Every customer of Pilot Flying J that had money essentially stolen from it over the past eight-plus years will have its legal rights lumped in with the settlement of a class action filed earlier this year in Arkansas — unless the customers raise a hand and says, “I’m out.”
A website detailing the settlement that was approved by a federal judge last week contains a link to a notice explaining (via 31 questions and answers) the rights of every customer of the company run by Browns owner Jimmy Haslam. If the customers don’t opt out of the settlement by October 15, 2013, they’ll be stuck with whatever they get from the nationwide settlement.
And what they get from the nationwide settlement may not be much more than what they’ve already received. The formula consists of all unpaid rebates and discounts (as defined in the documents) from January 1, 2005 through July 15, 2013 plus six percent simple interest and minus any payments previously made by Pilot Flying J under its “Voluntary Payment Program.”
Customers can either exit the settlement or challenge it. A fairness hearing on the settlement will be held on November 25.
The problem, as a practical matter, is that the judge already has decided that he believes the settlement is fair. It will take some convincing and/or new information to get him to throw it out.
That’s why the best approach for any customers who believe that their legal rights extend beyond compensation plus interest would be to opt out and sue on their own. The problem, however, is that the customers may lack the sophistication to realize that they have rights to other damages beyond getting the money that was essentially stolen from them. Which sort of got them into this problem in the first place, given that the company allegedly preyed on customers deemed to be too estupid to realize they were getting screwed.
Indeed, the named plaintiff in the case that sparked the settlement — National Trucking Financial Reclamation Services, LLC — reportedly is a company that has bought up the rights up multiple Pilot Flying J customers, possibly at pennies (or close to it) on the dollar. For that specific entity, a settlement that pays out 100 cents on the dollar plus interest of the money that essentially was stolen will be a windfall.
But it may not be justice, especially if as the settlement notice suggests the scam began in 2005.