Free cash on the Internet? No, you don't need to adjust your spam filter. A growing cadre of consumers are tapping into class-action court settlements reached with manufacturers and service providers on behalf of large groups of consumers who allege they've been wronged.
"This is the only legitimate free money on the Internet," says Scott Hardy, who launched TopClassActions.com in 2008 to connect consumers to class-action lawsuits. Hardy said he has personally received over $4,000 in total settlements from about 30 claims listed on his website.
Hardy said the website makes sense legally and for consumers because judges usually require that as many people as possible are notified about a class action settlement.
Traditionally, lawyers relied on traditional print media or direct mail to collect witnesses, data or recruit additional members of the class, which can lead to higher payouts.
But people are turning to the Internet for more of their information.
"We're seeing the courts are gravitating more towards recognizing that the Internet may one day be the primary means of distributing information to a class," said Melissa Meeker Harnett, partner of the law firm Wasserman, Comden, Casselman & Esensten.
Meeker Harnett, head of the class action department of her firm in Tarzana, Calif., said she has posted about 10 class action suits on TopClassActions.com and found it useful for those cases.
Hardy, a former salesman, said that companies that settle a class-action lawsuit are not admitting guilt but are trying to move on from a case. In some cases companies' insurers will not pay for claims if a jury finds a business guilty in court.
"But if they settle, insurance pays out," he said.
Brian Fitzpatrick, law professor at Vanderbilt University, said that even in an age of data tracking, it can be difficult for merchants to keep track of everyone who has purchased a product.
"This website might improve the ability of lawyers to notify class members that they may be entitled to a recovery in a settlement, especially if the site becomes comprehensive enough that people can rely on it for one-stop shopping on class action settlements," he said.
Here are eight class action suits listed in the website TopClassActions.com:
Purchased or Leased From:
BabyBjörn Subclass: February 2, 2000 - April 30, 2005
Britax Subclass: January 1, 1999 - January 31, 2011
Kids Line Subclass: January 1, 1999 - December 31, 2006
Maclaren Subclass: October 1, 1999 - January 31, 2011
Medela Subclass: July 1, 1999 - January 31, 2011
Peg Perego Subclass: July 1, 1999 - January 31, 2011
Claims must be postmarked by: August 1, 2011
Purchased or Leased From: Advantage: July 1, 2009 through September 30, 2009; Alamo: June 3, 2007 through September 30, 2009; Enterprise: June 3, 2004 through September 20, 2009; Hertz: October 13, 2003 through September 30, 2009; National: June 3, 2007 through September 30, 2009
Claims must be postmarked by: 7/18/11
Purchased From: January 1, 2004 through the present
Claims must be postmarked by: 7/01/11
Purchased or Leased From: January 1, 2001 through the present
Claims must be postmarked by: 7/16/11