Week Adjourned: 9.18.15 – Best Buy, Actos, GM Ignitions

Best Buy logoTop Class Action Lawsuits

Is it Time to Clear the Air? Best Buy was hit with a consumer fraud class action this week, alleging it falsely advertised a line of Electrolux vacuum cleaners as having HEPA filters. Filed in Virginia federal court on behalf of lead plaintiff Christopher L. Early, the Best Buy lawsuit asserts that the Electrolux model EL4071A, which he purchased from a Glen Allen, VA., Best Buy in June, does not contain a certified HEPA filter as claimed by the advertising. Rather, the filters in these vacuums are described by Electrolux as an “allergen” filter. The lawsuit contends that Best Buy knew or should have known the vacuum filter did “not meet the standards of efficiency for a HEPA filter … and is a substantially inferior filtration system.”

Certified by the US Department of Energy, a high-efficiency particulate arrestance or HEPA filter is a type of air filter frequently used to help with asthma and indoor allergies. When used in a vacuum cleaner, the filter works to limit the amount of allergen and dust particles emitted into the air while it’s running, according to the complaint.

“Notwithstanding the material differences between a HEPA vacuum cleaner filter and a non-HEPA vacuum cleaner filter, Best Buy deliberately and willfully misrepresented in advertising and selling the Electrolux model EL4071A vacuum cleaner to consumers that such vacuums provided HEPA air filtration performance when, in fact, they did not,” the lawsuit states.

The advertising referred to in the complaint includes in-store signage, advertisements and online product descriptions and specifications for the vacuum. Specifically, the lawsuit states that the online description of the vacuum made numerous references to its HEPA filter. It was because of these claims that Early decided he would buy the vacuum “in reliance on the accuracy of the Best Buy online advertisement.”

The vacuum is described as a “HEPA bagless canister vacuum” on Best Buy’s website and sells for $199.99. According to the complaint, after buying the vacuum, Early reviewed the manual for information on the HEPA filter and could not find mention of a HEPA filter. So he called Electrolux and the manufacturer confirmed that in fact that model only has an allergen filter, not a HEPA certified filter.

The plaintiff is seeking class certification, damages and legal fees. He claims Best Buy is in breach of express and implied warranties, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, the Virginia Consumer Protection Act and consumer protection laws of various states and is guilty of false advertising.

“Best Buy’s massive campaign to deceive U.S. consumers concerning the supposed health benefits of the Electrolux model EL4071A vacuum cleaner have caused harm to the plaintiff and the members of the proposed class and will continue to do so as long as Best Buy continues to make such representations and fails to notify its customers of its false representations,” the complaint states.

The case is Christopher L. Early v. Best Buy Co. Inc., case number 3:15-cv-00549, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Top Settlements

Actos Billion Dollar Settlement. A previously announced $2.4 billion settlement has been approved by enough plaintiffs in a mass tort against Takeda Pharmaceuticals, to enable the deal to proceed. The plaintiffs had filed Actos bladder cancer lawsuits, across the country, totaling over 8,000 product liability complaints. They alleged that Takeda withheld information about the side effects of its diabetes medication.

Actos (pioglitazone hydrochloride) is a member of a class of drugs known as thiazolidinediones, which have been linked to bladder cancer, liver disease and cardiovascular issues. Actos side effects include increased risk of congestive heart failure (CHF), increased risk of rare but serious liver problems, an increased risk of fractures, and an increased risk for bladder cancer. A black box warning exists for Actos and heart failure, however, an Actos whistleblower lawsuit suggests a previously known but downplayed link between Actos and myocardial infarction (Actos heart attack). Actos is used to treat type 2 diabetes. According to a company press release, 96% of all eligible claimaints have opted in to an Actos settlement program that was initially made public on April 28.

Under the terms of the agreement, the Actos settlement should provide an average award of about $296,000 per case, for plaintiffs diagnosed with bladder cancer. However, the individual awards may be reduced based on the user’s age, exposure to other cancer-causing toxins and smoking history. The amount is set to rise to $2.4 billion if 97% of all eligible claimants participate.

Guess They Just Couldn’t Deny it Any Longer….Acting in its own best interests, no doubt, General Motors (GM) has agreed to pay $900 million to bring closure to criminal charges brought against by the US government over allegations the automaker hid a handle lethal ignition switch defect, which has resulted in at least 124 deaths.

According to a report in Automotive News, GM admitted to failing to disclose the defect to both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the public. The defect prevents the deployment of airbags in some vehicles.

Additionally, GM has also admitted to misleading consumers about the safety of vehicles affected by the defect.

Under the terms of the three year agreement, GM must have its internal safety practices independently monitored as well as its ability to fix defects and recalls. If GM adheres to its obligations set out in the agreement, the criminal charges will be dropped.

Ok – That’s a wrap folks… 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: 11.26.11

A wrap up of the week’s leading class action lawsuits and settlements – November 26, 2011

Top Class Actions

Do you know who’s got your personal information? An unfair business practices class action lawsuit has been filed in the Southern District Court of Florida against Best Buy Corporation for violating the Drivers’ Privacy Protection Act or “DPPA”, a federal statute that protects the privacy of personal information assembled by State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMVs).

The lawsuit alleges Best Buy has established a business practice of taking, storing, using and/or sharing customers’ personal or highly restricted personal information, without consent, when customers make a normal return of Best Buy merchandise. Their receipt indicates that Best Buy “tracks exchanges and returns … and some of the information from your ID may be stored in a secure, encrypted database of customer activity that Best Buy and its affiliates use to track exchanges and returns.”

The DPPA specifically prohibits Best Buy’s conduct and was instituted to protect consumers from abuses such as identify theft and stalking, which often result when information is unsecured and improperly stored. The class action alleges that Best Buy’s retention of data accessed on a driver’s license is not “use in the normal course of business” as described by the DPPA.

Top Settlements

What’s that old adage—if it sounds too good to be true… Power Balance LLC, the company that made Power Balance bracelets, has reportedly settled a consumer fraud class action lawsuit this week for $57.4 million and filed for federal bankruptcy protection. The details and amount of the Power Balance settlement remain to be confirmed, although it’s all over the Internet.

The company was sued over allegations of misleading advertising, advertising that allegedly claimed the hologram-embedded rubber bracelets enabled the wearers to “achieve their best,” a statement that begs the question—best what? Best outlandish claim? Possibly. Although the company claims there’s science to back up the statement. I have one word—and it’s “placebo.”

About time: Merck Vioxx settlement. There’s not much that’s funny about this. Merck, Sharp & Dohme has agreed to pay $950 million to resolve criminal charges and civil claims related to its promotion and marketing of the painkiller Vioxx (rofecoxib), the Justice Department announced. The FDA approved Vioxx for three indications in May 1999, but did not approve its use against rheumatoid arthritis until April 2002. In the interim, for nearly three years, Merck promoted Vioxx for rheumatoid arthritis, conduct for which it was admonished in an FDA warning letter issued in September 2001.

Merck is also entering into a civil settlement agreement under which it will pay $628,364,000 to resolve additional allegations regarding off-label marketing of Vioxx and false statements about the drug’s cardiovascular safety. Of the total civil settlement, $426,389,000 will be recovered by the United States, and the remaining share of $201,975,000 will be distributed to the participating Medicaid states. The settlement and plea conclude a long-running investigation of Merck’s promotion of Vioxx, which was withdrawn from the marketplace in September 2004.

The parallel civil settlement covers a broader range of allegedly illegal conduct by Merck. The settlement resolves allegations that Merck representatives made inaccurate, unsupported, or misleading statements about Vioxx’s cardiovascular safety in order to increase sales of the drug, resulting in payments by the federal government. It also resolves allegations that Merck made false statements to state Medicaid agencies about the cardiovascular safety of Vioxx, and that those agencies relied on Merck’s false claims in making payment decisions about the drug. Finally, like the criminal plea, the civil settlement also recovers damages for allegedly false claims caused by Merck’s unlawful promotion of Vioxx for rheumatoid arthritis.

Ok—That’s the week that was. Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Week Adjourned: 7.1.11

Top Class Actions

Best Buy BOLO a NO-GO. Best Buy got hit this week with another potential class action—another discrimination lawsuit—but this time it’s all about you —the customer…

The nation’s largest electronics retailer is facing alleged discrimination in  in the form of customer racial and ethnic profiling. Ah, make that widespread racial and ethnic customer profiling in the District of Columbia and Virginia. The lawsuit was brought by an Arab American Muslim manager, Todd Abed, who was fired for protesting the practice, known internally as “BOLO”. Abed accuses Best Buy of terminating his 13-year career with the company because he objected to his district office’s “Be On the Look Out” policy (BOLO).

So, the allegations go that under BOLO, Best Buy employees circulated e-mails among all managers in the region containing images and descriptions of customers suspected of theft, intended to be posted in their respective stores. According to the lawsuit, the images and descriptions circulated under BOLO consistently involved racial and ethnic minorities who had done nothing to merit suspicion, accompanied by racially-tinged descriptions such as “bearded Middle Eastern guy who looked shady” or “black ghetto guy.” Really?

Abed, a supervisor in charge of loss prevention (read ” theft”), claims he refused to post the discriminatory emails. When this refusal became known to the district staff, they twice denied Abed promotions to General Manager—despite his being the most qualified applicant—and directed Abed’s new General Manager to trump up a reason to terminate him, according to the complaint.

The new General Manager, in turn, allegedly told Abed he would create a “paper trail” to have him fired, taunted his religion, sabotaged performance evaluations, placed him under a pretextual disciplinary “Action Plan,” and ultimately terminated him for allegedly poor performance.

The lawsuit seeks $1 million in damages and attorneys’ fees and costs. Most importantly, Abed seeks a court order permanently ending Best Buy’s customer profiling practices, which he believes continue to this day.

Top Settlements

Pond Drowning Case Settled. This is very sad. The family of a small boy who drowned in a pond while trying to save his younger brother who had also fallen in the pond, has been awarded a $30.7M settlement. The family had filed a premises liability lawsuit.

The story is devastating. Apparently, in 2001, Andrew Kennedy, who was just 11 years old at the time, tried to save his 10-year old brother James who had fallen through an ice-covered pond. Andrew drowned and James suffered severe brain damage. Andrew’s twin brother, Christopher Kennedy, claimed emotional and psychological trauma from witnessing the incident. And the parents alleged that the property owner, Lakes of the Four Seasons Property Owners Association Inc., did not have warning signs in place notifying the public of the dangers, nor did they try to restrict access to the pond. The family also claimed that Four Seasons failed to provide safety devices nearby. A cautionary tale…but at what price?

AON Account Specialists Settlement. And for all those ‘misclassified’ AON employees—justice at last. Los Angeles Superior Court judge gave final approval this week to a $10.5 million settlement of the employees overtime class action.

The story here is that California Account Specialists, whose work involves assisting Account Managers in providing insurance brokerage services to Aon’s clients, were misclassified by the defendant as exempt administrative employees. So the California Account Specialists filed a lawsuit—way back in 2007. And wouldn’t you know it, as the case was preparing for trial, the parties were able to reach a settlement. The settlement covers 534 class members, and best guess is they could have their money within 60 days.

OK. That’s it for this week. See you at the Bar.