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Chatbot lets you print lawsuit forms for suing Equifax for up to $25k (theverge.com)
165 points by yegle 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 54 comments

Incredible title. Story:

"state your name and address and it generates eight pages of lawsuit documentation in PDF form for you to print and file"

"Filing and winning a small claims case takes more than just filling in a form."

It's a story about a form.

Ok, we added "print lawsuit forms" to the title above.

$25K is not a small claim in any of the states, is it?

IANAL, do not take as legal advice.

When I looked into small claims court, in California. It was any claim <= 10k. You also needed to legally serve the defended with a non involved party.

That means for equifax, not being a california party, you gotta pay someone to send docs to their legal representation.

IANAL too (so this is not legal advice), but I don't think that's hard. California maintains an online list of "foreign" (out-of-state) corporations registered to do business in California. [1]

It appears to me that Equifax can be sued in California by serving their local representatives in Sacramento.


[1] https://businesssearch.sos.ca.gov/

Tennessee I believe. Limit is $10,000 in California.


Yeah I am filling in Kansas. Max is $4k here.

Can someone with a legal background explain if this is even worth trying without clear damages? I'm not interested in wasting breath to annoy Equifax.

Because lawsuits aren't about proving you are right, it's more about having enough to get the other guy to settle.

"Attorney Scott Nelson, from the advocacy organization Public Citizen, says he isn’t convinced a chatbot can successfully win a lawsuit."

Gee, I bet there isn't a conflict of interest in that statement.

Public Citizen is not in it to protect lawyers jobs, if that's what you're implying. I suspect they know from significant experience that you can't win a lawsuit against a well funded corporation without a fight.

They advocate for consumers, not lawyers, and they're a non-profit. Not sure what the conflict of interest there is.

Well, in theory, to the extent that people need lawyers but can't afford them, at least part of Public Citizen's existence is justified. So, for some, to say they need a lawyer is to say they need an organization like Public Citizen.

That's not at all a value judgement about Public Citizen or their statement. Just pointing out the potential conflict.

Like that other person said, I was just pointing out a potential conflict in that statement.

The last thing anybody wants is for their profession to be automated away, so the conflict of interest is justified, but worth noting.

Also worth noting that you can still get paid if you work for a nonprofit.

Regardless, I think we could use a bit more automation in the legal field given how disproportionately distributed representation seems to be from my perspective as a relatively poor person.

"Regardless, I think we could use a bit more automation in the legal field given how disproportionately distributed representation seems to be from my perspective as a relatively poor person."

On that, we're agreed. I was raised with no conception that there were legal options; attorneys were just too far outside the realm of affordability to be a thing my parents would have considered under any but the direst circumstances. I have the same mindset, even when it's been detrimental to my own economic situation.

It's also such a non-statement to say you're not convinced that some new unproven technology can do the thing it purports to do.

Unless you can show $25,000 in damages, your lawsuit will go nowhere.

My argument would probably be willful non-compliance with FCRA requirements [+]. (I'm not planning on suing Equifax and if I were I wouldn't do it via a form letter, because that smacks of abuse of the legal process and judges will not be neutral about that.)

An action under the FCRA may be brought in "any other court of competent jurisdiction", carries statutory damages of $1k for willful non-compliance, and allows the judge to assess arbitrary punitive damages. Given that you're likely the only person talking and that you'll be describing systemic issues which affected 143 million Americans, I think you should just ask the judge for the max and see what he says.

HNers are, by the way, likely to be well-served by small claims courts, just by dint of education, organizational ability, and ability to perform professionalism.

[+] 15 U.S. Code § 1681e(a) -- "Identity and purposes of credit users" requires "very consumer reporting agency shall maintain reasonable procedures designed to avoid [unauthorized disclosure of information]" Your argument, informally because small claims court, would be "If your procedures allow you to disclose credit information on 143 million people, your procedures are per se unreasonable."

Given that they lobbied to avoid penalties for losses of privacy information, I wonder if one could also prove intent?


>I wouldn't do it via a form letter, because that smacks of abuse of the legal process and judges will not be neutral about that

Which is a problem. If that form were legally sound and the case solid, then there shouldn't be an issue...but, you're correct that there might well be. The legal system is somewhat deficient for the ordinary citizen. Or maybe I should say that the other way around.

From a practical perspective, though, there's just no way to litigate 100MM+ individual cases, which is why this will be a class action that will be settled. Lawyers will win and claimaints will see very little per.

The thing is that the potential damages could, in theory, far exceed the total value of Equifax or their ability to remunerate. True justice, then could never be fully served. That brings up an interesting point about the outsized risk some companies represent, with very little attendant oversight or regulation.

In general we seem to be asleep at the wheel. Whether it's Russian hacking, recent revelations about powergrid infiltration, data breaches, or all manner of online and technology-based fraud, there seems to be a vast under-appreciation for the stakes. There's talk about it, but relatively little progress is being made.

US Judges are pretty ruthless too, esp. in their own courtroom -- if they see this is just a spam law suite / mocking the courtroom I wouldn't be surprised to see people getting tossed into contempt. If they feel like the courts' time is being wasted they get really pissed. Don't mess with judges. [i][ii]

[i] http://www.gainesville.com/news/20170227/gainesville-man-get...

[ii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssujwibxOlA

I mean, it sounds like he was trying help intimidate already fidgety witnesses. That's not just wasting the court's time.

What? I don't have context for what else has occurred, but it sounds like the lawyer in this case was objecting to the bond that the judge put on his client?

Person A was on trial for (attempted?) murder. Person B posts to InstaFaceGram that Person A will be free soon. Person B then shows up to court and starts live-streaming the court proceedings, included of witnesses, to a sketch-sounding Facebook group.

Person B then lies to judge about what he was doing and so the judge throws him in jail for 6 months for contempt.

The probable witness tampering probably had something to do with the harsh contempt punishment.

Ohhhhh. I see where I was wrong. I had only watched the second reference in op's post. Thank you for explaining.

Would it really be the people getting on the judges nerves or the corporation at fault?

Even if a judge decided your lawsuit was completely frivolous, I'm pretty sure most would just throw it out -- not throw you in jail for contempt. Now, if you filed dozens of similar frivolous lawsuits in the same court...

The rules in small claims court are pretty lenient in my state. Many times the magistrate isn't even an attorney and doesn't have a firm grasp of the law.

And if Equifax doesn't show up, you'll get a default judgment against them. Which doesn't mean you'll collect it but it would force Equifax to appeal to the court of common pleas.

I think this is more about killing Equifax through death from a thousand cuts. If 1% of the people impacted by this filed a small claims lawsuit, that's 1.43 million lawsuits against Equifax. What company could survive that?

Small claims court. If they don't show up, you win. They can't show up to all of the cases brought against them.

What will likely happen, at least in California, is that the clerk will schedule all of the Equifax cases for the same day and the judge will hear them all at once, like a little miniature class action.

Yes. And that's the way around restrictions on class actions. Where the victims are identified and cooperating, and the cases are very similar, it works. There are some lawyers using this strategy. Huge numbers of cases are filed, they're all consolidated by a judge, and the end result is a suit on the merits.

The filing service needs to do more of the work, like shipping the paperwork off in bulk to a process server company to be formally delivered in daily batches.

Yep, and Equifax will hire some local firm for a small amount to take care of all of them that day.

> They can't show up to all of the cases brought against them.

Sure they can. If a suit is filed for $25K, do you really think Equifax cannot do the math of what a default judgment would cost? If all their attorneys are busy, they would hire more. Even if it had to be expensive temporary help, they would hire someone to show up.

I wonder how quickly / ably they could scale that. What if every US-based HN reader filed a suit?

Even better, what if every US HN user filed a small claims court case? I believe companies cannot hire lawyers to represent them there, they would need to send employees.

IANAL, but I am pretty sure we don't need to think out the details too far on this because the actual lawyers surely can play the systems better than non-lawyers from HN.

"I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it."

The no-lawyer in small claims rule doesn't apply to corporations. They usually send a paralegal or operations person who has some experience with legal matters and the relevant paperwork.

I'll go on the record and say that Equifax makes subpar quantitative decisions; i.e. cannot do the math.

And also that their attorneys, and their attorneys' attorneys, and their attorneys' attorneys' attorneys are very busy right now.

Not really. It says "up to $25,000" not "exactly $25,000" meaning you don't have to show $25,000 worth of damages if the damages are 1,000 and that's all you're suing for.

I was just pondering that.

Lawsuit DDOS?

A la church of scientology

What damages can one claim if one's ID was stolen in the Equifax breach, but havent yet been the subject of fraud?

I imagine anxiety and paranoia such as going through statements to ensure no unauthorized purchases, but that's only for credit card. Identity stolen is far more scary and will never be resolved in life time. Your social security number can be changed, but that doesn't guarantee free from all identity frauds.

I'd like lawyers to have inputs on this.

The tests for emotional distress are very stringint in every state. Have you seen a psychologist about your anxiety related to Equifax?

Oh no, I am just asking from a general legality PoV. There must have been a precedent on anxiety due to identity fraud. I just want to see if a lawyer can give two cents on this matter.

I do want to be part of the class action suit, even if it is only $15 (FB's settlement was $15 for all). The company must paid for its negligence, and I am happy to take $15 from them.

No I’m saying if you (the hypothetical you) haven’t seen a psychologist you’re going to have a difficult time proving that you have anxiety due to Equifax to the court.

I live in LA. How can I go to a court in Sacramento?

In California small claims court, you can sue an out-of-state corporation in the county where you reside. It's one of the options on the form: where the plaintiff was injured. You don't have to go to Sacramento yourself, just serve the papers to their agent of service there. The clerk of court will even serve them by certified mail for you so you don't have to hire a process server.

Drive, fly, walk, bike, etc. Them's the breaks, the superior court is in Sacramento. Same, I'm in OC.

No, there are actually five superior court locations in Orange County (Westminster, Brea, Costa Mesa, Santa Ana, and Orange -- but Orange is Family and Juvenile so it's really four if you want small claims). No need to go to Sacramento.

Ventura here. Where is my high speed rail?

Normal rail's an option too but I've done the Coast Starlight and it took 12 hours to get here from Sactown.

I’m in O.C. too. We can road trip it.

Australian here, looking forward to my $25,000.


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