Thursday, March 07, 2013

Solving the Notice Problem: The Trolls

I spent a few minutes yesterday with my bankuptcy students exploring one of the great unknowables: how do you give "fair" notice of some pending action to a whole bunch of folks who may have a stake in the matter?  I mean, especially when you may not know who some of them are--or worse, when they may not know themselves?

It has been a big issue in (for example) the asbestos bankruptcies, where you may have to cope with "known" claims and "unknown" claims--and where the class of "unknowns" may be particularly intractable because it may include people who have already ingested the nasty fibers but haven't yet begun to wheeze.*

Anyway, one of my students a point that I really hadn't thought of before--or at least not in this context.  He said that this problem has been partly solved by the personal-injury lawsuit entrepreneurs--those trolls who go on TV to tell you that "you may have a claim for blah blah!  Just call us!" You know, he's onto something.  I hate those ads, too--one reason we cut the cable.**   But the more successful those ads, the less we have to worry about the efficacy of the court-mandated notice.  Not so?
*Picky law types will object that the issue may turn on the law's definition of "claim," and that local mileage may vary. Well, yes it may, but the problem  is there in any event.  If you freeze the unknowns out, there may be nothing left when they finally get the bad news.  If you wait until they are known, then you do harm to the people who already suffered harm and are just waiting to be paid.

**But I guess if we cut the cable, we may never find out if we have blah blah.   I guess I have to bracket myself with those Old Believers in Russia who fled to outer Siberia and have only just now learned that there was a World War II.

1 comment:

The New York Crank said...

If you can't find a member of the class, accost anybody in the classroom. Case in point:

I bought my apartment from a foreigner who moved back to her country. Soon after, I began to receive a steady stream of mail to her from a bankruptcy court and supernumeraries related thereto, in New Jersey. This has been going on for over two years.

I started by writing "Moved. Return to sender," on the envelopes . That achieved nothing.

So I wrote them in all capitals. "MOVED. RETURN TO SENDER." Same unsatisfying result.

Next I wrote to the officer of the court whose name appeared on the return address of the "Official Busiuness" envelope. I explained the situation. I told to this official that she could find the party she wished to address via that party's closing attorney, whose name I got from my own closing papers, or via her real estate agent, whose e-mail address I had.

Know what that achieved? Absolutely nothing! I still get mail, month after month. And the odd part is, I don't know whether the former owner of my apartment is a plaintiff or a bankrupt defendant, since the mail only describes the bankrupt with a "DBA" corporate name

One day I'll come home and discover some US Marshall from Newark has padlocked my apartment for failing to respond to the court and forking over my assets But not to worry. The Federal Court in New Jersey has been "solving the notice problem."

Yeah, right.