Week Adjourned: 6.27.14 – Ford, Caterpillar, Kashi

The week’s top class action lawsuits and settlements. Top stories this week include Ford, Caterpillar and Kashi.

Ford 2Top Class Action Lawsuits

It was Ford’s turn this week…its turn to face the class action blues…yessiree—they got hit with a consumer fraud lawsuit alleging personal harm from what appears to be a rather serious design defect.

The Ford lawsuit was filed in Florida by Ford Explorer owners and lessors alleging the automaker mislead consumers about the vehicles’ exhaust system that exposes passengers to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.

Filed by lead plaintiff Angela Sanchez-Knutson, the complaint alleges that when the air conditioning is on in the Ford Motor Co. sport utility vehicle, the exhaust leaks into the passenger cabin of the cars. This poses a health risk to those in the cars and a safety risk to people on the road.

Sanchez-Knutson further claims that she and her daughter suffer from chronic headaches as a result of exposure to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in her 2013 Ford Explorer. She alleges she took the car to the local dealership for repair numerous times because of a sulfuric smell. However, at no point in time was she informed that the odor actually signified exposure to the gas.

An internal technical service bulletin distributed by Ford to its dealerships showed that the automaker was aware that certain Explorer models’ exhaust systems were leaking into the cabins of the cars when the air conditioning was turned on, the complaint states.

The bulletin provided dealerships with instructions on how handle the smell in the vehicles but did not specify that carbon monoxide was seeping into the cabins or provide any remedies to protect consumers from the risk of exposure, according to the lawsuit.

“Ford knew or should have known that the 2011 through 2013 model year Ford Explorers were dangerous and defective such that drivers and passengers of those vehicles may be exposed to carbon monoxide and other dangerous gases while the vehicles are in operation,” the complaint states.

The complaint alleges Ford violated the vehicles’ express and limited warranties, since the contracts guaranteed that the vehicles were defect-free. All of the affected vehicles are still under warranty with the company, the lawsuit states.

As a result of filing the lawsuit, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that it is looking into the exhaust allegations. The agency said it was aware of complaints involving the vehicles but that it had not initiated a formal investigation.

The lawsuit seeks to certify a class of all consumers in Florida who purchased or leased the 2011 to 2013 Explorer models. The suit is Sanchez-Knutson v. Ford Motor Company, case number 0:14-cv-61344, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Exhausted yet? Wait–there’s more! Caterpillar Inc. also got hit with a class action lawsuit over claims that its heavy-duty on-highway diesel engines, designed to adhere to 2007 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emissions regulations, contain a design defect that requires extensive repairs and replacements. Nice!! This is all sounding so familiar!

The Caterpillar lawsuit alleges Caterpillar’s 2007-2010 model C-13 and C-15 engines have defective exhaust emission controls which make the vehicles unreliable for transportation. Further, despite repeated repairs, they cannot be permanently fixed.

According to the complaint, the engines’ exhaust emission control systems regularly detect warning and shutdown readings from the software used to regulate and monitor certain components, causing the vehicle to require authorized exhaust emission control diagnoses that eventually are unable to rectify the problem.

“This caused plaintiff and class members to incur significant damages in the diminution of the value of their vehicles, but also in the cost of replacing the … engines with other EPA 2007 Emission Standard compliant heavy-duty, on-highway, diesel engines.” the lawsuit states.

K Double D Inc, lead plaintiff in the class action, alleges it purchased a vehicle featuring the 2007 heavy-duty on-highway diesel engine that suffered engine and regeneration problems, which resulted in thousands of dollars in damages to the company.

Further, K Double D claims that despite extensive repair work, the engine experienced repeated instances of warning lights illuminating, engine derating and shutdown, regeneration failure and more, as well as other failures that prevented it from working properly.

“Despite defendant’s numerous attempts to correct the … failures, the … engine exhaust emission controls do not function as required under all operating conditions, and will not do so for the expected life of the vehicle,” the lawsuit states.

The lead plaintiff seeks to represent a class of all vehicle owners and lessees who purchased or leased a vehicle containing the engines. The lawsuit alleges claims of breach of express and implied warranty, negligence, unfair and deceptive acts and more.

The suit is K Double D Inc. v. Caterpillar Inc., case number 1:14-cv-01760, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.

Top Settlements

Heads up all you California crunchy granolas!  A settlement has been reached in a consumer fraud class action lawsuit pending against Kashi Co. According to the terms of the settlement, a fund of $5 million will be established by Kashi, which will resolve claims of false advertising, the grounds for the lawsuit.

Ok—so I think we know the tune here—the Kashi lawsuit, Astiana v. Kashi Co., Case No. 3:11-cv-01967-H-BGS, alleged the food manufacturer misled consumers by claiming that certain of its products are “All Natural” and “Nothing Artificial” even though they contained synthetic ingredients, such as pyridoxine, hydrochloride, calcium pantothenate and/or hexane-processed soy ingredients. Got it?

Class Members of the Kashi class action settlement include California residents who purchased certain Kashi products between August 24, 2007 and May 1, 2014.

Ok–Folkswe’re done herehave a great weekend and we’ll see you at the bar!


Week Adjourned: 6.20.14 – GM, Petco, Best Buy

Top class action lawsuits and settlements for the week! Top stories include GM, Petco and Best Buy

GMTop Class Action Lawsuits

What’s your GM Vehicle Worth these Days? Less than it was a few months ago—according to a new class action lawsuit filed against General Motors Co., (GM) this week. The GM lawsuit follows the latest round of GM Recalls, alleging the automotive manufacturer’s reputation has been so badly damaged that even vehicles not included in the recalls have depreciated in value. The lawsuit is seeking in excess of $10 billion on behalf of all GM vehicle owners. The recalls allegedly constitute 25 percent more than what would be seen in a normal year, and almost 20 times more than the number or recalls issued during the same period in 2013, the lawsuit claims.

According to the GM lawsuit, GM marketed its vehicles as safe and reliable which mislead consumers into purchasing or leasing their cars, because the company was, at the same time, intentionally concealing known defects and valuing cost-cutting over safety, eventually leading all GM vehicles to depreciate in value due to its now-ruined brand.

“GM enticed … all GM vehicle purchasers to buy vehicles that have now diminished in value as the truth about the GM brand has come out, and a stigma has attached to all GM-branded vehicles,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit claims that the forced recalls of over 17 million vehicles has severely damaged the company’s reputation. According to the lawsuit there are about 40 different recalls covering 35 separate defects. All the recalls took place in the first few months of 2014.

“GM’s now highly publicized campaign of deception in connection with the ignition-switch defect sent shockwaves throughout the country, and jump-started the ever-burgeoning erosion of consumer confidence in the GM brand,” the complaint states.

The suit alleges that the 2010 and 2011 Chevrolet Camaro models have both been diminished between February, before the recalls began, and now, depreciating $2,000 in value. Further, the 2009 Pontiac Solstice went down $2,900 in value during that time, according to the lawsuit. According to the complaint, GM’s vehicles have depreciated in value because “no reasonable consumer” will pay the price they would have paid when the GM brand meant “safety and success.”

If certified, the class will represent GM consumers nationwide who own or lease a new or used vehicle sold between July 10, 2009, and April 1, as well as consumers who sold their GM vehicles at a “diminished price” on or after April 1. The class excludes consumers who own or lease certain Chevrolet Cobalt, Chevrolet HHR, Pontiac G5s, Saturn Ions and Saturn Sky vehicles.

The suit also seeks to certify a California subclass of GM vehicle owners and lessors, in addition to those who sold their cars at depreciated value.

The suit is Andrews et al v. General Motors LLC, case number 5:14-cv-1239, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

PetCode Problems? Heads up…Petco customers—they got zapped with Zip code class action this week. According to the proposed Petco class action lawsuit the animal supplies retailer is in violation of Massachusetts state law through their collection of customers’ zip codes.

According to lead plaintiffs Jeffrey Scolnick and Leah Crohn,Petco would not allow them to complete credit card purchases without their first providing the retailer with their ZIP codes, even though the store is not required by credit card issuers to collect this information from customers. Consequently, the plaintiffs allege they have received unwanted marketing materials from Petco. Further, they allege the store has sold their information to third parties without their consent and for marketing purposes.

“Petco recorded plaintiffs’ ZIP codes into an electronic credit card transaction form,” the complaint states. “Petco continues to store plaintiffs’ personal identification information, including plaintiffs’ name, ZIP code and credit card number, in its databases.”

The lawsuit, entitled, Scolnick et al. v. Petco Animal Supplies Store Inc., case number 1:14-cv-12547, states that Massachusetts’ high court has determined that ZIP codes constitute personal information under the Massachusetts Unfair Trade Practices Act, which prohibits the collection of personal information by retailers. Consumers place a high value on the privacy of their personal identifiable information, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit seeks to represent all customers from whom Petco requested personally identifiable information when making a credit card purchase in Massachusetts, according to the complaint. The plaintiffs said they do not yet know the potential number of class members. 

Top Settlements

Best Buy done for less than Best Practices. Plaintiffs in a Telephone Consumer Protection Act TCPA class action lawsuit against Best Buy have finalized a $4.55 million settlement deal. The lawsuit, with a Washington state class of 439,000 members, and a national class of 42,000 members, was initially filed in April 2010 by Michael Chesbro who alleged Best Buy automatically signed customers up for its Rewards Zone program without their knowledge when they purchased electronics under a payment plan. Best Buy then made unsolicited phone calls to those consumers with information about that program.

According to the terms of the Best Buy settlement, filed June 9 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, class members will receive their pro rata share from the settlement fund, once court-awarded fees, litigation and administrative costs and the class representative incentive award have been deducted. This will leave an estimated $3.2 million for distribution among class members, equally between $50 and $100 per call.

Michael Chesbro is to receive a $5,000 service award for services he has rendered to the classes by stepping forward to bring this case, according to the settlement papers.

Ok – Folks  – we’re done here – have a great weekend and we’ll see you at the bar!

Week Adjourned: 6.13.14 – McDonald’s, Coppertone, Lowe’s

The week’s top class action lawsuits and settlements. Top stories include McDonald’s, Coppertone and Lowe’s home improvement.

I'm Hatin' McDonald's Happy MealsTop Class Action Lawsuits

Supersize this baby! McDonald’s is facing an unpaid overtime lawsuit class action lawsuit brought by four former employees in the Los Angeles area. The lawsuit alleges McDonald’s Corp violated wage and hour laws by “requiring workers to work off the clock, placing their rest and meal breaks at the end of their shifts and not paying final wages in a timely manner.”

The McDonald’s lawsuit was originally filed by plaintiff Maria Sanchez in January 2013, but has subsequently been consolidated into a nationwide group of employment class actions against the fast food chain, all alleging illegal labor practices. The lawsuits claim that McDonalds’ managers falsified time records to erase certain employees’ actual hours of work, prohibited meal breaks, required unpaid work from employees before and after their shifts, and withheld overtime pay.

The lawsuit further alleges that McDonald’s Corporation has tried to reduce “labor costs by requiring its restaurants to limit labor costs to a specific percentage of gross sales, causing managers to violate state labor laws to keep costs in line.”

The case is Maria Sanchez et al., v. McDonald’s Restaurants of California Inc. et al., case number BC499888, in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles.

Um—I’m lovin’ It!

Is Merck & Co. Inc, full of S#$PF? According to a recently filed consumer fraud class action lawsuit—it would appear so. The lawsuit alleges the pharmaceutical company is overcharging for its Coppertone sunscreen products with Sun Protection Factors (SPF) of 55 and higher because they contain “virtually identical” active ingredients as the Coppertone SPF 50 products.

Filed by plaintiff Danika Gisvold, the lawsuit claims Merck is participating in a “false, misleading and deceptive” advertising campaign. Specifically, Gisvold alleges the US Food and Drug Administration has reviewed SPF ratings since 1978, and has found that SPF values over 50 don’t provide an increase in protection over SPF 50 products.

According to the Coppertone lawsuit, while SPF value is an indicator of the level of sunburn protection provided by the product, and consumers have learned over time to associate higher SPF with greater protection, the SPF 100+ products do not provide twice the ultraviolet B protection of an SPF 50 product.

“In fact, none of the sunscreen products in the Coppertone SPF 55-100+ collection provide any additional clinical benefit over the Coppertone SPF 50 products,” according to the complaint, which also notes that the FDA had voiced concern about labeling a product with a specific SPF value higher than 50. “The FDA’s findings are based on, inter alia, scientific tests that demonstrate SPF 100 sunscreens block 99 percent of UV rays, while SPF 50 sunscreens block 98 percent, an immaterial difference that provides no additional clinical benefit to consumers against sunburn.”

The Coppertone lawsuit alleges the only reason consumers would purchase an SPF product over SFP 55 is because they believe it provides greater protection than a lesser SPF product, therefore, Merck’s Coppertone SPF 55- 100 are overpriced. “As a result of Merck’s superior UVB protection claims, consumers, including plaintiff and members of the proposed class, have purchased products that do not perform as advertised,” the complaint states.

The plaintiff is seeking to represent a national class of plaintiffs claiming Merck’s representations of superior UVB protection are false, misleading and reasonably likely to deceive the public, and that Merck spreads the false claims through advertising inserts, the Internet and labels “where they cannot be missed by consumers.”

Of course, if you are really unsure about your SPFs, you could always wear long sleeves and a hat—but that just ain’t as sexy.

Top Settlements

Well Lowe and behold…a $6.5 settlement has been reached in a class action lawsuit pending against t Lowe’s—the DIY guys. The deal, if approved, will resolve a labor law class action filed by two former contractors, Ronald Shephard and Henry Romines, who allege Lowe’s violated California labor law.

Specifically, the lawsuit states that Lowe’s treated the independent contractors as employees when they were retained to install garage doors. While Romines voluntarily dismissed the claims Shepard continued with the lawsuit, and the court certified certified a class of: “All persons who installed products for Lowe’s or performed services for Lowe’s in the State of California and who were treated as independent contractors by Lowe’s but over whom Lowe’s exercised control and discretion in the performance of their installation services.” The certified class period runs from 2008 to the present.

According to the Lowe’s lawsuit: “Specifically, plaintiffs assert that Lowe’s had the right to control, and in fact did control all aspects of installation services performed by Shephard and all other Type 1 and general contractor installers,” according to the settlement for preliminary approval proposed to the U.S Northern District Court of California, Oakland division.

“Plaintiffs further allege that Lowe’s misclassification of the installers caused harm not only to the installers who did not receive the benefits attendant with being treated as employees, but also resulted in harm to the installation companies that contracted with Lowe’s,” the lawsuit states.

In discussing the proposed Lowe’s settlement, Shephard’s attorneys write, “Shephard determined that if this action proceeded to trial and if Shephard prevailed on all of his claims, the maximum amount recoverable for the class would have been approximately $33 million. Shephard submits that a recovery of $6.5 million, or approximately 20 percent of the recoverable damages, is an eminently fair and reasonable recovery.”

It is estimated that some 4,029 individual installers and 949 installation companies are eligible to receive settlement funds, and “The maximum settlement amount equates to about $1,613.30 per settlement class member,” court documents state.

Ok, Folks—we’re done here—have a great weekend and we’ll see you at the bar!