The little guy wins one. Douglas Coulter, an American professor at the Russian Economic Academy, has a heavy load teaching his eager students the intricacies of the free-market system. So he resented the time it took to clear up a dispute with American Express. While he was in Moscow, the company misplaced his $1,000 wire-transfer payment, then canceled his card.

When Coulter returned home on leave in August, he brought suit against Amex in the Ossipee (N.H.) District Court near his home. His tab: $50 an hour for the 7.5 hours spent proving he had paid his bill. The court on Aug. 16 awarded Coulter the full $375--the first time a court has awarded an Amex cardholder compensation for time wasted in a billing dispute. "I feel terrible about this," says Maureen Bailey, vice-president for public affairs. Amex says it will pay the judgment. Coulter says he can live without his card.

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