Ashley Madison was the go-to joint for extramarital liaisons, the match.com for married folks, “the most successful website for finding an affair and cheating partners.” But on August 18th, hackers published the names, addresses, credit card details and sexual fantasies of nearly 40 million of the website’s users. Class action lawyers rejoiced. Divorce lawyers fell to their knees. And 40 million people cringed.
Avid Life Media is the Canadian company behind the website. Founded by Noel Biderman, the self-proclaimed “king of infidelity,” the company owns four other extramarital dating websites, including CougarLife.com. There are noble intentions, of course. According to Biderman, cheating helps protect marriages by making relationships stronger:
It is proven that many people who have an affair tend to be happier in their marriage. Statistics show that many men and women after having an affair are more likely to go back to their partner and be more committed to the relationship than before having an affair.
On Ashley Madison you have nothing to lose, register today for free and have an affair. It is fast, discreet and simple. Ashley Madison is the world’s leading website for married dating.
— Noel Biderman, founder and CEO
Turns out those who fell for the website’s security promises had something to lose, after all. And now, so does Biderman. After subjecting its customers to public humiliation, the company finds itself subject to severe financial consequences.
To date, four former Ashley Madison customers in three U.S. states and Canada have sued the company for damages totaling more than $500 million. Each is seeking class action status alleging negligence, breach of contract and/or emotional distress. The suits claim a variety of injuries stemming from failure to protect sensitive data, failure to delete user data when requested, invasion of privacy and other violations of state consumer protection laws.
If you’re a current or former Ashley Madison customer who wants the company to pay, there’s no use filing a lawsuit yourself. Class action lawyers are beating the bushes looking for you, and they won’t have much trouble because your name is unfortunately on a list. It’s true these lawyers are likely to get the bulk of any payout, but they’ll also get you a quick settlement. Besides, all the lawsuits will be combined by a judge when the case gets certified as a class action.
You may have a claim against the company even if you’re not an Ashley Madison customer. If your spouse is or was a customer — and if you live in Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota or Utah — you might have a claim for alienation of affection. You have to prove that the marriage was based on love, that the love and affection was partially lost, and that AshleyMadison.com contributed to that loss of affection. These statutes are based solidly in old English law, but juries still take these claims seriously. In 2010, a North Carolina jury ordered a woman to cough up $9 million to her boyfriend’s wife.
There’s also the possibility of job loss for some Ashley Madison customers. The Florida prosecutor who jailed Casey Anthony was on the list and has already resigned in disgrace. Some 15,000 of the email addresses on that list are on U.S. government or military agency domains, and government employment contracts often include public morality clauses that could get some people fired. The Uniform Code of Military Justice treats adultery as a crime that could subject any soldier on the list to a court martial.
There are even worse consequences, including reported suicides and the potential for execution in countries that punish homosexual activity. So it’s rough out there, for the people on that list and their spouses, as well as the hackers, who will be criminally charged if caught.
Have you been affected by this hack? Do you know of any other claims that could be filed against Ashley Madison? Drop a comment below.