I called him immediately upon reading the headline: “Local accounting firm files an antitrust suit: claims Torpedo Tax is capitalizing on an unfair monopoly selling tax extension services to hurricane victims.” I knew my uncle was in over his head. “Sam, you can’t file suit against a competitor just because they’re successfully competing,” I tried to reason with him.
“This is not my normal grumbling, Ted. This is unfair competition,” Sam shot back. “I’ll show you,” he said, hanging up the phone. Seconds later, my phone buzzed with an image from Sam. It was a billboard that read:
STILL RECOVERING FINANCIALLY FROM IRMA?
YOUR TAXES CAN WAIT.
GET A FREE EXTENSION AND $50 OFF YOUR TAX RETURN PREP
I admit that the billboard gave me pause. Growing up as the son and nephew of accountants had definitely taught me that accounting was one area I did not want to practice in, which is largely why I became a lawyer. It also taught me enough about tax laws to know, as much as I hated to admit it, that Uncle Sam was right. But by waging war against a multi-million-dollar tax prep corporation, I also knew he’d grabbed a tiger by the tail. There was no getting around it: Uncle Sam needed my help.
I made the drive the next day from my home in Pensacola to the Florida Keys, where my uncle’s small practice had served the financial and tax needs of the good folks of Marathon, Key Largo, and Islamorada for decades. But, when the national tax-prep chains—the “Tax Bots” as Sam called them—started opening up in strip malls around tax time, his business dwindled. The chains boasted return-prep services more quickly and cheaply than Sam’s little practice could possibly offer. And, while I knew my uncle was rightfully angry about this, in addition to the loss of the majority of his tax prep clients as a result of Torpedo’s “Irma Campaign,” I was worried a costly, protracted, potentially unsuccessful antitrust suit against a company with a lot more money to throw at legal fees might ultimately cost Sam his livelihood. My initial plan had been to talk Sam out of this suit to save his practice. That was until I made the drive and saw for myself.
The closer I got to Marathon, I was reminded of the devastation the Keys had suffered in the wake of Irma. Roofs were missing. Houses were full of holes. Roads were lined with domestic rubble: washed-up sofas, tree limbs, broken appliances, wayward doors and windows. It was clear many of these people were likely displaced and still struggling to get their lives back together. Capitalizing on a tragic natural disaster, I recalled reading in the Complaint Sam’s antitrust attorney had filed. “Through deceptive trade practices,” I said when I saw the first billboard, which was followed immediately by another one, then two in a row.
While I agreed with my uncle that the message of the billboard was deceptive, what his photo had not conveyed was the size and shocking placement of the billboards: dozens of them, all in areas of the most destruction and disarray. When I saw what Sam had been driving by for months following the devastating hurricane that had ravaged his home town, I felt what Sam must have felt.
“You’re right, it’s not fair,” I said to Sam the minute I stepped into his office. He nodded in agreement. “You’re going to need an expert. Someone approachable and persuasive, who can make them understand what the billboards imply and why they’re deceptive,” I advised. “I know just who to call. I’ve worked with them before. They always find the exact expert I need,” I told Sam, who was smiling now because he knew I was going to help him with the case.
“No one should be allowed to take advantage of the only two things that are certain in life, right?” I said, jokingly.
“Actually there’s a third certainty in life,” Sam said, shaking my hand. “Family.”
At IMS ExpertServices, we consider our clients part of our extended family. And we’re always happy to help you connect with the best possible expert witness candidates, even in the midst of tax time. Would you like to be the expert here? Help Uncle Sam torpedo the unfair competition by explaining in a comment below why the Torpedo Tax billboards are deceptive.