$2,400 dispute leads to $582m damages

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BARBARA CARLISLE and her parents didn't like the way they were messed around over the financing of their two new satellite dishes, so they did the all-American thing and sued. And hit the jackpot.

The dishes were worth only $2,400 (pounds 1,500), but a jury in Birmingham, Alabama, this week awarded them $975,000 in compensation for their "mental anguish" and another $581m just to serve the satellite dish company and the finance company right.

Ms Carlisle and her parents, George and Velma Merryweather, claimed Gulf Coast Electronics and the Whirlpool Financial National Bank cost them $1,000 with the misleading fine print in their financing contract.

Both companies denied any wrongdoing. And by yesterday they were sounding a little indignant. The $581m settlement, they said, was "terribly unfair" - an admirable understatement that was echoed by the Alabama Senate as it rushed to tighten up its notoriously permissive litigation laws.