he was sued for being a charlatan, lost, and got hit by a multiple malpractice lawsuits that stripped him of every penny he had.  He died the next year, penniless. 

I'm happy to announce that Penny Lane has made a documentary about Doc Brinkley called "Nuts!" Here's the official website:  http://www.nutsthefilm.com/#film.  And here's the Trailer! (WARNING: Definitely rated "R")



And a little Mexican Radio, just because...



Next blog post!  Radium and Dr. Blood!!!!!