The Bluetooth Headset Class Action settlement: Consumers $0, Lawyers $850,000

by Ted Frank on March 31, 2009

If you bought a Bluetooth headset between June 30, 2002 and February 19, 2009, the settlement of a class action lawsuit may affect your rights.” And if you want to know why your instruction manuals are overwhelmed with worthless wacky warnings, the settlement of this class action lawsuit may explain why.

We’ve covered other ridiculous failure-to-warn-of-hearing-loss consumer-fraud lawsuits, but somehow missed this one filed by the Garcia Law Firm, which was eventually consolidated with twenty-six other lawsuits against Motorola, Plantronics, and GN Netcom (which makes “Jabra” headsets) alleging that the insufficiently advertised risk of hearing loss from turning the volume up too high on a Bluetooth headset was consumer fraud meriting damages, yadda yadda, because, without a wacky warning, people might not know that loud sounds can cause hearing loss.

The settlement is remarkable: the defendants are spending approximately $1.2 million to give notice of the settlement that offers $0 to the class. That’s, right $0. There’s a total $100,000 cy pres award to four charities selected by the plaintiffs, and the manufacturers agree to provide a wacky warning that “Exposure to loud noise from any source for extended periods of time may temporarily or permanently affect your hearing.” Only lawyers like warnings like this. Such warnings make the rest of us worse off; when people see so many warnings “crying ‘wolf,’” it inures them to meaningful warnings.

In return, the trial lawyers are going to ask for up to $850,000 in fees and costs—a remarkable infinite-percentage attorneys’ fee. Nine representative plaintiffs will ask the court for a total of $12,000 in “incentive” payments.

Walter and I often get inquiries on what readers can do when they get notice of a class-action settlement that benefits lawyers to the expense of consumers and businesses. The answer all too often is nothing: asking for exclusion doesn’t prevent the lawyers from cashing in; objecting without the help of an attorney will almost always be brushed off by the court; there is no financial incentive for an attorney to get involved, unless an objector wants to pay their tremendous fees–and there is certainly not an incentive for an objector to spend thousands of dollars to hire an attorney to object to a settlement like this.

The lawsuit is plainly meritless; but it costs Motorola and the other defendants a lot of money to have Kirkland & Ellis and Arnold & Porter litigators dealing with the case. Without a loser pays rule, it’s cheaper for the defendants to pay trial lawyers protection money to go away. Because no one has an incentive to object, the settlements get rubber-stamped, and the trial lawyers go on to file the next extortionate lawsuit. And we all pay higher prices as a result: the $2 million being spent on notice and plaintiffs’ attorneys doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands (and very likely over a million) spent by these companies on defense and in-house attorneys on three years of litigation to date.

In the Grand Theft Auto case, I was a class member, so could file an objection on behalf of myself. I don’t own a Bluetooth headset, so I can’t do that here. But the fairness hearing is in Los Angeles, I’m a member of the California bar and Central District of California bar, and I wouldn’t mind having an excuse to be in California on July 6.

I’m going to float a trial balloon here (and perhaps get my friends at Kirkland mad at me). If you are a reader, and you are one of the tens of millions of members of the class (and please read the notice to ensure that you are), and you find this settlement objectionable, I may be willing to represent you pro bono to file an objection similar to the one I filed in the Grand Theft Auto case, where I argued that the settlement was evidence that the case was meritless and should be dismissed, and in no event should the attorneys get paid off. Please understand that:

  • Such an objection, if fully successful in decertifying the class, will preclude you from receiving any money in the class action settlement; you would get zero financial benefit from the objection and would be doing this solely to keep these particular attorneys from stealing $850,000 from consumers, and to be some small deterrent to future trial lawyers against bringing this type of lawsuit;
  • There is a non-zero chance that the trial lawyers will ask for your deposition in an attempt to intimidate or harass you, though I suspect that they wouldn’t want to spend the time or money to engage in a fruitless one-hour deposition;
  • There is a chance that the judge will ignore the objection and approve the settlement anyway, though we would have the right to appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

What say you, readers? Have you bought a Bluetooth headset, are you sick of extortionate lawsuits, and are you mad enough to go on the public record to say that you don’t think these attorneys should get $850,000?

This is not an April Fools’ joke; this is not an AEI-approved project. This is me, willing to spend my own spare time and money to do some real pro bono work in the original sense of pro bono publico if there is a disgruntled class member out there. (Of course, if there is a outpouring of readers who also want to donate money to defray expenses, let me know, and I’ll set up an Amazon or Paypal donation button.)

(Update: Thanks for the overwhelming response. I’ve selected five volunteers who will be the objectors, which will be more than enough.  Stay tuned to Overlawyered for updates on the case.)

{ 28 comments }

1 Ron Coleman 03.31.09 at 9:39 pm

Maybe no one heard you.

2 CarLitGuy 03.31.09 at 9:50 pm

While I have a number of Plantronic headsets, and certainly object to such rent seeking activities by various attorneys at the expense of defendents and consumers like myself, none, unfortunately, are bluetooth devices. Being deposed by these guys might be enjoyable, but I fear I will need to wait for a class I am actually a member of. Somehow, I suspect the e-mail notification of my membership in some class of unharmed plaintiffs is just days or weeks away.

3 Paul 03.31.09 at 10:08 pm

I am most definitely an owner of multiple bluetooth headsets made by Motorola, and I am mad enough to go on record about how much this settlement disgusts me.

4 Todd Rogers 04.01.09 at 5:26 am

I wish I owned one of those pesky little blue-lighted contraptions if for this objection only. But alas, I’m just not high-tech enough.

5 Bill 04.01.09 at 7:30 am

I bought a Plantronics bluetooth device last year. Include me on your list.

6 Richard Nieporent 04.01.09 at 8:19 am

Can I expect a check for $0.00 in the mail? That would only be 12 cents less than a check I got a few years ago for another class action settlement.

7 O.T. Valls 04.01.09 at 8:41 am

I bought one of the things during the official period. Please include me in your list.

8 Bill Gerken 04.01.09 at 8:50 am

Rat Bastards!! I’ve got two of the Plantronics 510 Voyagers and live in Orange County, CA. Count me in!!

9 Richard Nieporent 04.01.09 at 9:00 am

What say you, readers? Have you bought a Bluetooth headset, are you sick of extortionate lawsuits, and are you mad enough to go on the public record to say that you don’t think these attorneys should get $850,000?

This sounds like fun. Count me in, Ted. I would love to be deposed by some sleazy class action lawyer (Yes, I know that is redundant). I bought a number of Bluetooth headsets over the years. Amazingly enough there is a button on the headsets that allows you to raise or lower the volume. Of course it would be hard to blame my Jabra headset for causing hearing loss. It stopped working in less than a year! By the way Ted is Cervantes your favorite author? :)

10 Benjamin 04.01.09 at 9:24 am

I will do it. Your blog required me to leave an e-mail so you can contact me there. Let me dig out my Jabra Bluetooth headset and I am ready.

11 barsinister 04.01.09 at 12:44 pm

If I had known about the opportunity, I would have bought one of the damn things just to participate.

12 Jess 04.01.09 at 1:59 pm

I purchased two Jabra bluetooth headsets in the relevant time period. I’m happy to be in your group, but I doubt I can produce any receipts. I too found these things fairly unreliable. I know, I did buy two of them, but I thought it could have been my fault that the first one fell apart, and besides they look cool.

13 Will 04.01.09 at 2:07 pm

Sure. Count me in. Especially since I am (probably like a lot of other class members) likely to buy another headset in the next 7 years which will doubtless cost more as a result of this lawsuit. I would bet that the net negatives to me of this lawsuit (future increased cost of the product plus less useable product guide) far outweigh the (theoretical) “benefit” of a donation to charities I’ve never heard of. Not to mention the incentive such settlements give to “my” lawyers to go out and file more silly lawsuits that will needlessly drive up the prices I pay in order to line their pockets.

14 Benjamin 04.01.09 at 2:46 pm

I am definitely a member of the class and request that you represent my objection. What do I need to fill out paperworkwise? I don’t know how to write an elegant objection like you did in the GTA case.

15 Mark 04.01.09 at 8:52 pm

I qualify in the bluetooth matter, count me in.

16 Jason 04.02.09 at 5:07 am

I purchased a Plantronics bluetooth headset last year. You may include me on your list. (email)

17 Paul 04.02.09 at 7:16 am

I am not a member of the class but would be willing to Paypal $20 to help the cause. Lemme know where to send the money.

18 David 04.02.09 at 11:25 am

I purchased one. Count me in.

19 Alton 04.02.09 at 12:05 pm

Consider placing some ads:

“…Have you or a loved one ever received Class Action junk mail? Unsatisfied with your 12 cent check, unredeemable coupon, or silly new warning…? ”

“You may be entitled to have some fun. Call me, the frugal, reasonable lawyer… You pay nothing unless you want to…”

20 Al Delaparte 04.02.09 at 12:31 pm

I am a member of the class, having purchased a Motorola blue tooth headset in 2004. Please include me on your list. I am constantly being bombarded with class action junl mail and am pleased to be able to join your action against these nuisances.

21 Pete Warden 04.02.09 at 3:43 pm

I’ll happily chip into the expenses fund for this. At the very least it might embarrass everyone involved, though a sense of shame might be too much to hope for.

22 Beth 04.02.09 at 8:23 pm

Thank you so much for your efforts! Wish I were a member of this group!!!

23 Griffin3 04.03.09 at 9:58 am

I got an IOGear headset, myself … but I have some cash just sitting there in a paypal account, just looking for a place where it could provide me some devious entertainment do the most public good.

24 Brian Parkins 04.05.09 at 4:13 am

I have a Motorola Bluetooth headset (the HS850) that I bought in 2003 or 2004 (I’d have to check), and would be totally interested in this. I’m so sick of frivolous lawsuits and the money they cost.

Sign me up.

25 Peter A. Swanson 04.09.09 at 2:11 pm

Sign me up!

26 wanda hamilton 04.09.09 at 11:13 pm

sign me up

27 GremmieJD 04.22.09 at 5:19 pm

While many have accused this and other suits as being friviolous, I find that assertion as being absurd. Failure to warn of harm is as applicable to this case as it is to pharmecuticals, or other manufactured devices.
That being said, it is also absurd for the ‘settlement offer’ to preclude recovery for those individuals who are members of this class who have suffered actual harm from these devices.

Please OBJECT to the settlement if you find it at all appauling.

28 Ted Frank 04.22.09 at 7:04 pm

To be clear: I already have several class members signed up, and will likely file an objection depending upon the response from plaintiffs’ counsel to my inquiries about the settlement. If you haven’t already explicitly signed up with me via email with a retainer agreement, you are not “signed up,” and will either have to object individually, or free-ride off of the objection (if any) I make on behalf of my clients.

@27: Gremmie, the lawsuit only claims economic harm, and has nothing to do with physical harm from failure to warn.

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