Lessons From the Bought Milk Settlement

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The chain of events leading to the Bought Milk settlement began in 2003, when dairy industry executives created the Cooperatives Working Together. The CWT’s mission was to stabilize milk prices in about a half-dozen states. According to court documents, the group “stabilized” prices by instructing dairy farmers to kill cows earlier, which reduced the supply and increased the price. In 2016, a judge approved a $52 million settlement fund.

Initially, that settlement fund was large enough to adequately compensate victims. But most people buy lots of milk over a thirteen-year period. Since lawyers underestimated the number of victims, payouts dropped to under $8 per person.

Class actions, like other civil actions, deter wrongful conduct. By this measure, the Bought Milk settlement was a success. The CWT and its antitrust stance is no more. Civil actions should also fairly compensate victims. By this measure, the Bought Milk settlement left a lot to be desired. This settlement has two significant lessons for injury victims and personal injury lawyers.

Settlement Timing

The long settlement process usually frustrates victims and attorneys alike. Victims are anxious to get their settlement checks and move on with their lives. Attorneys are anxious to move onto other legal matters. Early settlements satisfy these cravings, but they don’t address underlying needs.

Insurance companies often make early settlement offers in car crash and other personal injury claims. These adjusters seem affable, like Flo from Progressive. But the offers they make have little or nothing to do with what’s fair. Instead, they reflect the best financial interests of the insurance company.

It usually takes several rounds of offers and counter-offers to raise this low-ball offer to something resembling a fair offer. If the case settles too early, much like the Bought Milk settlement, it won’t adequately compensate victims. Furthermore, the settlement won’t account for future medical expenses. In that case, the victim is usually financially responsible for such bills.

Evidence-Based Decisions

Injury cases are extremely emotional. It’s important to resist the temptation to make important decisions, like whether to accept a settlement offer, on emotions. Both attorneys and victims fall to this temptation.

Much like in the Bought Milk settlement, the best evidence in an injury case usually isn’t available until relatively late in the process. So, patience in the settlement process doesn’t always pay off, but it usually pays off.

Picture of Bret Thurman

Bret Thurman

Bret is a former lawyer and full-time writer who knows how to simplify complex topics. He received his law degree from the University of Texas at Austin. For over twenty years, he handled a wide variety of cases, including criminal defense, personal injury, family law, and consumer bankruptcy.

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