After first settling with the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation and states for millions of dollars, AmAg later settled with affected farmers.
Those farmers were supposed to have settlement checks in hand by last October. As of late January, those checks had still not arrived.
“October was the original date set to have the AmAg insurance settlement checks distributed. However, while we're the lead counsel for the plaintiffs, the special master (a court-appointed overseer of the settlement money) calculated the distribution for the checks,” said Christy Tumminello.
Tumminello, paralegal to lead plaintiff attorney Cindy Green, said when the special master's final report reached her New Orleans law firm, it was discovered to contain “many, many miscalculations and errors.” Some of the errors were so egregious the firm couldn't ignore them. And even though it would mean the checks would be late, attorneys decided to make things right.
“Once the money is distributed, it's gone. There's no way for us to go back and have a do-over.
“The miscalculations weren't in the farmers' favor. We represent the farmers, the plaintiffs, and we want them to get the best settlement possible. We insisted that the errors be corrected so every plaintiff would receive a fair amount. That's what we've been working on since. We're close to getting the recalculations finalized,” said Tumminello.
Errors needing correction often occurred when farmers were trying to be helpful, said Tumminello.
“According to the special master, some farmers failed to respond to question 12 on the claim form properly.”
The question asks the farmer to list production and pounds for their 1999 rice crop. Many farmers wrote, “see attached” in the space. They then stapled a separate sheet to the form — sometimes an acreage report, sometimes a list of calculations.
“They were trying to help justify their numbers. But the special master simply disallowed those forms, refused to look at the attachment, and said they weren't to get any of the settlement. We don't think that's fair and brought it to the judge's attention. We had to file a motion, and that takes time. Eventually, though, the judge ordered the corrections.” Plaintiffs' attorneys proposed that the special master make the corrections to his mistakes “using some of the money already paid him. The judge said no. He said the special master would fix things, but we were to point out each mistake.”
So, the firm has had to highlight every error, said Tumminello.
“We aren't getting compensated for this, but we feel our clients will be happier with a late check of $2,000 rather than $2. And it's certainly better than to have no check at all.”
Once the recalculations are done they'll be sent to the bank. It doesn't take the bank long to print out the checks and send them out — perhaps 48 hours.
“There isn't a definite date on when the printing and issuing of checks will happen. We're still correcting miscalculations. We want the checks out soon — in a matter of weeks. Hopefully, this will be finished very soon. We're not only highlighting the corrections but also monitoring them.”