Three Words

Here are three words that are among the deadliest threats to any U.S. business: class action suits. Most of us think of class action suits as arising from situations like the one by residents of Love Channel in the 1970s or the one against Kerr-McGee chronicled in the movie Silkwood.

Today, class action suits have moved from protecting the rights of those egregiously injured to becoming instruments through which attorneys make millions suing for “classes” that were “harmed” yet receive little in the way of compensation. Haven’t we all received some notice of class action suit settlement where we, as part of the class, get a free car wash, or 20 free phone minutes while the attorneys get a high six figures in fees?

As one attorney told me years ago, used correctly the class action mechanism is one of the most effective sources of justice there is. Used incorrectly, its one of the best forms of extortion.

You’ll have to be the judge of the what the suit filed last week concerning the glass installed in balconies in Toronto is. As someone who likes to play armchair lawyer, I think it’s going to be awfully hard to define the class as not all the balconies had issues.

And what of those issues? It seems the allegations are that the builder, the developer, general contractor, the railing manufacturer and installer all knew there was some sort of deficiency in the glass and yet used it? Are we to believe that none of those groups would have give any moral pause to using glass in a situation where breakage might be particularly dangerous. Is that really possible?

Each of the suits seeks general damages of $15 million and special damages and admin costs of $4 million and punitive damages of $1 million plus interest and cost of the actions.

Speaking of Broken Glass

So I took a few days off last week to travel down to Florida and attend a Spring Training game or two (and the up-and-coming Nats beat the Mets 8-2, by the way). This time I got a good deal in one of those quiet boutique hotels. It was impeccably appointed, lovely service, incredible decoration and artwork.

The elevator bank and floor-to-ceiling mirror were completed in a decor that worked and was not in anyway garish. So it was with horror I noticed (and believe me anyone would) two 12- inch cracks in the mirror emanating from behind the elevator button area.

After a day or two, that broken glass started to call to me like a beating heart in an Edgar Allen Poe story. It just got louder and louder until I could resist no more. “How long,” I asked the concierge, “had it been broken?” “A good while,” she responded.

So it really saddened me that the only flaw in an otherwise flawless location was the glass. But, then again, the story is always about the glass.