Avery, applied

The Madison County Record Nov. 13, 2005, 6:03am

If the Illinois Supreme Court’s landmark Avery decision was chock full of class action lawsuit lessons, at least one of them stood out to us.

The court cannot compensate a plaintiff for damages that don’t exist.

This week, The Record reports on the case of Paul and Ladonna Wratchford, who bought a home in Wood River before filing a lawsuit against their mortgage lender. At issue—- whether the $20.90 “courier fee” they paid involved a real, bona fide courier.

The Wratchfords, advised by conflict-hungry class action mastermind Gary Peel of the Lakin Law Firm, claim there wasn’t a courier and that they were deceived. They-- and he-- want compensation for their trouble.

The lender—Accredited-- admits that the fee didn’t necessarily involve a courier but covered more general “transmittal services” involved in completing the mortgage. As anyone who’s done it knows, there are lots of documents to process and pass around when buying a house.

But the Wratchfords wanted more processing specifics; they wanted the $20.90 fee custom-itemized for them. That’s why they’re in Madison County court; that’s why Accredited has been paying lawyers $300 per hour to defend this case.

In Avery, the plaintiff demanded compensation because State Farm’s used of “non-branded” auto parts in repairing his car. That his car didn’t lose value—- he sold it post-repair for a nifty price—- helped sink his case.

So the allegation of “fraud” in Avery didn’t hold because it didn’t hurt. So what about the Wratchfords?

Were they hurt by Accredited’s lack of billing descriptiveness?

Accredited says they weren’t, citing Avery as a reason the case should be dismissed. Peel presses on, arguing a mountain out of a $20.90 molehill.

“Defendant did not charge class members for ‘transmittal and administrative services.’ Defendant charged class members for ‘courier fees.’ They are not the same thing,” Peel wrote. “Defendant is using Avery as a thin excuse.”

Avery isn’t a “thin excuse”—-it’s a precedent. Here's hoping it helps our courts free themselves of those miniscule matters that too often take precedence over real issues of real justice.

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