Week Adjourned: 11.25.16 – Comcast, Walmart, Telemarketing

comcastTop Class Action Lawsuits

Phantom at the Cable Co.? No stranger to the class action lawsuit, Comcast got hit with a proposed unfair business practices lawsuit filed by a former customer who claims the telecom company overbilled, misrepresented certain charges, and billed “phantom” charges upon account cancellation. Sound familiar?

According to the Comcast lawsuit, filed by Keven Danow, Comcast Corp., and its cable subsidiary continued to bill his late stepfather’s estate for two years following the man’s death in 2014. They did this through recurring automatic bank withdrawals. When Danow complained to Comcast, he was told that because the company had no active account information there was no business relationship and therefore they had no grounds upon which to address his concerns. Nice.

“Defendant routinely engages in deceptive and unfair business conduct to extract money from customers to which it is not entitled,” the proposed class action states. “Comcast is now targeting former customers who have no business relationship with Comcast.” Hard to have a business relationship if you’re deceased. Just sayin’.

Citing a similar proposed class action against Comcast, recently filed in California, and a $2.3 million fine paid by the company to the Federal Communications Commission for unauthorized charges for unwanted equipment or services, Danow asserts that Comcast’s behavior is part of a pattern of deceptive or unfair business practices. No comment.

“Having engaged in deceptive and unfair trade practices as a core component of its business, Comcast has now targeted former customers, who no longer have any business relationship with Comcast,” the complaint states. “Comcast has illegally accessed former customers’ bank accounts months or years after the end of any business relationship between the parties and absconded with funds on deposit.”

Danow is claiming violation of the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, unjust enrichment, violation of New York business law and applicable statutes for other states.

The case is Keven Danow v. Comcast Corp. et al., case number 2:16-cv-06052, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Top Settlements

Walmart Pays Up. $54 million in damages has been awarded by a California federal jury against Walmart in an employment lawsuit brought by 839 truckers.

The Walmart lawsuit alleges the big box retailer violated California labor law as well as federal labor law by failing to compensate its drivers for pre- and post-trip inspections and California-required rest breaks.

The jury found in favor of the truckers on those charges, but did not award damages for time spent washing trucks, fueling, weighing the trucks’ load, waiting at vendor and store locations, performing adjustments, complying with U.S. Department of Transportation inspections, or meeting with driver coordinators.

Additionally, the jury found that the drivers were under Walmart’s control during federally mandated 10-hour layover breaks. The truckers alleged that during these breaks, for which they were required to stay with their trucks, they were paid $42 for the time, not the $67 to $90 they would have earned had they been paid minimum wage during the class period. The jury awarded the drivers $44.7 million in compensation.

Determinations for penalties and liquidated damages have yet to be made. Attorneys for the truckers stated that should the court find that Walmart’s defense was not carried out in good faith, the jury’s award would be doubled. Further, the jury found Walmart intentionally failed to pay class members for more than 100,000 pay periods, and that, according to the class attorneys’ math, each unpaid period will carry a $250 fine, adding approximately $25 million to the total settlement figure.

The case is Ridgeway et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. et al., case number 3:08-cv-05221, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Take that Telemarketers! Here’s a win—one for the little guy and a hoorah on behalf of all of us who get those pesky unsolicited phone calls. This week, preliminary approval of a $1.1 million proposed settlement was granted, in a Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) class action lawsuit pending against Alpha Gas and Electric in New York.

Filed by Stewart Abramson in July 2015, the lawsuit asserted that Alpha Gas, which provides gas and electrical services for both residential and commercial customers in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio, used telemarketing to obtain new clients and allegedly made a telemarketing call to Abramson’s cell phone.

Here’s the skinny: eligible class members are defined as: all persons who, at any time, used, regularly placed or received calls on or from or owned any of the phone numbers that are listed and/or contained in the Class List, and who, from July 8, 2011 through the date of class certification, the defendant called using an automated telephone dialing system or prerecorded voice, or who were listed on the Do Not Call list or otherwise did not consent to the receipt of such calls, or who otherwise have claims against the Released Parties arising under the TCPA or similar federal, state or local laws governing such matters, including, without limitation, the claims alleged in the Action, including calls placed to cell phones without the recipients’ consent.

Abramson, as named plaintiff, is seeking an incentive award of $10,000.00. Further, Alpha has agreed to review and amend its future telemarketing compliance with the TCPA and related laws.

A final settlement hearing is scheduled for April 2017. Potential class members will have until February 8, 2017 to object to the settlement agreement or otherwise opt-out of the settlement.

Well, that’s a wrap for this week. See you at the bar…

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: 12.14.12 – NHL & MBL, Norcold, Asbestos

The weekly wrap of class action lawsuits and settlements for the week ending December 14, 2012. Top stories include NHL, MBL, Norcold and asbestos litigation.

Top Class Action Lawsuits

It’s face-off time! …for the NHL, MBL and broadcasters Comcast and DirecTV. This week, an antitrust class action lawsuit against the National Hockey League  and company, got the green light to move forward.

What’s the beef? Well, the plaintiffs allege the defendants have created a monopoly over sports broadcasts that forces consumers to pay high prices to watch games. Brought on behalf of telecast subscribers, the NHL & MBL lawsuit claims the defendants used anti-competitive practices in order to control the broadcasting market, enabling them to charge inflated prices for sports telecasts. Doesn’t sound improbable.

Specifically, the lawsuit, entitled, Laumann et al. v. National Hockey League et al., Case No. 12-cv-01817 states “The defendants have accomplished this elimination of competition by agreeing to divide the live-game video presentation market into exclusive territories, which are protected by anti-competitive blackouts [that don’t allow certain games in certain markets to air].” Be interesting to see who scores in this one!

Own a Norcold refrigerator for your boat or RV? You might be interested to know that some very frustrated brethren in California and Florida have filed a defective products class action lawsuit against the company. The Norcold lawsuit alleges the manufacturers of Norcold brand gas absorption refrigerators, used in RVs and boats, knowingly sold defective refrigerators that posed a serious fire risk but hid that information from the public and federal regulators.

Eligibility? The class action lawsuit seeks relief on behalf of all persons who purchased or owned RVs or boats in California and Florida equipped with three models of Norcold-brand gas absorption refrigerators. The complaint names Norcold, Inc., Thetford Corporation and Dyson-Kissner-Moran Corporation (DKM) as defendants.

The lawsuit alleges that since 1999, Norcold’s refrigerators have caused at least 2,000 fires (2000!) resulting in millions of dollars in property damage, personal injury and death. The refrigerators contain flammable gases under high pressure, including hydrogen. The gases are heated by electricity or propane to circulate and provide the refrigeration effect. Fires are caused when defects in the refrigerator design release the flammable gases, which can then explosively ignite and spread quickly through the refrigerator compartment and into the passenger area of the RV.

The Norcold lawsuit alleges that the companies knew of the potential fire hazard associated with its refrigerators, but rather than eliminate the design and manufacturing defects or provide an adequate warning of the potential safety risks to users of the product they tried to conceal and minimize these dangers through a series of limited manufacturer-initiated product safety recalls through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), beginning in 2000.

In each product safety recall, Norcold represented that there was a single failure modality in a limited portion of their product population. They provided a retrofit that would fix that defect, rendering the refrigerators safe to use. But in truth, the lawsuit alleges, the refrigerators had a number of different failures that were common to all of the product lines, information that was never adequately disclosed to NHTSA or users of the product, nor remedied by the retrofit campaigns. Further it’s alleged that the devices provided by the companies to “fix” the defects were not only ineffective to remedy the propensity of the refrigerators to cause fires, but were designed, when triggered, to render the refrigerators inoperable and unrepairable, requiring users to purchase new refrigerators that contained the same design and manufacturing defects as the originals, and which had the same propensity to cause fires.

Top Settlements

Two asbestos settlements …to report this week. The first, involves a 68-year old man who worked as a painter and handyman from the early 1960s until his diagnosis of asbestos mesothelioma. He was been awarded $8,465,738 in settlement of his asbestos lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged his exposure to asbestos resulted from working with asbestos-containing products manufactured and supplied by the defendants, Union Carbide and CalPortland. Specifically, the lawsuit claimed that the joint compound and the plastic cement the plaintiff worked with contained asbestos.

Recently diagnosed with pleural malignant asbestos mesothelioma, the plaintiff subsequently underwent an extrapleural pneumonectomy. He and his wife brought suit against the various defendants alleging that the defendants were negligent in failing to warn of the dangers of asbestos contained in their products or sold to others to place in their products.

At the conclusion of the 37-day trial the jury returned its verdict in favor of the plaintiffs and against the defendants. The jury determined that defendants CalPortland and Union Carbide were responsible.

The second asbestos lawsuit settlement involves the family of a former employee at the GM Powertrain facility in the town of Tonawanda. The husband and father died of asbestos disease, and his family, who brought the GM asbestos lawsuit, were awarded $3 million by the jury hearing the case.

Gerald Suttner, formerly of Tonawanda, worked at the GM facility repairing valves manufactured by Crane Co. The job involved removing asbestos gaskets, which created asbestos dust Suttner would have inhaled. He did this from 1964 to 1979, when he retired.

Diagnosed in October 2010, Mr. Suttner died just one year later, from pleural mesothelioma, a form of cancer that is caused by asbestos. He was 77.

During the trial, lawyers for the Suttner family called expert witnesses who testified that there is no such thing as safe asbestos exposure and assured the jury that Suttner’s exposure is what led to his diagnosis. The dangers of asbestos have been known since the early 1900s, and the lawyers made the case that Crane was aware of these dangers since the 1930s. “But the company continued to use asbestos well into the late 1980s without placing warnings on its products,” the law firm’s statement reads.

And on that note, I’ll see you at the bar.