Week Adjourned: 12.19.14 – Sony, Graco, Comcast

The week’s top class action lawsuits and settlements. Top class action lawsuits include Sony, Graco and Comcast.

SonyTop Class Action Lawsuits

So who’s NOT talking about Sony’s decisions this week…chief among them, an alleged decision to risk a data breach rather than upgrade their software to prevent hacking. At least that’s what past and present Sony employees are alleging in their proposed data breach class action lawsuit filed this week—the first of 3 such lawsuits.

The complaint, filed against Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., claims the recent data breach which resulted in employee data theft, could have been prevented. Well, wouldn’t that have changed the course of history…

The data breach has resulted in a situation former employees claim is “better suited to a cinematic thriller than to real life.” Specifically, the class action lawsuit alleges Sony failed to take adequate precautions to prevent the massive data breach and protect the personal information of more than 15,000 employees, both past and present.

“Sony failed to secure its computer systems, servers and databases despite weaknesses it has known about for years” the complaint states. “Their most sensitive data, including over 47,000 Social Security numbers, employment files including salaries, medical information, and anything else that their employer Sony touched, has been leaked to the public, and may even be in the hands of criminals.” The lawsuit cites an email from Sony’s general counsel, among other internal documents obtained in the leak, that expresses concern that the company’s network security and email retention policies left it vulnerable to an attack, such as the one it has now suffered.

The lawsuit also claims that Sony had previously suffered cyberattacks, including a data breach in 2011 where hackers gained access to the company’s PlayStation Network and Qriocity systems, exposing up to 31 million user’s data. Remember those? They were consolidated and settled for $15 million in games, online currency and identity theft reimbursement. However, according to the current lawsuit, the security issues were not resolved. Way to go.

Here’s the stunner: according to the lawsuit, rather than remedying the ongoing security concerns fully, Sony executives “made a business decision to accept the risk of losses associated with being hacked” rather than pay for expensive system upgrades. “If only Sony had heeded its own advice in time,” the complaint says.

Initially, current Sony employees were offered identity theft monitoring, this was eventually extended to 12-month coverage by a third party to ex-employees. The lawsuit states the delay was unfair to ex-employees, some of whom, including the two class representatives, already purchased expensive identity theft monitoring packages.

According to the complaint, Sony’s ex-employees call the company’s deal inadequate, noting that the credit monitoring and insurance it provides cannot prevent identity fraud, only inform them when it happens. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that federal agencies have acknowledged that hackers sometimes hold stolen data for over 12 months and that identity fraud can continue to be a threat for many years.

Consequently, the Sony data breach class action lawsuit seeks more substantial protections, including credit card and banking monitoring services for five years, as well as identity theft insurance and credit restoration services, also for five years. The suit asks the court to force Sony to do more to address the potential identity fraud that may follow those affected by the breach indefinitely.

The proposed class includes current and former employees whose personal information was compromised in the leak, including two subclasses in Virginia and California.

The case is Corona et al v. Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc., case number 2:14-cv-09600, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. 

Is Graco’s Child Seat a Child Trap? A proposed defective products class action lawsuit pending against Graco Children’s Products Inc, over allegations that their children’s car-seats have defective belt buckles, got greenlit this week.

Filed in March 2013 by plaintiff Seth Long, the Graco class action alleges violations and claims under the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act and Unfair Competition Law, and breach of implied warranty under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act and the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.

In February 2014, Graco issued a recall of 3.7 million forward-facing toddler seats due to alleged defects with the buckles, which could become so plugged up with food, juice, formula or vomit that they won’t open, according to Long’s complaint. According to court documents, the defective buckles may become stuck in the latched position, making it harder to pull a child out of the car. In July, Graco added a further 1.9 million car seats to the recall.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Agency published a series of reports on the defective car seats at the time of the February recall, and stated that it had been investigating the belt buckles since 2012. Among the problems the Agency encountered during testing were that the buckles would become impenetrable and parents would have to pick up the child and the seat, which together could weigh over 70 pounds, to lift it out of the car in the event of an emergency.

Well, that’s certainly no selling point. FYI, Graco appears to be no stranger to defective product lawsuits—they’ve also faced class actions over allegedly defective cribs, strollers and highchairs…

This particular case is Seth Long v. Graco Children’s Products Inc., case number 3:13-cv-01257, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.  

Top Settlements

Comcast to cough up $50M to end a decade-long consumer antitrust class-action lawsuit brought by consumers who allege the cable-TV service provider engaged in anti-competitive behavior.

This week, a federal judge in Philadelphia has approved a preliminary US$50 million settlement that entitles about 800,000 current and former Comcast cable-TV subscribers in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties and Philadelphia to US$15 in credits, or Comcast services valued at US$ 30-43.90, according to court documents.

FYI—those services include temporary internet upgrades, six free pay-per-view movies, or two free months of the Movie Channel. Comcast is required to notify its customers in monthly bills and to advertise the settlement in newspapers and magazines throughout the Philadelphia region. A Comcast spokesperson said that former Comcast cable-TV customers in the five counties could also participate in the settlement, if they were subscribed between 1 January 2003, and 31 December 2008. They will be eligible for US$ 15 in cash.

The suit, first filed in Philadelphia federal district court in December 2003, claimed that Comcast engaged in anti competitive behaviour by concentrating its cable systems in the broader Philadelphia area and making it difficult for RCN, a competitor, to expand telecommunications services here. Comcast could charge higher prices for its cable-TV service, the suit claimed. 

Hokee Dokee—That’s a wrap folks…Time to adjourn for the week.  Have a good one!

Week Adjourned: 12.12.14 – SeaWorld, CA Temp Workers, Nissan

The week’s top class action lawsuits and settlements. Top stories for the week include SeaWorld, California Temp Workers and Nissan.

SeaWorld LogoTop Class Action Lawsuits

Is SeaWorld EZPay not EZ to get out of? Jason Herman, Florida believes so. He filed a consumer fraud class action lawsuit against SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment in Florida this week, alleging the marine park automatically renewed annual passes without consumers’ consent and didn’t follow the terms as stipulated in its own contract when confronted by consumers who allege they were charged excessively. Nice. Know this song…

The SeaWorld lawsuit claims Herman, a Florida resident, purchased a one-year adult EZPay to SeaWorld in Orlando and Busch Gardens in Tampa. He anticipated his first payment of $35.40 on March 18, 2013 would be followed by 11 additional monthly charges of the same amount. However, payments continued to be charged to his credit card through to September 18, he alleges.

According to the proposed class action, Herman was later told by a SeaWorld customer service representative that the wording on the contract stated that if a pass was not paid for in less than 12 months, it would renew automatically on a month-to-month basis. Herman contends that this wording was not included in confirming emails, receipts, tickets or passes, and that his request for a refund was declined.

The lawsuit claims that two separate telephone conversations with SeaWorld customer service representatives failed to provide access to a contract with that wording. Herman found the information online at a later date.

The lawsuit further contends that despite SeaWorld’s allegedly hidden contract, the company was not authorized to automatically renew the passes. In Herman’s case, he purchased his pass on March 18, 2013, and the 11th subsequent payment was charged to his credit card on February 18, 2014 – fully paying off the cost of the annual pass in 11 months.

The lawsuit seeks to represent a class of SeaWorld customers from Florida, Texas, Virginia and California who continued to be charged for their EZpay passes after fully paying for them in less than 12 months.

California Temp Workers Getting Temporary Paperwork? According to a California woman, the temporary employment agency Career Strategies Temporary Inc., (CST), she worked for is in violation of  California labor law and she’s filed a class action lawsuit against CST as a result. She alleges CST intentionally failed to provide her and at least 1,000 others with accurate wage statements. That’s handy. The only thing worse than having to do paperwork is not having the paperwork to do the paperwork with, if you follow…

Heads up—the temp worker lawsuit seeks to represent a class of CST workers who were employed in California at any time from November 1, 2013, through the present and who were similarly deprived of accurate wage statements.

So, the allegations, specifically, are that CST violated California state labor law by issuing weekly wage statements that did not include the dates of the associated pay period. “Plaintiff and each class member suffered and suffer injuries as a result of the missing pay period because a reasonable person could not promptly and easily determine the pay period from the wage statement alone without reference to other documents or information,” the complaint states.

According to the employment class action, if an employer knowingly and intentionally fails to accurately itemize a wage statement, an employee can recover the greater of actual damages or statutory fines of $50 for the first violation and $100 for each subsequent violation up to $4,000.

Offering temporary and direct-hire staffing services, California-based CST has offices in seven states. It employed Bengel as a temporary employee “during the applicable statutory period,” during which time Bengal was paid on a weekly basis, according to the complaint. Wonder if anything else will come out of the woodwork on this one… 

Top Settlements

Nissan Settlement puts the Brakes on…a defective automotive class action lawsuit it’s facing. Under the terms of the deal, Nissan North America Inc.will  pay vehicle owners up to $800 each. If you’re confused as to exactly which defective automotive class action this settlement is for—cast your mind back—to a lawsuit that alleged the braking system in certain Nissan trucks and SUVs is prone to sudden failure, increasing the risk for injury and death.

The lawsuit was originally filed in April 2011 by Brandon and Erin Banks. It alleged the defective sensor posed a serious safety threat to consumers because it controls critical safety aspects of braking and was prone to failure. The defect caused drivers to be suddenly unable to stop their vehicles within a reasonably safe time and distance, or at all.

The complaint states the automaker knew about the defect but hid it from consumers “to [Nissan’s] significant financial gain.”

So to get to the deal, the proposed Nissan settlement terms would see current and former owners of approximately 350,000 2004-2008 Nissan Titans, Armadas and Infiniti QX56 vehicles in the US be able to file claims seeking reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses they incurred in replacing or repairing a defective delta stroke sensor, which is a component of the faulty braking system.

According to court documents, the plaintiffs asked the court to certify a proposed nationwide class of consumers who own or formerly owned the affected vehicles and were forced to replace the faulty sensor. Plaintiffs with personal injury claims relating to the affected vehicles are excluded from the class.

Nissan will begin reimbursement at $20 for vehicle owners who had in excess of 120,000 miles at the time of the repair. Reimbursement will go up to $800 for vehicles that had less than 48,000 miles at the time of repair.

According to the settlement motions, Nissan will distribute notices to the class members via direct mail and to addresses obtained through Nissan or public records utilizing vehicle identification numbers, the motion says. Class members will be directed to a website and a toll-free number maintained by the settlement administrator that will provide information concerning the settlement, including, if requested, a copy of the long form notice.

The case is Banks et al v. Nissan North America, Inc. et al, case number 4:11-cv-02022, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Hokee Dokee—That’s a wrap folks…Time to adjourn for the week.  Have a good one!

Week Adjourned: 12.5.14 – Apple, Football Concussions, Truvia

The week’s top class action lawsuits and settlements. Top stories include Apple, high school football concussions and Truvia sweetener.

Apple logoTop Class Action Lawsuits

Bad, Bad Apple! Again! Really? This week we report an antitrust class action lawsuit filed by three individuals who allege Apple violated federal and state laws by issuing software updates in 2006 for its iPod that prevented iPods from playing songs not purchased on iTunes.

At the risk of grossly oversimplifying the charges, the Apple lawsuit claims that the software updates caused iPod prices to be higher than they otherwise would have been.

The Court in charge of the case is the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, and the case is known as In re Apple iPod iTunes Antitrust Litigation, C-05-00037-JW.

The Court decided that everyone who fits the following description is a Class Member: All persons or entities in the United States (excluding federal, state and local governmental entities, Apple, its directors, officers and members of their families) who purchased one of the iPod models listed below directly from Apple between September 12, 2006 and March 31, 2009 (“Class Period”). A list of iPod models included in the class can be found here.

We’re losing count of the number of class action lawsuits filed against the technology giant. The Apple allegations have included price fixing, defective products (MacBook Pros, iPhones, iPods), personal data collection, download fees and unpaid overtime, among others. In fact, just last week we reported a proposed $450 million settlement of an antitrust class action against Apple over ebook pricing.

You know, it may just be time to stop drinking the KoolAid—sorry—juice.

Traumatic Brain Injury Trickle-Down…This is interesting—you had to know it was coming. It started with the pros, and now it’s at the high school level. A football concussion and brain injury class action lawsuit has been filed against an Illinois high school association claiming a former football player at one of its member schools developed health problems, including memory loss, because of injuries allegedly sustained as a result of playing high school football.

Filed in Illinois state court by Daniel Bukal, the Illinois football lawsuit claims Bukal played for the Notre Dame College Prep school for four years until 2003. The lawsuit claims that during that time the association failed to put in place policies that would have minimized the kind of concussion injuries Bukal allegedly sustained as a result of playing football. By way of example, the lawsuit claims the association had no policies for schools to follow regarding when to allow injured players to return to the field.

“It is now widely understood and acknowledged that concussions pose serious risks to participants in contact sports, and especially football,” Bukal states in his lawsuit. “Among those risks are brain trauma and potentially debilitating long-term brain injuries. But if the problem of concussions in sports is a crisis, then it would be accurate to call the particular problem of concussions in high school sports an epidemic.”

The lawsuit alleges that high school football players, who are typically between 14 and 19 years of age, are at a higher risk for lasting injuries as a result of physical trauma sustained during football games and practices, because their brains are still developing.

According to the lawsuit, the Illinois high school association does not have sufficient safety protocols in place to protect players against such injuries. The lawsuit also claims that the association does not require schools to conduct any baseline testing for concussions before and during the season.

Additionally, the lawsuit states that the Illinois high school association does not require any medical professionals to be present at games to monitor the safety of players.

Bukal, who has been a team captain and named an offensive MVP during his time on the team, said he continues to suffer the effects of the multiple concussions he sustained during his four years period as a player. According to the lawsuit, Bukal still experiences migraine headaches and “bouts of light-headedness.”

The case is Daniel Bukal v. Illinois High School Association, in the Circuit Court of Cook County Illinois. The case number could not immediately be identified Monday. 

Top Settlements

Not such a sweet deal for Cargill. The agribusiness giant got its knuckles wrapped for not telling the truth, and has agreed to pony up $6.1 million this week, as settlement of a consumer fraud class action. The allegations are that it falsely marketed its Truvia sweetener as being natural when it actually contains largely synthetic and chemically produced ingredients. You shouldn’t be surprised.

According to the settlement terms, the company will establish a $6.1 million fund which will cover attorney’s fees, incentive fess of $2,000 per named plaintiff and distribution among a nationwide class who purchased any of the Truvia products during a six-year period that ended in July. Eligible class members who file claims will be entitled to receive up to $45 in cash or $90 in vouchers.

Additionally, as part of the settlement, Cargill will make certain label changes that will clarify its “Nature’s Calorie-Free Sweetener” and “Truvia Natural Sweetener provides the same sweetness as two teaspoons of sugar” statements. Further it, will add language directing consumers to a new website with frequently asked questions, and update its Truvia website to better explain to consumers the manufacturing processes involved.

The lawsuit was originally filed in July 2013 alleging that in 2008 Cargill teamed up with Coca-Cola (what’s your first clue) to develop a purportedly natural sweetener that would capitalize on consumers’ desire for a health conscious, non-caloric alternative sweetener. The plaintiffs alleged the labelling and marketing campaign the company developed was deceitful, making consumers believe that Truvia is a natural sweetener made primarily from the stevia plant. Not so, apparently.

According to the complaint, the stevia-derived ingredient, Rebaudioside A, comprises only 1 percent of Truvia and is a highly chemically processed and purified form of stevia leaf extract. The main component of Truvia, erythritol, is synthetically fabricated. Feeling good?

The plaintiffs alleged that through this misleading advertising, the defendants were able to charge approximately 300 percent more per packet than Sweet ‘N Low and 67 percent more per packet than Splenda. That in itself is enough to give you heart failure!

The case is Denise Howerton, Erin Calderon and Ruth Pasarell, Individually and on Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated vs. Cargill Inc., case number 1:13-cv-00336, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii. 

Hokee Dokee—Time to adjourn for the week.  Have a good one!