The Legal Value of Time


I am not a legal expert.

As far as I am aware there is no legal value of time. For example if you receive a product that is defective or otherwise not as advertised you are entitled to a refund or replacement without fees or other costs (subject to many conditions). However, if you are required to sit in the sellers phone queue for 2 hours in order to get your refund that is not considered a cost. This creates a perverse incentive where having less support capacity costs less not only because you don’t need to pay support agents but also because fewer people will actually put up with the wait to get the refund they are entitled to.

This makes me wonder what would be different if time was legally considered valuable, and wasted time could be considered a cost.

Applying this to the previous situation; if companies needed to compensate you for sitting on the phone or unnecessary back-and-forth via mail to request something that you are entitled to (such as safety information or replacement of a defective product) they would have an incentive to minimize their phone queues and provide prompt customer service. Even though it may cost them more to have additional support capacity they will avoid having to cover the cost of the customers’ wasted time.

Another major question is how much is time worth? It seems like it should be a constant rate across the country to ensure fairness. But I wonder if this would lead to the required compensation being trivial compared to the cost of fulfilling their side of the contract in many situations, so wasting time is still value-positive.

One last concern is the difficulty in proving how much time was wasted. Do you need to take notes with the time spent? How will these notes be validated?

I’d be surprised if this wasn’t studied before but the only references I could find focused on wasting the time of courts or lawyers, I couldn’t find anything about wasting the time of the general public.

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