Scharfstein v BP Settlement: A Closer Look

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Most BP consumers in Oregon never noticed that the gas station illegally added a thirty-five cent fee to every debit card transaction. Instead of taking things lying down, these customers organized under the banner of Scharfstein v BP and obtained a large settlement.

In the early 2010s, an Oregon lawyer assembled a class of about two million customers who had paid this unlawful charge. In 2014, a jury sided with the cheated customers and ordered the oil company giant to pay $409 million. After multiple appeals, the company finally agreed to settle Scharfstein v BP and pay these customers about $200 each.

Even after the lawsuit began, BP kept charging the thirty-five cent fee. This profits-before-people mentality isn’t unique to multinational energy companies. Almost every company, down to the deli across the street, uses the same approach.

Class Action Rules for Scharfstein v BP Settlement

There’s no way courts in Oregon, or any other state, could handle two million individual claims. Furthermore, even if they filled up at BP once a week, every week, for ten years, individuals only lost about $182. Very few people would hire lawyers and go to court over such a small amount.

Class actions are an ideal solution in these situations. Class action rules vary in different states. The three most common ones are:

  • Numerosity: By almost any definition, two million plaintiffs satisfies this requirement. In many jurisdictions, two dozen plaintiffs might meet this requirement. Much depends on how well-developed the state’s judicial infrastructure is.
  • Commonality: Everyone who buys gas with debit cards does the same thing. Well, some pay at the pump and some go inside so they can buy a bag of Doritos as well, but that’s not a significant difference.
  • Advocacy: The named plaintiff, which in this case was Steven Scharfstein, as well as the named plaintiff’s lawyer, must be ready, willing, and able to represent everyone in the class, and not just their own interests.

A few mass tort plaintiffs file public nuisance actions. Many recent large opioid settlements were public nuisance matters. Attorneys filed these actions to bypass the defendant that if the FDA approved the drug, it couldn’t possibly be defective or dangerous.

Class Action Payouts

These cases are extremely complex. So, in many cases, a significant chunk of the settlement money goes to litigation expenses, like expert witness fees, study costs, and attorneys’ fees. It would be nice if witnesses, scientists, attorneys, and other contributing professionals could work for free. I like my job so much I’d do it for free if I could. Unfortunately, working for free is not economically feasible for most of us.

Additionally, class action lawsuits aren’t about the money. Most of the customers BP scammed could live without the $180 the company took. Instead, class actions are about sending a message to these companies that they, like everyone else, must follow the rules.

Think you might have a class action case of your own?  Book a free consultation with a top lawyer near you today through AskLegally.

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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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