Week Adjourned: 3.19.11

Top Class Actions

Who’s watching you while you’re watching video? This week in California, a class action was filed in federal court against Netflix alleging the movie rental company is violating the federal Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), the California Customer Records Act, and Unfair Competition Law, as well as charging the company with unjust enrichment, and breach of fiduciary duty. Hmm. No shortage of charges there.

What’s it all about—Alfie? (sorry, couldn’t resist). Well, according to Virginia resident Peter Comstock, who filed the proposed class action, the specific allegations are that Netflix keeps digital records of each subscriber’s choices of streaming video and video rental and then uses that data to make recommendations for other movies that customers might be interested in viewing. The lawsuit states that this kind of tracking is “hardly surprising,” but adds that “subscribers do not realize (is) that Netflix maintains this video-viewing information, along with confidential subscriber payment information…in its databases long after subscribers cancel their Netflix subscription.”

The suit is seeking $2,500 per violation of the VPPA, $3,000 per violation of the Consumer Records Act, and further punitive damages. This could end up being  a very costly exercise in record-keeping. 

Top Settlements

Large Asbestos Verdict in Virginia. This is one of those verdicts that, while good, stems from deeply unfortunate and avoidable circumstances. A Newport Circuit Court jury delivered a $25 million verdict to a former shipyard employee as settlement of his asbestos case. The verdict, against Exxon Mobil, represents one of the largest jury verdicts ever handed down in Virginia for a personal injury case.

The jury awarded 72-year old Bert Minton $12 million in compensatory damages, $12.5 million in punitive damages, and $430,961 in medical bills. The jury awarded interest on the medical bills, bringing the total verdict to $25 million.

Minton’s story is not uncommon. He had worked as a repair supervisor on commercial vessels at the Newport News Shipbuilding facility between 1966 and 1977, and worked as a ship fitter prior to his time at Newport. He reportedly worked on 17 Exxon commercial oil tankers while employed at the ship yard.

And that work exposed him to asbestos fibers, which he inhaled. So now, decades later, he has been diagnosed with mesothelioma. According to Minton’s lawyer, Minton now has a life expectancy of roughly two years and faces a painful death. 

First Group gets Lesson in Fair Credit. This is a good news story for the working guy—always nice to have one of those on a Friday. A tentative $4.3 million settlement has been approved in the class action against First Group America. The national suit, brought by employees of sister companies First Student, which employees school bus drivers, and First Transit, which employs mass transit drivers, claimed the companies obtained criminal background checks on drivers and job applicants without the job applicants and employees written permission, which is a violation of federal law.

Makes you wonder how many other companies are doing the same thing…

In any event, the settlement is reportedly the largest ever regarding employment-related Fair Credit Reporting Act claims. Ex-employees of First Transit or First Student, who were terminated as a result of the unauthorized background checks, and who decide to participate in the proposed settlement, could receive potential payment of between $2,000 and $4,000 per unauthorized background check.

The terms of the settlement also stipulate a payment of $750 for each worker who was terminated by First Transit or First Student based on a criminal background check report without first receiving a copy of that report.

For workers who continued to work for either of the companies but who were the subject of unauthorized background checks, a payment of between $150 and $300 may apply.

Okee dokee—that’s it for this week. See you at the bar…

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