Week Adjourned: 2.9.18 – Lawsuit News for Google Pixel, Tobacco, Stericycle

Top Class Action Lawsuits

Got a defective Pixel? Do no evil… well, maybe just a little? Google got hit with a potential consumer fraud class action this week, over allegations the microphones and speakers in its Pixel phones have a tendency to fail, a defect Google is aware of, yet it continues to advertise and sell the phones anyway.

Filed in California federal court, by plaintiffs Patricia Weeks and Waleed Anbar, the complaint states that Google LLC’s Pixel phones, which compete with Apple Inc.’s iPhones, are made with defective microphones that make the phones unsuitable for phone calls or voice commands, such as Google Assistant.

The plaintiffs allege that despite being aware of these issues, Google has thus far failed to provide affected consumers with a refund or working replacement phones.

According to the complaint, Weeks purchased her $749 Pixel phone in December 2016 after seeing advertisements about the product’s voice assistant, but noticed shortly thereafter that she wasn’t able to use the feature or speak to callers. Similarly, Anbar states in the complaint that he bought a Pixel for $649, largely because of Google Assistant, however he, too, was unable to use the feature as the microphone and headphone jack in his phone stopped working.

Neither plaintiff would have bought their phones had they been aware of the defective microphone issue, they allege. They would, however, buy more Google phones if the defect is fixed, the complaint states. Okay.

Weeks and Anbar are not alone, they allege thousands of consumers have written online about audio failures with their Google Pixel phones. “In response to warranty claims, Google provided customers with futile repairs or with Pixel phones suffering from the same defect, often resulting in repeat failure,” the complaint states.

The case is Patricia Weeks et al. v. Google LLC, case number 5:18-cv-00801, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. 

Top Settlements

Tobacco victim settlement…When words fail, the jury’s actions say it all. The husband of a woman who died from smoking-related emphysema, has been awarded $27,799,999.99 in punitive damages by the jury hearing his defective products case. The week prior the jury awarded Leslie Schlefstein close to $14 million in compensatory damages.

Plaintiff Leslie Schlefstein, representing the estate of his deceased wife Dawn Schlefstein, filed the lawsuit in 2008. It is one of the thousands of lawsuits resulting from the massive Engle class action against tobacco companies.

In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court decertified the Engle class and overturned a $145 billion verdict. However, it allowed up to 700,000 people who could have won judgments to use the jury’s findings to file their own, individual lawsuits. Those findings include conclusions that smoking causes certain diseases and that tobacco companies deliberately hid the dangers of smoking from the public.

The jury hearing Schlefstein’s case took just three hours to reach their decision. This was the second phase of the trial, which focused on punitive damages against RJ Reynolds.

According to court documents, Dawn Schlefstein was a teenager when she started smoking. She continued to smoke a pack a day for over three decades, only quitting after she was diagnosed with emphysema in 1995. The disease continued to progress, and in 2001 she required a lung transplant. There was no dispute the disease was caused by smoking, lawyers for the Schlefsteins told the jury.

The case is Dawn Schlefstein v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., case number CACE08022558, in the Circuit Court for the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit of Florida.

California workers to be compensated…There must be some happy employees in California this week. A preliminary $2M settlement agreement has been reached in a California employment law class action lawsuit pending against Stericycle Inc. The lawsuit was brought against the medical waste company by workers alleging the company denied them breaks, shorted them on overtime and failed to compensate them for time spent changing into their work clothing.

The class, which numbers approximately 985 California employees, was originally represented by the named plaintiff Sergio Gutierrez, who filed the putative class action lawsuit back in August, 2014. Gutierrez passed away during the litigation. Two new class representatives, Kenneth Moniz and Kevin Henshaw, were put forward as replacements, each of whom is expected to receive up to $10,000 for their time and effort in bringing the action, and in exchange for a general release of all claims, according to the settlement agreement.

The allegations in the complaint state that Stericycle had a practice of rounding payroll times thereby shorting workers of earned wages, and that employees weren’t fully compensated for the time they spent donning and doffing their required work clothing. The complaint also alleged that Stericycle didn’t include all bonuses in workers’ overtime rate, failed to pay all vested vacation payments due and did not provide statutory meal and rest periods.

Further, the plaintiffs stated in their complaint that Stericycle had a points system for rewarding employees if they avoided workplace accidents. The points were converted to cash credits that class members could use to make purchases on Amazon. This bonus, the plaintiffs contend, should have been calculated into the workers’ regular rate for purposes of overtime.

FYI – Stericycle collects, processes and disposes medical waste. The company has employees in over 28 locations in California. Class members include any employees who worked for Stericycle in California between August 14, 2010, and September 18, 2017.

The motion for approval asserts that beginning in 2015, Stericycle offered individual settlements to some class members “in a direct attempt to minimize the exposure of the current lawsuit.” Those payments have added up to $460,000. Employees who took money under individual deals will receive a reduced portion of the settlement before the court for the worked shifts covered by their prior agreements with the company.

The case is Sergio Gutierrez v. Stericycle Inc., case number 2:15-cv-08187, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

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