Should harm have to be proven for plaintiffs to receive settlement costs in a lawsuit?

October 3 – A lawsuit that goes back to 2017 in Franklin County will give millions of dollars to a number of people in the county. 

The original issue goes back years before the lawsuit was filed. It relates to citizens being sent notifications for their concealed carry permits by post card, not by sealed envelope. 

The postcard notifications would technically be a violation of Pennsylvania statute. 

Attorney Clint Barkdoll said, “I’m limited in what I can say. These were prior administrations, prior legal counsel who is long, long gone now. That person is no longer even in the county, if I’m correct. This case has been sort of bubbling in the system now for many years. Recently that settlement was reached. A lot of people are getting those mailers now notifying them that they may be a member of the class and they could recover these damages and those mailers are legitimate. It’s not a scam. But if someone gets one of those, they need to read it and there’s different options they could take to participate in this. Beyond that, there is a sealed order from a judge that was assigned to this case that has prohibited any of the participants and any of the attorneys that even touch this case along the way from disclosing any details. So that’s about the extent that I’m able to say and I would imagine that the commissioners, the public officials may be constrained by these same requirements that they’re not going to be able to say a lot more.”

Pat Ryan of NewsTalk 103.7FM wondered, “Why wouldn’t you go back to the attorney that made the decision in the first place? If you made that decision, then you or your firm, you should pay it out. Not the insurance company that we pay the premiums on here, but the person that made that decision that trickled down to continuing this thing. Why isn’t the law firm and the attorney finding his or her pockets being taken for a ride here?”

Barkdoll said, “I can only surmise that maybe those discussions were had and that maybe those efforts were made and I’m not privy to all of that part of what may have happened. I think your opinion would be shared by a lot of people that have looked at this, but here we are many, many years later. I believe what you’re finding is that there’s an insurance carrier that’s involved that has stepped in to just end this and clean it up and the people getting those mailers, that’s sort of the final step, the final action saying this case is now finished.”

Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM pointed out, “It’s just everybody getting what they can out of the system when they see an opportunity. Was anybody actually harmed from what was done and wasn’t the problem corrected?”

Ryan contended, “The law was broken.” 

Jansen said, “I know, but this is the point. We’re going to scrape back, find anything that’s been broken technically, even if nobody’s been harmed, get as much as we can from it. This is a selfish, ridiculous system we have going here where everybody’s just taking advantage of loopholes. Was anybody harmed?” 

Ryan suggested, “If you were on the receiving end.” 

“No,” Jansen insisted. “I would not be suing. I’m not going to take advantage of, well the money’s already been put out there, so it’s not going to make any difference.”

Ryan asked, “You’re talking about the Second Amendment rights here. Does somebody need to be held accountable?” 

“Were they harmed?” Jansen asked. “And was there a fix put in place? Yes, there was.”

Ryan said, “Maybe someone was harmed. I’ve been identified, I’ve been outed in the US postal system.”

Barkdoll said, “This was state law. This was not anything under the US Constitution. The state law talks about these notifications to be sent in a sealed envelope. I have fielded a number of calls at the office just as a private attorney from people that got these mailers saying no way do I want any money from this. I like getting the cards. This is ridiculous. I just defer them, they can call the administrator and pursue an option to try to not collect the money. But there are definitely a lot of people that have that opinion. On the other hand, there are likely people that are saying, well, my rights were violated. The postcard showed up, and that revealed to the public or the mail carrier, people in my household that I had applied for a permit and this is supposed to be a confidential transaction. So that’s the other side of what some of the people would argue that say they have been harmed.”

Jansen asked, “Where do you think this money is coming from? Oh, it’s covered by the insurance company, how much taxpayer money is paying for the insurance of all these governmental agencies, all these school districts? Oh, the insurance will take care of it. No, that’s our money. I feel like it’s being laundered through this whole insurance and settlement issue and we’re going broke. Oh, I was violated. Let’s just get ours.” 

Ryan said, “That’s why I went back to the attorney. That’s why I went back to where you made the decision. Much like the judges that are out there, there needs to be people. In the real world USA, you would be held accountable for the decision that you’ve made here. If it was you or me and our business, the situation would be different. But we’ve got lawyers, we’ve got people that are protected here that are making decisions that are not being held accountable, to your point.” 

Barkdoll said, “There’s a lot of hands that could be in this kind of a pot. Michelle, you’re right, even if insurance in any kind of a situation when insurance pays, undoubtedly those costs are eventually getting passed along to the customer. Certainly premium prices are going to increase, coverage may change. So in that sense, it is still sort of everyone that would be contributing in a theoretical way when any kind of a settlement is made.”

Jansen asked, “Aren’t taxpayers paying all those premiums for the governmental agencies, isn’t it essentially tax money?”

“Yeah,” Ryan agreed. “Then go back and find the lawyer that made the decision, but then they’d have to jump through hoops and then you’ve got accountants and you got bean counters going, you know what? It’s not worth it. We should settle this here.”

Jansen said, “The whole system’s set up and everybody’s like I’m going to get mine. I’m going to get mine.” 

“You can’t say that,” Ryan insisted. “If you’ve got people in a household that as Clint had just said, somebody needs to be held accountable. Someone was harmed in this.” 

“Nobody was harmed in this,” Jansen maintained. “And why they wouldn’t just immediately seal the envelopes the first time anybody said anything, I don’t know.” 

“That’s the problem,” Ryan claimed. “It goes back to the counsel that may or may not have said nothing to see here.” 

Franklin County Commissioner John Flannery said, “This is kind of something I inherited when I was elected. One of those things you find out after the fact. The commissioners have decided to reach a settlement in this case. What I can tell you is aside from some minor administrative and legal costs, the settlement will have no major impact on the county’s finances and no taxpayer revenues will be used to fund the settlement. So I’m very happy about that. The county deals with PCoRP. They have worked with us through this class action lawsuit, through counsel provided by them, through the insurer and that is where we stand today. I can tell you that our insurance company and counsel is very aware of what took place from beginning to end and we have worked with them to get to the point we are today.”

Jansen pointed out, “This thing was dismissed originally by a court, by a judge. And then it was revived again. We no longer send out postcards, correct?” 

Flannery said, “That would have stopped about eight years ago.”

Jansen said, “It changed way back, it sounds like then even before the revival of the lawsuit because the lawsuit was revived in May of 2016. So the problem had been corrected and I still go back, was there any evidence of harm done? Or is this just a technicality, you violated the law, you about my privacy, which I can agree okay. Yes, but the problem was corrected and if nobody really could demonstrate harm, why the big payout? This is what bothers me about this. I feel like people were taking advantage of the system. They can’t say it’s to correct the problem because the problem has already been corrected.”