Week Adjourned: 5.22.10

What's that about living in glass houses?Top Class Actions

Seems there’s no end of trouble in sight for the beleaguered auto industry…

“We’re Leading by Example”? What’s that line about not throwing stones if you live in a glass house? Perhaps Ford ought to rethink using that headline as this week the company got hit with a class action lawsuit stemming from consumer complaints about alleged ‘defective’ rear axles on its Windstar model 1999-2003 minivans.

Apparently, the rear axles in question are unsealed hollow cylinders that basically collect water and ‘corrosive agents’ and, you guessed it, over time can corrode and crack, or even split into pieces. Um. That sounds like a quality product…not. 

In fact it sounds quiet dangerous—and it is, because the axles are susceptible to failing while the minivan is being operated. Nice. 

The law firm that filed the potential class action suspects that “more than 949,000 Windstars were manufactured with a defective axle.” That’s a lot of minivans—and a lot of families…

Top Settlements

The Week the Women Won…5,600 women that is, who filed a gender discrimination class action against their employer, Novartis Pharmaceuticals. Bloomberg reported it as the largest ever employment discrimination verdict—according to their data.

The payoff? $250 million in punitive damages and roughly $3.36 million in compensatory damages for each of the 12 women who are named plaintiffs and who took the stand in the case. Incidentally—the case was filed in 2004—so that’s six years of living the legal wars and all the rest.

Some of the stuff that came out in the courtroom was quite worrying. Here’s a clip from an official press release on the verdict—you be the judge—” On the first day of the trial in the defense’s opening statement, Novartis’ own attorney said of an abusive male district manager, who had shown female sales reps pornography and invited them to sit on his lap, “He wasn’t that bad a manager. He was just terrible with women.” Are you kidding?

The lawsuit also claimed that the women were not treated equitably when it came to pay, and promotions and pregnancy-related matters.

Let’s hope this case will act as a warning to companies that currently tolerate or worse, foster a climate of gender discrimination.

Another Big Asbestos Settlement was handed down this week, this time in Florida, where a man who has developed asbestos mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos-containing materials was awarded $14 million.

William Aubin, a 59-year old retired firefighter, worked for his family’s construction company, Aubin Construction on Key Biscayne, in the 1970s. During that time he was exposed to products laden with asbestos like joint compounds—you know—the stuff used to seal drywall. It’s white—looks like plaster…

Anyway, he was exposed to enough asbestos during the time he worked for his family’s business, to develop peritoneal mesothelioma.

The jury hearing the case found that the chemical manufacturer, Union Carbide, was negligent for using asbestos fibers to make the joint compounds used by construction companies such as Aubin Construction. Further, Aubin was exposed without his knowledge, as the product labeling did not mention asbestos.

While $14 million may seem like a lot of money, and the ‘bad guys’ got justice—who’s really paying the price here…?

Ok. That’s it for this week. See you at the bar! (Oh yes. That bar).

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