Master Sergeant Bradley Behling e-mailed me yesterday with an update on his legal fight against PODS, after they mistakenly sold all his belongings from a storage container while he was serving in Iraq for only $300, according to a court document.
As much as I would like to share his e-mail with you, he has kindly and understandably asked me not to, since he is still in ongoing legal negotiations with PODS. But here are some new developments and insights:
* MSgt. Behling tells me PODS has improved its offer to settle the case. I will not tell you the specifics because settlement negotiations are a game of chess. Any disclosure of an offer could be construed as a breach of good faith, or jeopardize anything already on the table.
* This is not a case of jackpot justice. MSgt. Behling tells me he is not trying to win the "lawsuit lottery," and his court complaint (a public document which he generously provided to me) bears this out. It does not seek a specific amount of money, but rather damages "in excess of $10,000" for each of the seven claims he makes against PODS plus punitive damages and court costs. I calculate the total claim at more than $100,000. That is well above the $64,000 estimated value of his belongings, but way below the $54 million claimed by a Washington, D.C. judge against a dry cleaner who lost his pants.
* This ordeal has created considerable turmoil in MSgt. Behling's life, and I know his children and family are caught in the halo of the strife. He has replaced what he can, but he tells me most of his wardrobe must still be repurchased, and you can imagine the financial strain he is bearing. Still, through it all, he is demonstrating the strength and honor of an effective leader. I am certain he will pull through this with his character intact.
His list of awards and commendations should serve as proof:
Meritorious Service Medal (1 Oak Leaf Cluster-OLC)
AF Commendation Medal (1 OLC)
AF Achievement Medal (1 OLC)
AF Outstanding Unit Award (1 OLC)
AF Organizational Excellent Award (2 OLC)
AF Good Conduct Medal (5 OLC)
National Defense Service Medal (1 device)
Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
Southwest Asia Service Medal
Iraq Campaign Ribbon
Global War on Terrorism Service Medal
Air Force Expeditionary Service Ribbon w/Gold border
Distinguished Graduate Airman Leadership School Class 96-D
Air Base Group Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) of the Quarter 1999
DET 3 AFFTC Wing Superior Team of the Year 2001
Air Base Group NCO of the Quarter 2002
Air Base Group NCO of the Quarter 2003
Distinguished Graduate Non Commissioned Officers Academy Class 03-7
DET 3 AFFTC Wing NCO of the Quarter 2003
Services NCO of the Year 2003
Mission Support Group NCO of the Year 2003
DET 3 AFFTC Wing NCO of the Year 2003
99th Security Forces Group 1st Sgt of the Year 2006
* I find parts of PODS' legal answer curious. If I read the court document correctly, they deny the "allegation" laid out in MSgt. Behling's complaint that PODS "treats your PODS containers with care and respect," and other statements regarding customer care. Yet I clearly found those statements on their website.
More than anything, this case raises a fundamental question: What does it really mean for us when we say, "We Support Our Troops?" I understand PODS has procedures for handling loss and protecting against fraudulent claims. They do not deny making a mistake. But given the enormity of this mistake and its impact, and the fact that it happened to somebody who is sacrificing for this country, I expect better. We all should.
Is PODS also willing to sacrifice, if it means swallowing a little corporate pride or taking a dent in the profit column? I am confident the company would not have gone broke by simply paying MSgt. Behling the $64,000 he computed. And thinking about it from the perspective of a PR person, it simply would have made good business sense. It would have sent a powerful message about corporate accountability. It is so easy for us to slap magnetic ribbons on the back of our cars. But do our actions back that up?
I'm no Vegas oddsmaker, but I'm willing to bet PODS racks up a legal bill of at least $64,000 in defending this lawsuit, if it makes it into a courtroom. It's sad to see that money go to lawyers when it could have gone to helping putting MSgt. Behling back on his feet.
Please continue to keep him in your prayers. FrancisPage will continue to follow developments in this story and bring you the latest.