Class Action Lawsuits
Some law students not attending George Washington Law School might be a little jealous. The D.C. law school has started to provide the opportunity to learn
about the legal issues involving traumatic brain injury (TBI). For me, working at Stritmatter Kessler has been like taking an intense brain injury seminar that never ends. But a lot of law school grads aren’t as fortunate.
As discussed in previous posts on this blog, the concussion/brain injury class action suit against the NFL is reaching many corners of the professional sports world as well as the legal world. GW Law School is doing more than just reading the tea leaves, as it gives seminars about the medical and legal intricacies possibly involved when a client or defendant has sustained a brain injury. A plaintiff’s lawyer, Michael Kaplen, is teaching the course, sharing that “The legal profession becomes in one way or another the champion because nobody else is there to do it. The lawyer has to become the doctor, has to become the social worker, has to become the neuroscientist and put that together for the individual.”
As Kaplen explains, it’s more important than ever that attorneys who represent TBI clients stay current with the constantly evolving legal and health landscape.
When you start a car and drive it down the road, the last thing you expect is for the engine to shut off without warning. But this is what apparently happened to at least a dozen drivers of the GM Cobalts and Saturn Ions, resulting in fatal accidents. Additionally, when drivers/passengers were involved in a crashes with Cobalts and Saturns, airbags failed to deploy over 300 hundred times.
An ignition system and airbags are critical to ensure the safety of a car’s driver and passengers. Now, GM faces a slew of lawsuits regarding alleged faulty ignition switches and fault airbags that account for dozens, if not hundreds, of serious injuries and/or deaths, including a 19-year-old Megan Phillips, who lost control of the car, which careened off the road and struck a telephone junction box and two trees, according to the lawsuit. While Ms. Phillips sustained brain and other profound injuries, 15 year old Amy Rademaker 18 year old Natasha Weigel were killed.
A recent NY Times article discusses how the G.M. ignition problem is connected to air bags. For airbags to deploy, they require electrical power from the engine. The complex electronic system of sensors along with a computer is what determines whether to deploy the air bag with maximum force or with a much lesser level.
According to a watchdog organization, the Center for Auto Safety, 303 victims were in the front seat, where air bags failed to deploy. There were additional non-rear-impact crashes of Cobalts and Ions, in which the air bags did not deploy. In total, about 26% of a total 1,148 fatalities front seat and back seat occupants involved the same model Cobalts and Ions.
On top of the civil lawsuits, GM is now involved with Congressional criminal investigation and must answer to questions about what it took so long to order a recall regarding its faulty ignitions.
This past week, an important milestone was reached for online privacy and consumer protection.
Gmail users often ignore the fact that targeted ads appeared, when accessing their Gmail. Google’s contention is that its users opt in because they have read and have agreed to Google’s Privacy Policies. But U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh disagreed. She found that the Google’s Terms of Service and Privacy Polices did not inform users about the Gmail interceptions. She wrote:
The Court finds, however, that those policies did not explicitly notify Plaintiffs that Google would intercept users’ emails for the purposes of creating user profiles or providing targeted advertising …
The Court therefore finds that a reasonable Gmail user who read the Privacy Policies would not have necessarily understood that her emails were being intercepted to create user profiles or to provide targeted advertisements. Accordingly, the Court finds that it cannot conclude at this phase that the new policies demonstrate that Gmail user Plaintiffs consented to the interceptions.
California based Consumer Watchdog Project Director explained the significance of the court’s holding: Internet communications should be subject to the same privacy laws that exist in the rest of society… The court rightly rejected Google’s tortured logic that you have to accept intrusions of privacy if you want to send email.”
Google’s interceptions of emails is not within its ordinary course of business.
Stay tuned to see the result of this case, In re Google Inc. Gmail Litigation, 13-md-02430, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose). This is going to have a huge impact in the world of online privacy.
Over these past few weeks, we have heard a lot about SCOTUS’ decision regarding DOMA and the Voting Rights Act. Little attention has focused on the majority’s decision to prevent small businesses from pursuing claims of abuse of monopoly power under the antitrust laws. At root, the Court said the Federal Arbitration Act virtually overrides any other statute.
Before this decision, SCOTUS said that courts should only enforce arbitration clauses where a party could “effectively vindicate its statutory rights.” However, with American Express v. Italian Colors, a majority (composed of the five conservative justices) held that the arbitration clauses are enforceable even if doing so makes it impossible for a plaintiff to actually vindicate its statutory rights.
The plaintiffs in this case were small merchants (think mom and pop shops) and restaurants. These small businesses claimed that Amex was throwing its weight around as a monopoly by requiring them to accept Amex and by extension requiring them to pay higher rates. The evidence now required of them to prove their case would cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars–all for a best case scenario of recovering a small percentage of those costs.
SKW’s Brad J. Moore was recently elected Secretary of Public Justice Foundation, a national non-profit public interest law firm. Since he began his career as an attorney, Brad has spent countless hours as a volunteer for Public Justice.
Brad is also the Foundation’s State Coordinator for Washington State, making presentations about Public Justice’s cases and mission. He explains, “Many of our cases don’t result in a fee. We take some of the hardest cases where an important legal issue is unclear… We give those people a shot they would likely not get from a private firm.”
The Public Justice Foundation challenges arbitration agreements (AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion), such as those hidden in boilerplate fine print on payday loans and credit card agreements with unconscionable interest rates and class action bans. It demands federal-level responsibility on behalf of inmates whose medical treatment is neglected, ignored, or refused by prison officials (Castaneda v. United States). The Foundation also aims to protect rights before and after they are violated, fighting against disparate treatment under Title IX (Flood v. Florida Gulf Coast University).
Because of top-notch representation, the Foundation has produced significant results. “The Foundation’s staff attorneys are literally a Who’s Who of civil rights, consumer protection and environmental lawyers from around the country. We have world-class litigators.”
Indeed, Public Justice is fortunate to have a litigator like Brad Moore as its Secretary.
New report shows hypocrisy of Institute for Legal Reform’s corporate board members that aggressively litigate while blocking justice for everyday Americans
Washington, D.C. –As the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) holds its annual summit – a strategy session on eliminating Americans’ access to the civil justice system – a new report exposes ILR’s corporate board members that hypocritically use the courts for their own gain against competitors, customers and even each other.
In its newest report, Do As I Say, Not As I Sue, the American Association for Justice (AAJ) exposes the hypocrisy of 10 ILR board members that regularly use the legal system to advance their own agendas, while at the same time advocating legislation that would close the courthouse doors to anyone who would hold them accountable for their own wrongdoing.
“These corporations, like all Americans, have a right to seek justice through the legal system,” said AAJ President Gary M. Paul. “What makes their actions shameful and hypocritical is that these companies are members of ILR’s board for the sole purpose of denying American workers and consumers this same right.”
One ILR board member highlighted in the report is Honeywell International, which has regularly taken competitors to court, but would prefer not to be held accountable for distributing defective body armor to law enforcement personnel across the country, or downplaying the dangers of asbestos exposure.
In return for its financial contributions to ILR, Honeywell has received policy and public relations help when its negligence has been uncovered. Four days after an Illinois jury delivered a multi-million dollar verdict against Honeywell for conspiring to hide the dangers of asbestos, ILR issued a press release stating that the decision “confirms a troubling trend in the State of Illinois where there is a hostile ligation environment.” Additionally, the Madison County Record, an Illinois-based propaganda-as-news outlet fully owned by ILR, featured an article headlined, “McLean County Continues Inching Closer to Becoming a ‘Judicial Hellhole.'”
The irony does not stop with Honeywell – AAJ’s report also highlights the litigation hypocrisy of ILR board members FedEx, Dow Chemical Company, General Motors Corporation, Caterpillar, State Farm, Koch Industries, Abbott Laboratories, Prudential and Johnson & Johnson.
Online ads will run this week on major news sites and blogs to promote the report, Do As I Say, Not As I Sue: Exposing the Lawsuit-Happy Hypocrites of U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform, which can be found at www.justice.org/USChamber.
Just when you might have thought that NFL’s woes were over with the end of its 136 day lockout, 75 players and some of their wives filed a lawsuit in L.A. last week for negligence, fraud, and liablity. In addition to NFL, Riddell, the well known helmet maker and the supplier of helmets to NFL, is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Allegedly, NFL knew about the harmful effects of concussions as early as the 1920s, but intentionally hid related information from coaches, trainers, players and the public. The suit seeks unspecified damages.
As evidenced by comments on this story at MSNBC and other news sites, people are already likening this lawsuit to the McDonalds hot coffee lawsuit. (Sadly, those drawing the parallel remain woefully ignorant by the so called “frivolous lawsuit” of the 79 year old woman Stella Liebeck, who sued McDonalds.)
Interestingly, the NFL created the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee back in 1994, which studied the long term risk of long term brain injury to players. According to the complaint, the Committee published false and deceptive reports, to mislead the public along with Congress and the players.
In 2007 players received a pamphlet that pointed to the Committee’s research papers, stating, “Current research with professional athletes has not shown that having more than one or two concussions leads to permanent problems if each injury is treated properly.”
However, from the start of last season NFL players could read about how concussions could lead to depression and early onset of dementia, which “can change your life and your family’s life forever” from posters in every team’s locker room.
For many reasons, this lawsuit is one to watch.
This weekend I got to see my last movie at the Seattle International Film Festival. It was “Hot Coffee,” a documentary by Susan Saladoff. It made me incredibly proud to be in this profession and to work with some of the best trial lawyers in the country.
The movie is an absolute must-see. Period. Full stop. When the DVD comes out (later this summer), run, don’t walk to buy it. Better yet, you can see it if you have HBO later this month. It is not a dry, boring documentary: Al Franken and Paul Grisham keep things lively.
Although I work for a plaintiffs law firm, even I had misconceptions about the infamous “hot coffee” lawsuit against McDonalds. This documentary, however, is not just about opening everyone’s eyes to the jaw dropping injuries that Stella Liebeck, the then 79-year old woman sustained from spilling some scalding hot coffee on herself. It reveals how McDonalds had previously received 700 complaints about the ridiculously hot coffee.
Moreover, the film shows how some corporations have spent many hundreds of million dollars on distorting the truth about tort claims — from “tort reform” to caps on damages. Trial lawyers are conveniently pegged as the villains, while insurance companies are portrayed as the victims: a comedy and utter tragedy at the same time.
A doctor specializing in burn injuries explains in “Hot Coffee,” that the holding temperature for coffee was so hot that at best, if the coffee touched one’s skin for a few seconds, one would suffer 3rd degree burns. Regardless, McDonalds chose to ignore the obvious threat to its customers’ safety until brave Ms. Liebeck attempted to hold them accountable.
The film also features a couple of other poignant stories: One, about an ex-Halliburton worker who was brutally raped by her coworkers in Iraq; but denied the ability to sue her employer/employees thanks to a mandatory arbitration clause. The other story is a needlessly tragic situation, where one twin boy was brain damaged in utero, because of a negligent doctor. That family was essentially robbed of the jury verdict due to the state’s cap on damages.
Buy this DVD for all of your friends, family, neighbors, etc., so that they learn how many corporations are attempting to dismantle the civil justice system.
The United States Supreme Court dealt a deadly blow to Americans seeking justice when faced with forced arbitration clauses. Its decision now permits corporations to give themselves immunity, whenever they cheat consumers/employees. By forcing arbitration and banning class action lawsuits, big corporations can get away with wrongs that affect huge numbers of consumers, especially if the amount of damages would not justify individual claims.
SCOTUS chose to ignore the blatant fact that numerous states consider provisions bans on class action lawsuits unconscionable. Such is the case in Washington State.
Here are some brief facts about the backgroung of AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion:
- Liza and Vincent Concepcion sued AT&T in 2006, alleging that the wireless carrier defrauded millions of customers in California by advertising phones as “free,” then tacking on an undisclosed $30 charge for the phone.
- If multiplied across all AT&T customers, the $30 charge would amount to millions of dollars in allegedly wrongful gains.
- AT&T sought to dismiss the case by invoking a forced arbitration clause containing a class-action ban that it had placed in the Concepcion’s contract.
- Both the California District Court and the Ninth Circuit rejected AT&T’s request, holding that the class-action ban was unconscionable under California law because it would exculpate the company from accountability for wrongdoing.
- Courts applying the contract law of 20 states have struck down class-action bans for the same reason – because they would function as a “get out of jail free” card for corporate wrongdoing.