Soft drink suit windfall for lawyers

“You guys in the elite media are nothing but sluts and prostitutes for your crybaby opposition to common sense tart reform!”

Whoa. My friend Barney from New Jersey was off to such a bombastic and erratic start I glanced at my watch, only to remember Jimmy Buffet’s admonition, “It’s five o’clock somewhere.”

No doubt the next few telephone minutes would be tortuous, but I did take some pleasure in Barney’s including me among the elite media. For a guy who has pecked away at the keyboard 40 years under a program I like to call “pennies for paupers,” that’s high praise indeed.

“Slow down, Barney,” I urged him. “First of all, your despicable hero Rush already hit his professional wall with the inexcusable slut slur, and, second, if by ‘tart’ you are referring to ‘a nubile young temptress who dresses teasingly and provocatively,’ I don’t think even Rick Santorum wants to regulate how women dress. But maybe, come to think of it.”

“You know exactly what I am talking about,” Barney barked. “Your so-called Land of Enhancement is right in the thick of a nuisance lawsuit over a bottle of soda and it’s going to cost the poor soft drink company upwards of 900,000 bucks for no good reason whatsoever!”

Aaahh. “That’s tort reform, Barney. Not tart reform.”

“Whatever!”

I was aware of the soft drink kerfuffle, a lawsuit conservatives might find marginally questionable. A successful Santa Fe soft drink company, Blue Sky, sold out to a California company in 2000. The company that bought Blue Sky, now known as Monster Beverage Company, continued making the soft drink at its California plant.

Nothing seems amiss with that set of facts except, oops, it turns out Monster continued to print on its can the Santa Fe connection, giving soda drinkers across the country the impression they were consuming a product manufactured in New Mexico.

Any psychologist worth her PsyD will tell you drinking a California beverage you thought was bottled in New Mexico will lead to anxiety and insomnia. Thank heavens, someone sued. He is Chris Chavez, a native New Mexican who now lives in California. The lawsuit was filed in San Francisco. No smart-aleck response required, thank you.

There is a pending settlement that adequately reimburses duped consumers. If you bought Blue Sky products between May 16, 2002, and June 30, 2006, you can receive payments of up to a maximum of $100, half the total of the purchase. So, say you drank $200 worth of these drinks during that period. You have just stumbled into a $100 windfall. Ummm. One little problem. You need to track down the receipts. No receipts? You’ll get six bucks. Maybe.

Listening to the clink of ice hitting glass on the other end of the line, I had a hunch Barney might not buy into my argument of this being an example of a perfect system defending the oppressed. So I tried a steer the discussion elsewhere.

“Barney,” I told him, “you may have a problem with my contention this lawsuit protects unwary soft drink consumers who, having found they imbibed a California product are now overcome with depression, but I do want to point out there is another huge benefit to this settlement.”

I was referring to the fact the soft drink company has also agreed to pay $900,000 in fees, $10,000 of which would go to plaintiff Chris Chavez and $890,000 to lawyers.

“You’ll have to admit, Barney, that’s not only great for Chris, but an effective jobs program for lawyers, way better than a government bailout for the legal profession!”

Sensing I was about to lose my erstwhile New Jersey friend, I quickly added, “and Barney, it’s not Enhancement, it’s Land of Enchantment!”

“Whatever!”