Thursday, October 11, 2001

Acuvue case

Eyeing a surprise windfall

        It appears I may already be a winner. Without Ed McMahon. Without Regis. Without trying to survive bugs or the Weakest Link's stern dominatrix. Even though I have not bought a lottery ticket for years and even though I use the Reader's Digest contest entries as kindling, part of an $860 million jackpot could be mine, just for the asking.

        I would like the chance to wallow around in millions of dollars I haven't earned. (Why else would I be watching my savings evaporate in the stock market?) It's the asking that worries me.

        A formidable packet of materials arrived last week from the Superior Court of New Jersey, notifying me that Johnson & Johnson has been sued on my behalf. I was surprised that this company might seek to harm me, as I have always spoken highly of their cotton swabs.

A throw-away problem

        However, “my” attorneys believe I am due certain compensation for Acuvue contact lenses I purchased since 1994. Johnson & Johnson agreed to settle this suit without admitting wrongdoing.

        Naturally, even though I'm as greedy as the next person, my first concern was my actual eyes. As in, “will the party of the first part eventually be unable to read the terms of this settlement?”

        Optometrist Phil Apfel says the number of patients he has seen with eye damage related to this case is 0. Zip. Apparently, the company has been accused of misleading advertising and marketing.

        Dr. Apfel's latest communique from the company is in Spanish, so we are having a little trouble sorting this out. But we believe I might have been wearing contact lenses for two weeks that other people were being advised to throw away after one day. But they could have been wearing them for two weeks. Or I could have been throwing mine away sooner. And somebody may have been overcharged. Or undercharged. It is not clear.

        Anyway, I am prepared to be outraged, but as I read the fine print — and I am proud to note that I can still do so — it seems I am one of 700,000 who qualify.

        “The average Class Member,” reads the six-page explanation, “would, upon submitting an appropriate Claim Form, receive $60 in cash.” All I have to do is enclose letters from my contact lens providers from 1994 to the present, listing any purchases. Har.

The paperwork ploy

        That's one of the problems with these cases, according to the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice. A spokeman says, “The defendant has a strong incentive to create a claims process that is extremely difficult for anyone to use.” Most people just decide it isn't worth it, so a lawsuit that might cost the defendant hundreds of millions winds up costing them, well, legal fees. Which I assume they pass along to us plaintiff/customers.

        Next time, instead of arranging for plaintiffs to fill out impossibly complicated claims forms which might (or might not) result in $60 and instead of printing and mailing out 700,000 forms, I'd suggest the court simply print up cards with each of our names on it. Then an attorney could draw one at random and send a lucky plaintiff a great big check. Sort of like the one the lawyer will get.

        Because I can't help noticing that “my” attorneys — people I have never met and who do not return my phone calls — will collect legal fees from Johnson & Johnson of up to $20 million.

        So it's easy to see who may already be a winner.

        E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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