Court Documents Allege Monsanto Influenced the EPA

While Monsanto has never had a stellar corporate reputation, recent court documents are showing just how far the company may go to maintain its worldwide herbicide dominanceperhaps as far as manipulating the U.S. agencies responsible for regulating them.

Last week, correspondence between the EPA and Monsanto were released which show a comfortable relationship at a critical time when Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup was being assessed as a possible carcinogen. In the end, the EPA determined that glyphosate (Roundup) was not a carcinogen, raising suspicion that the study may have been influenced by Monsanto.

The internal documents were released as part of the ongoing multidistrict litigation (MDL) between Monsanto and plaintiffs suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which they allege was caused by Roundup.

EPA and Monsanto’s “Natural Flow of Information”

“If I can kill this, I should get a medal.”

The hundreds of pages worth of emails and documents shared back and forth between the EPA and Monsanto underscore a questionable relationship, which may have hinged on the cooperation of Jess Rowland, former manager of the EPA’s pesticide division.

In a phone conversation with Monsanto regulatory affairs manager, Rowland allegedly discussed trying to stop the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s glyphosate review. “If I can kill this, I should get a medal,” an email recounted Rowland saying.

Though statements like this raise concerns of possible research bias (at best), in Scott Partridge’s words, Monsanto’s vice president of global strategy, this was a “natural flow of information,” not manipulation.

This “natural flow of information” though may have extended to writing the EPA’s glyphosate report. The documents include references to ghostwriting sections to reduce costs.

In one email, Partridge suggested the EPA use experts for the areas of contention in the study, and have Monsanto “ghost-write the Exposure [toxicity] and [genotoxicity] sections.”

Though Monsanto has denied ghostwriting, it’s important to note the seriousness of what Partridge offered the EPA. The exposure and genotoxicity sections cover how people are exposed to glyphosate, and whether or not glyphosate damages the cell’s genes, which can cause cancer. If they did indeed have a hand in writing these sections, Monsanto benefited greatly.

Former EPA Scientist Accuses Rowland of Intimidating Staff

“For once do the right thing and don’t make decisions based on how it will affect your bonus.”

Correspondence between EPA scientists suggests that Monsanto’s influence extended beyond Rowland to the entire research team.

Former EPA toxicologist Marion Copley accused Rowland and another EPA official of intimidating the glyphosate review team. “You and Anna Lowit intimidated staff on CARC [Cancer Assessment Review Committee]…to favor industry,” Copley accused in a letter to Rowland.

In the letter, she lists multiple reasons why glyphosate should have been declared a carcinogen, including:

  • Glyphosate induces lymphocyte proliferation: It increases production of white blood cells
  • It induces free radical formation: Glyphosate can damage cells 
  • Glyphosate is genotoxic: It can damage cell DNA, causing mutations
  • It kills bacteria in the gut: The gastrointestinal system makes up 80% of the immune system
  • Glyphosate damages the kidneys and pancreas

“Any one of these mechanisms alone listed can cause tumors, but glyphosate causes all of them simultaneously. It is essentially certain that glyphosate causes cancer,” Copley says.

After listing the facts, Copley urges Rowland to put scientific integrity above money: “For once do the right thing and don’t make decisions based on how it will affect your bonus.”

FIFA Panel Identifies Flaws in EPA’s Report

“Overall, the Panel concluded that the EPA evaluation does not appear to follow the EPA Cancer Guidelines.”

Scientists outside of the EPA have also questioned the integrity of the glyphosate review.

A panel of scientists from the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide gathered in December of 2016 to assess the report. The panel was split: half of the scientists felt there were flaws in the research and its conclusions, while the other half sided with the EPA.

But, in the report released last week, the FIFA panel states, “Overall, the Panel concluded that the EPA evaluation does not appear to follow the EPA (2005) Cancer Guidelines.”

Among their concerns was that there was limited data and review of populations with higher risk of developing lymphatic cancers, including those who manufacture, sell, or directly handle glyphosate.

Because of these concerns, members of the panel felt that the EPA’s conclusion that glyphosate is “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans” should be rewritten to “suggestive evidence of carcinogenic potential.”

This comes on the heels of Moms Across America Founder Zen Honeycutt’s discovery that the EPA is finally doing a thorough review of glyphosate’s formulations. Previously, they only assessed the active chemical, which could yield different results from the entire formula.

Assessing “only one chemical in a chemical product is a faulty system, as even third grade science shows that when one chemical is added to another chemical, the effects are completely different,” Honeycutt writes in an article for The Hill.

Monsanto’s PR Spin May Be Losing Steam

Monsanto has already lost one important glyphosate lawsuit against California, which can now list glyphosate as a carcinogen.

The decision was based on the International Association of Cancer Research’s (IARC) report which declares glyphosate a “probable carcinogen.” Monsanto responded by working with the American Chemistry Council to try to defund and discredit the IARC.

IARC told ClassAction.com: “This is reminiscent of the strategies used by Big Tobacco to spread doubt about scientific conclusions.”

As more scientists stand up to defend their research though, Monsanto is slowly learning that money can’t buy you everything.

If you or a loved one were diagnosed with cancer after using Roundup, contact us to learn about your legal rights. Our team of attorneys is working to hold Monsanto accountable.

 

The 10 Best Consumer Protection Tools Online

It’s National Consumer Protection Week, which is the perfect time to familiarize yourself with all the great resources the Internet has to offer for savvy consumers—including sites like Public Citizen, ConsumerAffairs.com, and of course ClassAction.com. In fact, there are so many vital tools out there that it can be easy for one or more to get lost in the shuffle.

That’s why we’ve compiled the top ten consumer protection tools on the Internet, all in one place. Whether you need to find out if your car or medical device was recalled, see what your doctor or Congressperson has been up to, or determine if your private data was hacked, we’ve got you covered.

1. The NHTSA’s Auto Recall Lookup

A recent Carfax study found that a jaw-dropping 63 million cars on American roads are recalled vehicles that have not been fixed. That’s a 34 percent increase over the previous year. Unfortunately, too many drivers do not realize they are behind the wheel of a dangerously defective car.

Sixty-three million cars on American roads are recalled vehicles that have not been fixed.

To find out if your vehicle is one of the 63 million that have been recalled, use the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) recall lookup by VIN (Vehicle Identification Number). Just enter the VIN and it will tell you if your car has been part of a safety recall over the past 15 calendar years.

The New York Times also has several tips on “How to Buy a Used Car in an Age of Widespread Recalls.” The short version: Check a lot of sources and ask a lot of questions.

If all else fails, lawyer up.

2. Consumers’ Checkbook’s Surgeon Ratings

Consumers’ Checkbook’s Surgeon Ratings is a brand-new tool that allows consumers to search a database of more than 50,000 surgeons across the country to find out how often these surgeons’ operations result in deaths, complications, and hospital readmissions.

Checkbook.org has compiled and analyzed more than five million surgeries, and it doesn’t accept advertising money from the hospitals and doctors it evaluates—which means it should remain impartial. And note just how stark the contrast can be between surgeons (emphasis ours):

…for some types of surgeries, Checkbook has reported risk-adjusted death rates more than three times as high for the patients of some surgeons compared to the patients of other surgeons—even after our analysts made risk-adjustments intended to take into account differences in the age, health, and other characteristics of the patients.

Those are frightening numbers, but it’s also encouraging that consumers now have this data at their fingertips.

Do your homework before choosing a surgeon—it might just save your life.

3. ProPublica’s Dollars for Doctors

A 2016 study by ProPublica confirmed what many of us had long suspected: Doctors who take money from Big Pharma prescribe brand name drugs at higher rates than doctors who do not accept drug company payments.

Thankfully, ProPublica paired its Dollars for Docs study with a search feature on its website so patients can easily learn how much money their doctors have accepted from drug companies. This way, patients know exactly how objective (or not) their doctors’ prescriptions are.

A recent study by Drexel University found that 65 percent of Americans go to doctors who have received payments from Big Pharma, but most don’t realize it. Big Pharma money has been especially pervasive and deadly when it comes to opioids, which accounted for 73 percent of the overdose deaths in America in 2016.

Find out who is paying your doctor—and how much—and be sure to ask if you can try generic alternatives to name brand drugs (or, better yet, no drugs at all).

4. The CFPB’s Know Before You Owe

A recent survey by CreditCards.com found that 81% of Americans did not know enough about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to formulate an opinion on the agency. That’s a shame, because the CFPB was formed in the wake of the 2008 housing crisis to protect consumers from dangerous loans and other shady financial practices.

Know Before You Owe includes a Sample Loan Estimate, a Sample Closing Disclosure, and a downloadable Home Loan Toolkit.

One of the ways the CFPB helps protect us is through its Know Before You Owe mortgage tool, which is “designed to help consumers understand their loan options, shop for the mortgage that’s best for them, and avoid costly surprises at the closing table.” It includes a Sample Loan Estimate, a Sample Closing Disclosure, and a downloadable Home Loan Toolkit.

Spread the word; it sounds like CFPB could use the press.

5. USA.gov’s How to Contact Your Elected Officials

This Congressional session already features a slew of new bills that could put long-held consumer rights at risk (#RightsAtRisk). For example, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017 (H.R. 985) would make filing a class action lawsuit much more difficult, robbing regular people of their ability to hold negligent companies accountable.

Another bill, H.R. 906 (aka the FACT Act), would delay or deny claims filed by people who developed mesothelioma from asbestos. These acts (among others) are fiercely opposed by civil rights, consumer rights, and veterans groups.

So what can you do? Use this USA.gov page to find and contact your elected officials, from Congresspersons to mayors to the President himself. Tell them to vote “No” on laws that would weaken consumer rights and “Yes” on laws that would strengthen them.

Congresspersons want to keep their jobs, so phone calls and letters from constituents do make a difference.

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Fairness in Class Action Act Threatens Civil Justice

This week, the House of Representatives passed a bill that may eliminate your right to join a class action lawsuit.

The Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017, or H.R. 985, proposes to “assure fairer, more efficient outcomes for claimants and defendants.” According to 120 civil rights groups, though, H.R. 985 would only help corporations.

We spoke with Amanda Werner, an economic justice advocate who works on behalf of Public Citizen and Americans for Financial Reform, to better understand how the bill would affect the legal rights of millions of American consumers. Werner also shared how arbitration, or the “ripoff clause,” is similarly taking away our right to join class action lawsuits.

What is H.R. 985 and why should Americans be concerned about it?  

amanda werner
Amanda Werner

H.R. 985 is one of the biggest threats to civil justice that we’ve seen in recent years. It would essentially destroy the class action mechanism as a means of achieving justice.

That would mean that a lot of corporate wrongdoing would go completely unaddressed; corporations would be able to steal from consumers, pollute the environment, abuse their workers, and people would have absolutely no ability to bring them to court. So, it’s a huge deal, especially in a time where the courts seem to be our last line of defense to enforce our rights.

Why in particular is our right to join a class action lawsuit important?

Class actions are particularly important for illegal behavior that hurts many people but might involve small amounts of money per person. For instance, there are many cases where a bank might overcharge each of its consumers by $20, which is small enough that the consumer may not notice. But multiply that over one million customers, and the bank has just stolen a huge amount of money. Without class actions, they would get away with it and in fact be at a competitive advantage for ripping off their customers.

So we really need class actions to not only alert the public to fraud but also sometimes to alert the customers themselves. Take Wells Fargo’s fake accounts scandal, for example—many people didn’t realize that they had multiple credit cards or bank accounts open in their name until they heard about these lawsuits. And even when a consumer finds out, without class actions, they can’t do anything about it because suing a bank over $20 by yourself just isn’t cost effective.

Supporters argue that H.R. 985 will help class members receive higher awards. What is your response to that?

“If these claims aren’t able to be brought, consumers aren’t going to be able to recover at all, let alone recover higher sums.”

It is completely unfounded. This bill is opposed by every major civil justice, civil rights, and consumer group, all across the board.

How can you make a class action much harder to bring and then also claim that it’s somehow going to benefit people more? If these claims aren’t able to be brought, consumers aren’t going to be able to recover at all, let alone recover higher sums.

The bill would require that plaintiffs share the same injury. Why is this a problem?

It’s a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. There are already strict standards in place—standards which have gotten much higher in the past few years as it is—to ensure that members of a class have a similar type of injury. When you heighten those standards even more and make them so specific, it destroys consumers’ ability to bring a claim. That is the real purpose here.

“It essentially requires everyone to bring their own case, which is not only very inefficient but the opposite of the purpose of class actions.”

One thing the bill does is it requires that people all have the same scope of injury. Going back to the Wells Fargo scandal, one customer may have lost $150 because they opened up a fake account and started charging them fees, and someone else may have lost $35. Those slightly different amounts of money could make for a different scope of injury, even though the actual harm they suffered is very similar. Under this bill, they would likely not be able to certify that class and thus will have a lot more trouble bringing suit.

At some point, these injury requirements get so specific that it essentially requires everyone to bring their own case, which is not only very inefficient but the opposite of the purpose of class actions.

A similar threat to our legal rights is forced arbitration, or the “ripoff clause.” Could you explain this?

What we call the ripoff clause is fine print that corporations sneak into their consumer contracts—think of something like the terms and conditions of an iTunes agreement—that says if you have a dispute with the company, you aren’t able to go to court, and you aren’t able to join a class action. Instead, you have to go after the company by yourself in forced arbitration.

Arbitration is a private system where the corporation gets to choose the firm who decides the case, what rules apply, sometimes even where the arbitration takes place.

The arbitrators have an incentive to rule for the company who is going to rehire them, so there’s also a built-in bias to the system. The most comprehensive federal study showed that companies generally win in arbitration 93% of the time. Consumers, even in the small percentage of the times that they do win, only win twelve cents on the dollar compared to corporations, which average ninety-eight cents on the dollar.

“Consumers only win twelve cents on the dollar compared to corporations, which average ninety-eight cents on the dollar.”

But even more important than the bias in arbitration is that ripoff clauses often mean that people simply don’t bring claims at all. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that there were about 400 arbitration cases brought per year against banks and lenders—compare that to class actions which benefit millions and millions of Americans every year.

(For more on ripoff clauses, check out this consumer’s negative arbitration experience with Citibank).

The Arbitration Fairness Act seeks to eliminate ripoff clauses. What will it take for the bill to be passed?

We have seen the Arbitration Fairness Act introduced the past few Congresses, and in that time we have seen increasing public interest in of this issue.

I think our biggest hurdle has been the lack of public knowledge. Part of the reason for that is because it’s a pretty new phenomenon. Businesses have been using arbitration to decide disputes between companies for many years, but it’s really only recently that arbitration—especially class actions bans—have been used on consumers, students, and other groups with no bargaining power.

I’m unfortunately not very optimistic that these bills will move this Congress, especially because we are seeing major assaults on civil justice in the form of H.R. 985 and some other House bills. But I hope that once people show that we are paying attention, that we support the right of class actions, that we want the ability to enforce our rights in court, then the tide will start to change.

What can Americans do to protect their right to join a class action?

“Many of us take the right to a day in court for granted… But most people don’t realize that they’ve unintentionally or against their will had to sign it away.”

The good thing is there are actually things happening on these issues now. There are seven bills that restrict the use of forced arbitration introduced this week, and there’s the class action bill that we want people to vote against coming up this week as well. If you call your senator or representative, there’s a lot of things they are going to be paying attention to.

But also, people should tell their friends and family about the importance of class actions and the abuses of forced arbitration. So many people don’t know that their rights are threatened in this way.

I think many of us take the right to a day in court for granted because it is a Seventh Amendment right—it’s very, very basic. But most people don’t realize that they’ve had to sign it away just by participating in the marketplace: by having a cell phone, by having a bank account, any of these basic things that we do every day.

A huge part of it is education and just making sure people know about these things.

For the latest on forced arbitration, follow #RipoffClause on Twitter. You can also follow Amanda Werner: @wamandajd.

FCC Blocks Privacy Laws While Americans Ask For More

New FCC Chair Ajit Pai blocked the first of the internet privacy rules from going into effect, which required internet providers to protect consumers’ information and disclose data breaches.

Yahoo isn’t the only company that is too cavalier when it comes to your online privacy. In addition to companies left and right leaving your private information vulnerable to hackers, there are those that intentionally hand your personal details to third parties without your consent.

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed legislation regulating how Internet Service Providers (ISPs) collect, share, and protect your online data. The rules require that companies like AT&T and Comcast ask you to “opt-in” before selling your personal details (like browsing history, location, and more) to advertisers. 

New FCC Chair Ajit Pai, a former Verizon attorney, blocked the first of the internet privacy rules from going into effect last week. The rules required ISPs to protect consumers’ information and disclose data breaches. Critics of the privacy rules, including Pai, argued that they were confusing and unfair because they would have resulted in websites like Google and Facebook being treated differently than internet providers.

“All actors in the online space should be subject to the same rules, and the federal government shouldn’t favor one set of companies over another,” one of Pai’s representatives said last week.

Putting “Corporate Interest Before Consumers”

It’s not about favoring one business over another. In response to Pai’s actions, Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said that we cannot let the FCC “put corporate interest before consumers.”

Supporters of the rules point out that Google and Facebook are free services—as creepy as they sometimes are, it isn’t surprising that users are “paying” in some way. If Americans are uncomfortable with how these websites use their information, they have the ability to cancel their accounts. Internet providers are the “gatekeepers” though; it’s much more difficult for consumers to opt out of these services.  

These arguments aside, any regulation is better than none. While the FCC can hold companies accountable for violating online privacy agreements and using deceptive practices, they can only step in once harm has been done—often, it’s too little too late.

Verizon Fined $1.35 Million for Supercookies

When it comes to deceptive tracking, Verizon may be one of the worst offenders.

In 2015, it was discovered that Verizon installed supercookies on users’ devices which not only tracked phone activity (like websites visited, links clicked, etc.), but were also impossible to remove. The company installed the supercookies without consumer consent to collect information for advertisers.

Verizon “rectified” the situation by directing users to MyVerizon.com to delete the supercookie but this installed yet another cookie. Last year, the company paid a $1.35 million fine to the FCC for deceiving users.

Verizon’s actions are especially discomforting since Pai has a former history with the company.

Majority of Americans Want More Control Over Their Privacy

In a time that is characterized by partisan feuding, one thing that Americans can all agree on is that protecting their online privacy is important, and that the federal government needs stronger laws to protect consumers.

According to a PEW study published in September 2016:

  • 68% of Americans believe current laws are not strong enough to protect online privacy.
  • 74% say it is very important that they are in control of who can get information about them. 
  • 91% agree or strongly agree that consumers have lost control over how their information is collected and used by companies.

Tips for Maintaining Online Privacy

Unfortunately, without strict regulations consumers can only do so much to protect their information from advertisers and potential data breaches. However, you can enhance your privacy by following these steps wherever possible:

  • Change your passwords regularly (make sure they aren’t predictable) and use an app like LastPass to store them.
  • Check your browser’s privacy settings and disable location tracking, cookies, etc. as much as possible. (These are often hard to find. In Chrome, go to: Preferences→Settings→Advanced Settings→Content Settings.)
  • Regularly delete your web history and cookies. Note that this may remove your privacy settings on some platforms.
  • Browse privately using your browser’s incognito mode and use a search engine like DuckDuckGo that doesn’t track your searches.
  • Avoid linking sites, apps, and other accounts to Facebook or Google profiles—which track your activity across platforms—and log out of these accounts when you aren’t using them.
  • Check your app settings to monitor what types information they are collecting. For example, does your favorite game really need to access your contacts?
  • Assume you don’t have privacy and be mindful of what information you share online.

Our lives are so intertwined with the devices we use that this is just the tip of the iceberg for maintaining privacy. Check out The Guardian’s 21 tips for more.

If you were harmed by a data breach, you may be eligible for compensation. Contact ClassAction.com for a free, no-obligation legal review.

Why the EPA Can’t Manage to Ban Known Carcinogens

Of the 80,000 chemicals currently in the marketplace, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has only reviewed the safety of 570. Of those, the EPA has only banned five chemicals. Not on that list? Asbestos, formaldehyde, BPAs, and other known carcinogens.

Before you discredit the EPA as an ineffective agency, or even one that should be abolished altogether as some in Congress are demanding, it’s important to look at the myriad obstacles the agency faces that prevent it from regulating deadly substances.

Nearly every delay and hurdle is traced back to the chemical or energy industry. Industry lobbyists have used every tactic in the book to thwart the EPA, including discrediting the agency’s chemical assessments, sponsoring their own favorable research, and delaying the publication of the EPA’s studies, all while paying off scientists and politicians to support them.

Chemicals Are Considered Safe Until Proven Guilty

62,000 chemicals were grandfathered into the system, with no requirements for testing or meeting safety standards.

The root of the EPA’s problems lies with the flawed Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which governs the EPA’s review of toxic chemicals.

When it passed in 1976, 62,000 chemicals were grandfathered into the system, with no requirements for testing or meeting safety standards. The nearly 20,000 chemicals which have come to market since the TSCA’s adoption are almost as good as grandfathered into the system. The EPA’s authority to ask for safety data on a new chemical is extremely limited, allowing new chemicals to come to market without knowing a lot about their effects.

The law is structured to be favorable to the chemical industry as chemicals are considered safe until proven otherwise by the EPA. In the E.U., however, this is backwards: The burden is on companies to prove the safety of new chemicals before they are introduced in the marketplace.

In 2016, Congress amended TSCA to allow the EPA greater authority to review and ban chemicals. Last December, the EPA announced their 10 priority chemicals for review which included asbestos. Though it’s a positive step, critics have argued that the new bill will weaken effective state chemical safety laws and do nothing to speed up the review process. 

EPA’s Assessments Suffer from the “Highest Risk of Failure”

Before banning or restricting a chemical, the EPA has to conduct its own formal review of the existing research on the safety and effects of a substance.

The EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) is the agency branch that reviews chemical research to determine what the safe level of exposure is in the air, food, water, and soil. Their assessments are then used by regulators to restrict or ban various chemicals.

An IRIS review is a major undertaking; an average report will take seven years to complete. The EPA says that it needs to complete 50 of these assessments every year in order to do its job effectively. Yet throughout the Bush administration, an average of five chemicals were reviewed every year. Obama’s administration wasn’t any better: In 2014, the agency only completed one review. That was better than 2015 though, which didn’t produce a single report.

In 2011, out of the 500 chemicals in the IRIS program under review, almost 400 of them were more than 10 years in the making.

This hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2009, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated that IRIS had the “highest risk of failure” of any federal government department.

Chemical Industry Relies on “Scientists for Hire”

TSCA-Reform-Infographic
Credit: Center for Environmental Health

What’s the reason behind these slow-moving reviews? Primarily industry lobbyists.

Delaying research is the primary weapon in the chemical industry’s arsenal. By forcing the EPA to get second opinions, make edits, present their research again, go through another round of reviews, and so on, not only does it delay report publications for years, but it also helps to make the agency look less credible.

“I have never seen the chemical industry say, ‘Oh, wow! It looks from all of these data and the public literature like we had better start being safer with this chemical.’ They, in my experience, have always defended their chemical, tried to show that it’s safer, or less toxic, than what independent studies show,” said Jennifer Sass, a scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), in an article for Time magazine.

According to the NRDC, chemical companies will put forth their own research to settle the “debates” within the scientific community (debates which only exist in pro-industry minds).

14% of industry studies found chemicals like formaldehyde were hazardous, compared to 60% of non-industry studies.

Industry-funded research, not surprisingly, favors the industry. A study by the Center for Public Integrity found that 14% of industry studies on chemicals like atrazine and formaldehyde (carcinogens which have yet to be banned) found these chemicals were hazardous, compared to 60% of non-industry studies.

There are even pro-industry research journals: Critical Reviews in Analytical Chemistry and Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology. A Vice investigation revealed that one Harvard researcher, Philippe Grandjean, joined the Critical Reviews editorial board in hopes of scientific partnership but resigned when they published two articles denying OSHA’s research that linked lung cancer to diesel fumes, just for the sake of creating public doubt.

Once published, companies will host workshops to discuss the results, and fill them with industry-funded scientists that conclude what the industry wants to hear: that the chemical of concern is safe.

A group that is often represented is Gradient, whose clients include the American Chemistry Council (ACC), an association that represents chemical companies. The Center for Public Integrity reports that half of all of the papers published by Gradient scientists were published by industry-backed publications. Critics refer to them as “scientists for hire.”

Even if experts are aware of the red flags to look out for with industry-funded research, the more of it there is, the more confusing it makes the field of research. Said Jennifer Sass in an article for Vice, “The harm is that it actually muddies the independent scientific literature.”

Whistleblower Reveals EPA Reviews Have Ties to Industry

“The study ended up being the basis for this industry getting yet another exemption from federal law.”

During the “Making EPA Great Again” congressional hearing earlier this month, hosted by the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, critics argued that the EPA’s research lacks sufficient peer reviewthat they only work with those who share their anti-industry, pro-green opinions, resulting in the agency operating within an “echo chamber,” as Rep. Lucas (R-OK) described.

Among those invited to participate in the hearing was a scientist for the American Chemistry Council, Dr. Kimberly White. She emphasized the importance of allowing diverse voices from all over the industry to review and contribute to the EPA’s assessments, using sources other than the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, which, it should be noted, recruits members using a public open-call for nominations.

When pro-industry groups like the American Chemistry Council have their way and are involved in EPA reviews, the quality of reports usually suffer.

In 2004, the EPA investigated whether hydrofracking should fall under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Early on, a draft referred to dangerous levels of contamination caused by hydrofracking and possible contamination of an aquifer. The final report, however, stated that the practice “poses little or no threat to drinking water.”

“The study ended up being the basis for this industry getting yet another exemption from federal law when it should have resulted in greater regulation of this industry,” Weston Wilson, an EPA whistleblower told The New York Times. He revealed that five of the seven review panel members had ties to the oil and gas industry.

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John Yanchunis Is Lead Counsel in Yahoo Data Breach Case

ClassAction.com attorney John A. Yanchunis will serve as Lead Counsel on the largest class action lawsuit in history—the Yahoo data breach that allegedly compromised the private data of hundreds of millions of people around the world.

In an order filed Thursday, February 9, 2017 in the Northern District of California, U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh appointed John A. Yanchunis of Morgan & Morgan and ClassAction.com to serve as Lead Plaintiffs’ Counsel and Chair of the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee.

Read the Order

Four firms filed motions to serve as lead counsel: Morgan & Morgan, Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer LLP, Kessler Topaz Meltzer & Check LLP, and Susman Godfrey LLP. At a hearing in San Jose before Judge Koh made her decision, Mr. Yanchunis argued that a large firm of Morgan & Morgan’s stature—with more than 300 attorneys at its disposal—would be the best choice to take on a case of such magnitude.

At a press conference Saturday, Mr. Yanchunis said, “Morgan & Morgan is the biggest law firm of its type in the country. We have the legal talent and financial strength to take on anyone in this country.”

Mr. Yanchunis also noted that Morgan & Morgan (motto: “For the People”) only represents consumers, and never large companies.

Yahoo’s 2013 data breach (announced last year) compromised the data of roughly one billion users. A separate breach in 2014 compromised the data of 500 million users.

Mr. Yanchunis said Saturday that the lawsuit will represent everyone in the world whose data was breached.

Yanchunis Heads Five-Person Executive Committee

The other firms that filed motions to serve as lead counsel argued that the case was not as complex as it appeared, despite its mammoth size. They also claimed that a single firm should work the case, instead of the committee of firms helmed by Mr. Yanchunis.

Judge Koh thought they made “excellent points,” but ultimately disagreed.

Joining Mr. Yanchunis on the Executive Committee are Gayle Blatt of Casey Gerry Schenk Francavilla Blatt & Penfield LLP, Stuart Davidson of Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, Karen Riebel of Lockridge Grindal Nauen PLLP, and Ariana Tadler of Milberg LLP.

As Lead Counsel and the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee, Mr. Yanchunis and the abovementioned attorneys must review and record all billing records and “impose and enforce limits on the number of lawyers assigned to each task,” among other key duties.

Lawsuit Seeks Tighter Security, Hundreds of Millions in Damages

At the press conference, Mr. Yanchunis cited the long gap between the breaches and their announcement as one of the most concerning aspects of Yahoo’s actions.

“Those breaches either remained undetected or Yahoo failed to inform the public [for years].”

“What’s alarming about this is that the first breach occurred in 2014, but Yahoo did not announce it until September of 2016,” Mr. Yanchunis said. “The breach announced in December occurred in 2013. And yet, those breaches either remained undetected, or Yahoo failed to inform the public about the breaches.”

He also noted that most states have laws on the books requiring companies to inform consumers of data breaches within 30 days of discovering them.

Mr. Yanchunis said the lawsuit will seek stronger cybersecurity measures from Yahoo “to make sure that this never happens again.” Moreover, for those who suffered financial losses as a result of the breach, the lawsuit will seek damages.

Asked how much those damages might total, Mr. Yanchunis said it’s too early to say, but likely in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“It will be extensive,” he said.

Experience with High-Profile Breaches Proved Crucial

In determining whom to name Lead Counsel for the largest class action ever, Judge Koh weighed the following chief criteria:

  • “Knowledge and experience in prosecuting complex litigation, including class actions, data breach, and/or privacy cases”
  • “Willingness and ability to commit to a time-consuming process”
  • “Ability to work cooperatively and efficiently with others”
  • “Access to sufficient resources to prosecute the litigation in a timely manner”
  • “Commitment to prioritizing the interests of the putative class”

The first criterion, experience, may have clinched the win for Mr. Yanchunis. He and Morgan & Morgan previously litigated two massive data breach cases—the Home Depot Inc. and Target Corp. cases. Those lawsuits were settled for $19 million (Home Depot) and $10 million (Target), respectively.

Now Mr. Yanchunis and his team will take on the biggest breach of all, and aim to hold Yahoo accountable for allegedly endangering the privacies and identities of hundreds of millions of people.

To Protect Profits, Monsanto Campaigns to Reform Science

By campaigning to discredit the IARC over their Roundup research, Monsanto is turning a PR fight into a dangerous battle over scientific facts.

Though Monsanto is facing dozens of lawsuits for its Roundup Weed Killer, which plaintiffs argue caused their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the company is suing and threatening any group that dares to warn the public about the harmful herbicide, from California to the World Health Organization.

A judge in Fresno recently issued a preliminary ruling allowing California to list glyphosate, the formal name for Roundup, as a carcinogen under the state’s Proposition 65. If the ruling is finalized, it would require that Monsanto warn consumers that Roundup, the most-used agricultural chemical ever, may cause cancer.

Monsanto argued that California’s actions were “unconstitutional” because they relied on research from the International Association of Cancer Research (IARC), which the company argues is “junk science.”

But, this isn’t just a matter of a company refusing to acknowledge damning data. Monsanto is creating an entire campaign to discredit the IARC, a research division of the World Health Organization—turning a PR fight into a dangerous battle over scientific facts.

Glyphosate Labeled a “Probable Carcinogen”

In March 2015, the international team of scientists declared that glyphosate was a “probable carcinogen.”

The IARC, based in France, is made up of independent scientists from around the world whose mission is “to promote international collaboration in cancer research.” Since 1971, they have reviewed more than 900 potential cancer-causing agents through their Monograph Section.

By analyzing existing research, the group ranks an agent based on its likeliness to cause cancer, from Group 1, which contains definite carcinogens like tobacco, down to Groups 3 and 4, which contain agents without any evidence of cancer-causing side effects in humans, like water.

In the middle is Group 2A (probable carcinogens) and Group 2B (possible carcinogens) which includes chemicals and other agents that have some research demonstrating cancer in animals and humans, but not enough to support a Group 3 classification. In March 2015, the international team of scientists placed glyphosate in Group 2A, declaring that it was a “probable carcinogen.” 

Critics of the IARC say that their “probable” and “possible” classifications create unnecessary hysteria and have serious economic implications. But, for many agents—especially new ones, like glyphosate—it can take decades until there is enough conclusive evidence to prove it’s a definite carcinogen, especially since cancer can take years to develop

The American Chemistry Council Campaigns Against IARC

Instead of showing concern over the red flags the IARC’s glyphosate research presents, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) is trying to obliterate the agency.

Last month, the ACC (which represents Monsanto) launched the Campaign for Accuracy in Public Health Research, or CAPHR.

ClassAction.com reached out to CAPHR to better understand their mission. They said that their priority is to “advocate for reform of IARC’s Monographs Program to improve the transparency, reliability, and characterization of IARC’s assessment of cancer hazards.”

“Providing context and helping explain what is often misunderstood with regard to public health will be of great benefit to the American consumer,” the CAPHR team told us. “The findings of health research are of interest to many people, so it’s important that they are both reliable and meaningful.”

Monsanto’s Tactics Are “Reminiscent of Big Tobacco”

“This is reminiscent of the strategies used by Big Tobacco to spread doubt about scientific conclusions,” the IARC told us.

Advocating for greater research transparency and reliability is commendable, but take a quick look at CAPHR’s website and it’s clear that they are trying to position the IARC as an enemy of science. They even have a banner quote on every page from Galileo that reads: “By denying scientific principles, one may maintain any paradox.”

On their website they state that they will challenge the practice of “vilifying anyone in disagreement with study methods conclusions, or policy prescriptions.”

But, the IARC doesn’t appear to be “vilifying” Monsanto for disagreeing with their research. In fact, the group of independent scientists was surprised to be on the defense.

“We were doing our job. We understood there were other issues… economic consequences. But none of us had a political agenda,” Francesco Forastiere, a scientist involved in IARC’s glyphosate review, told the Huffington Post. “We simply acted as scientists, evaluating the body of evidence, according to the IARC criteria.”

The CAPHR campaign, along with industry lobbyists, are petitioning that the U.S. withdraw funds from the IARC completely. The website even includes a letter template to help visitors petition their representatives.

ClassAction.com reached out to the IARC about their thoughts on the campaign:

“The American Chemistry Council campaign against IARC is the latest in a series of attacks aimed at discrediting the WHO Cancer Agency and its Monographs’ evaluation program, through misrepresentations and inaccuracies. This is reminiscent of the strategies used by Big Tobacco to spread doubt about scientific conclusions. Unsurprisingly, the ACC as a chemical industry trade association, whose members include Monsanto, is defending its vested interests through this action.

The EPA May Be Monsanto’s Next Target

Mixed into this debate is the EPA, which is currently working on its own review of glyphosate. Lobbyists demand that the EPA reject the IARC’s findings and completely support the use of glyphosate. Interestingly, a U.S. scientist from the EPA was part of the IARC’s glyphosate review.

But, industry pressure has already affected the agency. The EPA’s review is already a year overdue and they canceled a series of scheduled public meetings on glyphosate last year after receiving criticism about the members of the scientific panel.

Producing and selling harmful chemicals is one thing, but actively distorting public perception about scientific facts is another. If you or a loved one were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after using Roundup, contact us today. Our legal team is fighting to hold Monsanto accountable.  

Ovarian Cancer Patients Seek Another Talc Victory

The latest talcum powder lawsuit could go a long way toward determining whether Johnson & Johnson is pressed into a wider settlement with thousands of women nationwide who claim that talc-based powders caused their ovarian cancer.

Johnson & Johnson faces an uphill battle trying to convince the jury of its talc products’ safety.

Last year, talcum powder lawsuit defeats cost J&J awards of $72 million, $55 million, and $70 million. In the wake of these verdicts, plaintiff’s attorneys urged J&J to consider settling the remaining cases. But the health products giant has held firm, admitting no wrongdoing and failing to add ovarian cancer risk warnings to talcum powder products like Johnson’s Baby Powder.

The next talc lawsuit—scheduled to begin Monday, February 6—pits J&J against more than 60 women and family members seeking damages for alleged talc-related ovarian cancer.

If 2016 is any indication, J&J faces an uphill battle trying to convince the jury of its talc products’ safety, especially as evidence linking talc to cancer mounts.

Hold J&J Accountable

Swann v. Johnson & Johnson

This case, Swann vs. Johnson & Johnson et. al., puts J&J back in the St. Louis court that last year handed out three talcum powder plaintiffs verdicts totaling $197 million.

J&J is back in the same St. Louis court that handed out three talcum powder plaintiffs verdicts totaling $197 million.

J&J tried to deny jurisdiction in the case for Missouri’s 22nd Judicial Circuit Court, which has a reputation for being plaintiff-friendly. However, a judge denied the jurisdictional appeal, setting the stage for 2017’s first talcum powder cancer lawsuit.

The case combines similar claims from 62 individuals alleging that using Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower Powder for feminine hygiene caused them—or a deceased family member—to develop ovarian cancer.

Plaintiffs hail from more than two dozen states, including Missouri, New Jersey, California, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia. Their claims include failure to warn, negligence, breach of warranty, and wrongful death. They seek punitive damages, which comprised the bulk of 2016’s sizable talcum powder awards.

After a $72 million talc verdict against J&J in the same court last year, a plaintiff’s attorney told Fortune, “If I were representing them [Johnson & Johnson], I would say, folks, we need to sit down and regroup and start trying to settle these cases.”

But J&J, at least for now, stands by the safety of its talc products. A page on the company’s website maintains talc’s safety, noting that its talc products have been asbestos-free since the 1970s and contain only U.S. Pharmacopoeia grade talc.

Another costly defeat in this 60+ plaintiff lawsuit could force J&J to revisit talc lawsuit settlements. J&J faces more than 2,000 talcum powder lawsuits nationwide. A July 2017 trial is scheduled in Los Angeles Superior Court.

New Study Bolsters Talc-Cancer Link

Johnson & Johnson cites two studies on its website as evidence that there’s no link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer.

So far, though, J&J has failed to counter opposing findings of a link between genital use of talc and ovarian cancer. And a new study published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention provides additional evidence for talc’s carcinogenic properties.

The study found a “statistically significant association between genital use of talc and ovarian cancer.”

Since the 1970s, dozens of studies have linked talc powder to ovarian cancer. A 2003 analysis looked at 16 separate talc-cancer studies and concluded that women using talcum powder were 33% more likely to develop ovarian cancer.

The latest talc-cancer study—another meta-analysis—came to a similar conclusion, finding a “statistically significant association between genital use of talc and ovarian cancer.”

The American Cancer Society says talcum powder may cause cancer in the ovaries if the powder, applied to the genital area, travels through the vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes to the ovary. But it also cautions that “if there is an increase risk, the overall increase is likely to be very small.” Women who have won big verdicts against J&J were longtime feminine hygiene talc users.

Winning a talc cancer lawsuit doesn’t require a scientific consensus; all that’s needed is to convince the jury of causation in a specific case. This is done with help from experts such as pathologists. In the case of Jacqueline Fox, a pathologist determined that Ms. Fox’s ovaries became inflamed and then cancerous from talc.

If you or a loved one developed ovarian cancer after using talcum powder, you may have a case. Learn more during a free consultation.

Florida Strikes Down Student Debt Relief Scams

Student loans are now a $1.2 trillion dollar industry—a financial crisis that burdens about 40 million Americans. But instead of helping, some loan servicers and debt relief companies view this as a money-making opportunity.

Navient, the largest loan servicer with control of 25% of U.S. student loans, recently made headlines for allegedly steering borrowers into costly deferment programs, ultimately profiting from $4 billion in extra interest charges nationwide. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued the company last month.

But Navient isn’t the only one out to make a buck. Debt settlement companies that promise to eliminate debts, lower payments, and repair credit scores are now being sued for their scam services.  

Triple Digit Fees for Free Services

Before companies conduct any of these free services, they usually charge upfront fees, ranging anywhere from $250 to $5,000.

If—and that’s a big if—debt settlement companies are able to help a borrower reduce their loans or payments, they are using services that any American has free access to.  

There are some federal programs that will forgive student loans, particularly for hard-to-place government jobs, disabilities, or school closures. Borrowers can also consolidate their loans (which can result in lower interest rates) through StudentLoans.gov, and switch to income-driven loan repayment plans with their loan servicers if they meet certain requirements. These services just cost your time to see if you qualify.

Debt settlement companies lure customers in though by saying that borrowers are approved, or pre-approved, for debt-relief services that can reduce debt by 50 to 70%, or even eliminate it altogether.

Before companies conduct any of these free services, they usually charge upfront fees, ranging anywhere from $250 to $5,000, followed by monthly fees averaging around $200 to $300. Though this may seem high, for borrowers crippled with $100,000 or $200,000 in debt, this is a small price to pay for promised long-term relief.

Some Companies Take Customers’ Money and Run

What’s worse, in some cases debt settlement companies fail to do anything for the borrower.

They often take their high upfront and monthly fees, but eventually state they were unable to do anything for the customer, or they just disappear altogether.

Often, while customers are dragged along, assuming the company is managing everything, no one is making loan payments. Customers are left with default loans and even worse credit scores.

“Victims are left deeper in debt, without their problem solved, and not knowing where to turn next. No one can ‘guarantee’ that they can erase your student loan debt or make that debt go away,” said Bruce McClary, vice president of communications at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

Companies Pose as the U.S. Department of Education

The U.S. Department of Education warns, “If you have to pay, then stay away!”

While you be saying to yourself, “I would never fall for that,” the most deceitful aspect of all of this is that these companies often pose as the U.S. Department of Education.

They may use the Department of Education seal and include references to the “Obama New Student Loan Forgiveness program”—which doesn’t exist—though this may soon be replaced with a false Trump-endorsed program.

Some go as far as to obtain borrower’s loan details so they can cite the amount borrowers owe and to whom, making them appear credible and trustworthy.

The U.S. Department of Education warns, “If you have to pay, then stay away!”

Florida Puts Three Debt Companies Out of Business

Florida recently struck down three of these debt settlement companies, all owned by Chastity Valdes: Consumer Assistance LLC, Consumer Assistance Project Corp. and Palermo Global LLC.

The lawsuit accuses the companies of violating the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, the FTC Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the Credit Repair Organizations Act.

Under the verdict terms, each company will essentially go out of business. They are required to pay $2.3 million in damagesor turn over all of their assets to authoritiesand are prohibited from selling debt relief or credit repair services in the future.

Florida’s attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have worked together before to take down fraudulent debt companies. Last May, they filed a lawsuit against Student Aid Center, a Florida-based company that charged fees ranging between $600 and $1,000 for doing nothing more than mailing paperwork to the federal government, which any borrower can submit for free. That lawsuit is pending.

What to Look Out For

There are some telltale signs that a company is not legitimate. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling warns of the following:

  • Upfront payment: Debt settlement companies are required by law to settle or reduce at least one loan before requiring payment. If you choose to use an outside company, make sure they show some progress on your loans before you pay them.
  • Urgent time frames: Offers that require immediate action are likely scams. The federal government does not require you to sign up within 24 hours or one week in order to be eligible for benefits.
  • Warnings against contacting loan provider: If a company warns you not to contact your loan provider, this is a red flag. Most loan providers will work with you to reduce your monthly payments or consolidate your loans (though based on Navient’s track record, you should research what you are eligible for before calling).
  • Advertising in general: Though there are legitimate ways to reduce your loans, these programs are usually not heavily advertised, nor do they reach out directly to eligible candidates. If you are looking for loan forgiveness programs, you’ll likely have to file yourself.

Most importantly, never give your Social Security number, federal aid pin, or power of attorney for your debts to companies unless you can confirm they are legitimate.

 

ClassAction.Com Attorneys File Lawsuit Against L’Oreal, Matrix

While many of us take advertising slogans with a grain of salt, we do at least trust that the products we buy contain the ingredients listed on the bottle.

ClassAction.com filed a lawsuit against L’Oreal and Matrix over an array of hair products that appear not to contain the protein keratin.

We used to, anyway.

In the latest case of a company allegedly promising ingredients and benefits its products do not offer or contain, last week ClassAction.com filed a false advertising lawsuit against L’Oreal USA and Matrix Essentials over an array of hair products that appear not to contain the protein keratin.

The plaintiffs in this class action lawsuit are Brandi Price of New York and Christine Chadwick of California.

Read the Complaint

The products cited in the complaint are the following:

  • Matrix Biolage Keratindose Pro-Keratin + Silk Shampoo
  • Pro-Keratin + Silk Conditioner
  • Pro-Keratin Renewal Spray

“Consumers are tired of not getting what they pay for,” said ClassAction.com attorney Jonathan B. Cohen. “If a company uses a coveted hair care ingredient on a label or in the name of a product, that ingredient better be in the product or consumers are going to hold the company accountable.”

Complaint Alleges False and Deceptive Advertising

The 39-page complaint—filed in the Southern District of New York on January 26, 2017—states:

Through its uniform, nationwide advertising campaign… Defendants have led consumers to believe that their Keratindose Products actually contain keratin and will confer the claimed benefits of keratin to the consumer.

In reality, the Keratindose Products do not contain any keratin at all and are incapable of providing the claimed benefits of keratin to the consumer.

The complaint states that the products’ labels are “false, deceptive and misleading, in violation of the Federal Food Drug & Cosmetics Act and its parallel state statutes, and almost every state warranty, consumer protection, and product labeling law throughout the United States.”

The plaintiffs seek relief for damages, for the defendants to stop engaging in the deceptive advertising alleged in the complaint, and any other relief the Court deems just and proper.

Labels, Slogans Emphasize Healing Powers of Keratin

Keratin2_Blog_720x405

According to the lawsuit, L’Oreal and Matrix consistently tout the restorative powers of keratin in the hair products in question. The complaint cites the following phrases lifted from the products’ labels and marketing campaigns:

  • “Pro-Keratin + Silk”
  • “Pro-Keratin Renewal Spray”
  • “Formulated with Pro-Keratin and Silk, Matrix’s keratin treatment for damaged hair provides targeted reinforcement for over-processed, weak or fragile hair”
  • “Prevent[s] damage”
  • “Restore[s] overprocessed hair”
  • “Shampoo for Overprocessed Hair”
  • “Conditioner for Overprocessed Hair”
  • Makes hair “90% more conditioned after one application” when combining the “system of Keratindose Shampoo, Conditioner and Pro-Keratin Renewal Spray vs. a non-conditioning shampoo”

The complaint states that the plaintiffs enlisted a subject-matter expert to analyze the products in question, “after which the expert confirmed that the Products do not contain keratin.”

The expert confirmed that the products do not contain keratin.

For many, the lawsuit calls to mind the Johnson & Johnson lawsuits—settled for $5 million—over J&J proclaiming its Baby Bedtime Powder “scientifically proven” to help babies fall asleep faster.

Or the recent spate of aloe vera lawsuits, which were filed against several manufacturers and retailers of aloe vera gels and other products that allegedly do not contain any aloe vera, let alone the 100% advertised.

“The beauty industry has preyed upon consumers’ fascination with self-improvement for decades, selling products that do contain promised ingredients and cannot perform as advertised,” Mr. Cohen said. “Companies must be held accountable for attempting to gain a competitive advantage through the deceptive labeling of products.”

Hold the Beauty Industry Accountable

If you purchased a hair product that claimed to contain keratin, you could be entitled to compensation. Please contact us immediately for a free, no-obligation case review to learn your rights and seek justice.

Our attorneys have won more than $2 billion for our clients, and we have never represented a large company. We will fight for you and hold negligent companies accountable.

Johnson & Johnson Pays for Baby Bedtime Products

Desperate parents are usually willing to try anything to help their babies fall asleepeven if it means paying more for a lotion or body wash. Recent class action lawsuits argue that Johnson & Johnson took advantage of parents by falsely advertising their baby bedtime products.

The company offered to settle four class action lawsuits for $5 million last week. The lawsuits alleged that the company deceived consumers into paying a premium for their products by carelessly using the term “clinically proven” to support claims that their bedtime products helped babies fall asleep.

J&J Tests Their Bedtime Routine, Not Products

“J&J did not test the ‘routine’ with products other than the bedtime products.”

On its website, Johnson & Johnson advertises a three-step bedtime routine for babies, which includes a warm bath, massage, and quiet time. Throughout the description of the routine, the company recommends using one of their bedtime products. They include references to “studies” and “research” that supports the effectiveness of each step.

The complaints filed against Johnson & Johnson didn’t challenge whether or not the routine worked, but the role their products played.

One complaint filed in California stated: “J&J did not test the ‘routine’ with products other than the bedtime products, such as J&J’s long-sold ordinary bath products, another company’s products or with no products at all.”

The baby sleep routine could very well be effective, but Johnson & Johnson doesn’t have research to support that their products are superior to others.

From the consumers point of view, this absence of research is hard to tell just by looking at the products. The routine and suite of bedtime products are so intermixed, especially on the product labels, that consumers can be deceived into thinking that the products are also “clinically proven” to help babies sleep.

A complaint filed in Illinois states that this misunderstanding isn’t surprising because Johnson & Johnson “does not sell routines—it sells bedtime products.” It wouldn’t make sense for them to just advertise a routine and not one of their products.

Claims Violate FTC’s Advertising Standards

Johnson & Johnson’s claims violate the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)’s advertising standards, which prohibit companies from making claims that are likely to mislead consumers and affect whether or not they will purchase a product.

While Johnson & Johnson is paying for it this time, the cosmetics industry is filled with similar cases of deceptive advertising, which may be caused by little federal regulation.

Federal regulations for cosmetics are only one page in length and haven’t been updated in 75 years.

Currently cosmetics products do not need FDA approval to go to market, and they are not required to share their ingredients. In fact, federal regulations for cosmetics are only one page in length and haven’t been updated in 75 years.

Weak regulations make it easier for cosmetics companies to make false claims, like aloe vera gels that don’t contain aloe vera, or keratin hair products that don’t contain keratin. 

Greater Federal Oversight is Just What J& J Needs

While false claims cause consumers to spend more money on premium products, the lack of federal oversight can result in more dangerous consequences, which Johnson & Johnson knows only too well.

The company continues to face lawsuits over its baby powder, which has been linked to ovarian cancer. More than 1,000 lawsuits have been filed against Johnson & Johnson for failing to warn consumers of the powder’s cancer risk.

In 2015, the Personal Care Products Safety Act was introduced in the Senate to address the current lack of oversight in the cosmetics industry. If passed, the bill would require companies to register their ingredients with the FDA and allow the FDA to recall unsafe products.

More oversight is just what companies like Johnson & Johnson may need.

If you have been harmed by Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder or duped into paying for pricey products that don’t deliver their promised claims, we want to hear from you. Contact our legal team for a free, no-obligation review.

 

Lawsuits Slam JCPenney, Macy’s for Duping Consumers

You know what they say: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

The lawsuits allege that these department stores listed misleading “original prices” on products so they could offer false discounts.

Lending further weight to that adage, the city of Los Angeles has filed several lawsuits against JCPenney, Macy’s, Kohl’s, and Sears, alleging that the department stores listed misleading “original prices” on products so they could slash them, luring in customers with false discounts.

For example, Kohl’s listed a strapless dress with an “original price” of $50, on sale for $35 and then $15. According to the lawsuit, the dress was never actually sold for $50.

This deceptive tactic is called “false reference pricing,” and companies do it because it works. Here are some other alleged examples cited in the complaints:

  • Macy’s sold a men’s V-neck t-shirt for $19.99, supposedly down from a $29.50 list price, a price at which the shirt was never actually sold.
  • Sears sold a Kenmore front-loading washing machine at $999.99, nearly $200 cheaper than its “list price” of $1,179.99. The washer was never sold at that price, and later went for as low as $650.
  • JC Penney marketed a maternity bathing suit top as $15 off its original price of $46. The price then dropped from $31 to $22, and then $15, just one-third the “original price.” One problem: the top was allegedly never sold for $46.

In a statement, City Attorney Mike Feuer said, “Customers have the right to be told the truth about the prices they’re paying—and to know if a bargain is really a bargain.”

Unfortunately, distinguishing true discounts from phony ones is harder than ever.

Hold Retailers Accountable

Brick-and-Mortar Stores Desperate for Deals

 This isn’t the first time these companies have faced litigation for misleading consumers. JCPenney and Kohl’s both faced similar claims in 2015, and both settled those class action lawsuits for sizable sums: JCPenney settled its suit for $50 million, and Kohl’s settled its claims for $6 million.

Ron Friedman, a Los Angeles-based retail expert, tells the Los Angeles Times, “There is no regular-priced merchandise, especially in stores like Sears or Kohl’s or TJ Maxx. The whole category is all about the sale price.”

Mr. Friedman says these kinds of brick-and-mortar stores are struggling to compete with online retailers, so they rely heavily on amazing deals and sales to lure customers away from sites like Amazon, Wayfair, and Overstock.

According to TruthInAdvertising.org, there were 24 of these kinds of lawsuits filed just in the first half of 2016, against retailers like Macy’s, J. Crew, Gymboree, Ann Taylor, and Ralph Lauren. (In all of 2015, there were 25 such suits.)

Of course, as anyone who shops online knows, false reference pricing is not limited to brick-and-mortar stores.

Amazon Begins Phasing Out List Prices

Seemingly every product on Amazon is (or was) on sale, often at incredible savings—75% or hundreds of dollars off the “list price.” How is this possible? Well, because like the “original prices” at JCPenney and Kohl’s, all too often the item was never actually sold with such a hefty tag.

If everything is always on sale, then nothing is ever on sale.

In the wake of criticism about its pricing—and perhaps to avoid the rash of lawsuits vexing other companies—earlier this year Amazon started phasing out its list prices. In place of List Prices, many if not most items now just say “Price.” Presumably (ideally), this is a more accurate reflection of the product’s cost.

Amazon still has deals, of course. But the gradual elimination of list prices suggests we may not see the ubiquitous, unbelievable discounts to which we’ve become accustomed—and, arguably, desensitized. As TruthInAdvertising’s executive director Bonnie Patten pointed out to the Times, if everything is always on sale, then nothing is ever on sale.

Instead of emphasizing discounts from original or list prices, on their Amazon Wish Lists customers now see if the price of an item has dropped since it was added to the list. This is a clever way for Amazon to have its cake and eat it too: it has managed to have perpetual “deals” occur without deceiving consumers.

If only JCPenney, Macy’s, Sears, and Kohl’s could do the same.

Batteries Powering Holiday Gifts May Present Hidden Dangers

Lithium-ion batteries power many of the gadgets you and your family will receive as gifts this holiday season. But a slew of unprompted explosions in the past year among products containing them have some people questioning how safe the batteries really are.

You have likely seen the viral videos of unsuspecting people going about their business before an explosion rocks their pocket after their Samsung phone or vape pen explodes. People have sustained serious burns on their legs, hands, and even on their face from these battery explosions.

Lithium-ion batteries not only power those items, they also energize about 95 percent of the world’s rechargeable electronic devices, including last year’s hottest gift, hoverboards, according to a CBS News report. As a result, you and your family are likely to receive some gizmos that are powered by these batteries over the holidays. But does that mean that we need to worry about all of the gifts we receive?

Li-ion Power is King of The Battery Jungle

Lithium-ion batteries are the most effective way to store power and allow our gadgets to operate for as long as they do.

The lithium-ion battery has an energy density of 160 watt hours per kilogram, while alternative batteries have about half the capacity. If lithium-ion batteries can store almost double the amount of energy than alternatives, they are the obvious choice for powering millions of products that require a long-lasting power source.

There is a trade off for these extra hours of power though.

One of the integral components of a lithium-ion battery is a highly flammable liquid. It is this liquid that causes the explosion to be so ferocious when the battery malfunctions.

When products containing these batteries explode, the results are brutal.

Although it does not happen frequently, when products containing these batteries explode the results are brutal. This is evidenced in the shocking video footage of cell phones, vape pens, and hoverboards spontaneously bursting into flames, and the gruesome injuries that have resulted.

There is definitely a need to be cautious of these batteries. Nevertheless, potential explosions may not be the greatest danger that lithium-ion batteries pose.

Do Lithium-ion Batteries Pose Any Other Dangers?

Certain products are powered by small batteries that look like buttons, which present a hazard to small children. This additional danger presents a far greater risk than unprompted explosions, resulting in more than 2,800 emergency room visits each year, according to Safe Kids Worldwide.

Swallowing a lithium-ion button battery presents a choking hazard, but as the video above shows they also present a burn hazard. If a child swallows a button battery and does not choke on it, the battery will settle somewhere in the body and proceed to burn through the body tissue it has settled on.

Despite the potential dangers that lithium ion batteries present, it may still be an overreaction to throw away any lithium-ion powered gifts this holiday season. By following some simple safety precautions, you can greatly reduce any potential danger that lithium-ion batteries present.

Lithium-ion Safety Precautions

Under normal circumstances, lithium-ion batteries are not dangerous.

“Lithium-ion batteries have a failure rate that’s less than one in a million,” reported K.M. Abraham, one of the pioneers of the lithium-ion battery, to Consumer Reports.

Some products contain lithium-ion batteries that do not meet the highest safety standards, presenting a much greater risk of exploding.

However, that is only when the batteries are designed properly. Some products contain lithium-ion batteries that do not meet the highest safety standards, and present a much greater risk of exploding.

This was the case with hoverboards, which were often built with cheaply produced batteries that weren’t designed for that kind of use, dramatically increasing the risk of overheating and fire, according to CBS News.

Therefore, it is recommended that you check any products you receive were certified as safe by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory, according to experts at the Good Housekeeping Institute. This can be done by checking the battery or packaging for symbols with letters like UL or ETL that indicate the battery was tested for safety.

Similarly, the risk of children swallowing lithium-ion button batteries can also be mitigated. First and foremost, products containing these small batteries should be kept out of the reach of children.

Alternatively, if hiding some of these things presents an inconvenience, a piece of duct tape can be placed over the spot where the battery is located to prevent children from getting to it. If your child does happen to swallow a button battery, do not hesitate and go to the hospital immediately.

Although under most circumstances lithium-ion batteries function just fine, there are those shoddily-made batteries in shoddily-made products that can pose grave risks to you and your family. Being cautious about these products can help to ensure you and your family don’t have an explosive holiday season.

 

In Light of Blasts, Senator Demands E-Cig Recalls

(Photo credit: Corey Sipkin)

Citing a flurry of recent e-cigarette explosions, a lack of research, and the generally poor safety record of products manufactured in China, incoming Senate minority leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) has called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to subject the e-cig industry to greater scrutiny and regulation.

In a blistering statement, the current Senate Majority Leader (soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader) noted that despite several nasty e-cigarette explosions in recent months, not one e-cig or vape product has been recalled. He called for more recalls and intensive research into the $10 billion industry.

“They’ve got to get moving. We’ve had a recent rash of explosions here in New York and elsewhere,” Senator Schumer said. “If there is a pattern of brands, the public should know it right away and they should recall some brands, those that are particularly susceptible to exploding.”

“Huff, Puff, Explode”

Senator Schumer called the current e-cig landscape a “huff, puff, explode” situation and said that, according to the FDA, there were at least 92 incidents of e-cigarettes catching fire or exploding between 2009 and 2015. (The actual number may be much higher, as not every incident is reported to the FDA.) He also noted that most e-cig batteries are made in China, which Schumer says has a poor safety record in terms of its exports to the U.S.

Recently, two high-profile eruptions in Sen. Schumer’s home state of New York have cast the industry in an unflattering light. Earlier this month an emergency medical technician (EMT) in the Bronx suffered second-degree burns when his e-cigarette exploded in his pocket.

Around Thanksgiving, a wine store employee at Grand Central Station had an e-cig blow up in his pocket, the video of which went viral.

But the most infamous incident might be that of Leor Domatov, the 14-year-old boy who was partially blinded by a vape explosion at the Kings Plaza Mall in Brooklyn. Domatov spent five days in the hospital, where, according to Gothamist, “he was treated for cuts to his eyes, chemical burns, and injuries to his hands.”

E-Cigs Spark Lawsuits in New Jersey

In neighboring New Jersey, which has also been burned by e-cig blasts, at least four lawsuits have been filed against manufacturers and retailers. Gregory and Stacey Burdash of Berlin, NJ filed a lawsuit after Mr. Burdash alleged that an e-cig battery exploded in his pocket on September 29, 2016.

“I have not been able to return to work, and as the sole breadwinner in the family, it hurts you mentally and physically.”

“I have had incredible pain since then. I have not been able to return to work, and as the sole breadwinner in the family, it hurts you mentally and physically,” Mr. Burdash said.

William D. Gant of Cumberland County claims that he experienced an e-cig explosion in March 2015 that caused him to suffer third-degree burns on his lower extremities. Mr. Gant alleges that his injured foot will require a skin graft.

Two unidentified teens in New Jersey have also filed lawsuits over alleged vape explosions. One says she needed plastic surgery to correct serious injuries to her lips and mouth and that she will need bone grafts for her jaw. The other teen alleges burns to his arms and torso that cause him “unbearable” pain.

ClassAction.com Seeks Justice for Vape Victims

Earlier this year, ClassAction.com filed several e-cig lawsuits against manufacturers and retailers over similar incidents that allegedly occurred in Florida. These complaints seek damages for pain and suffering, mental anguish, medical bills, and lost wages (past and future).

Read the Complaint

If you or a loved one has been injured by e-cigarettes, please contact us for a free case review. Don’t wait; these cases are time-sensitive, and you may be entitled to compensation.

Samsung’s Exploding Washers Leave Consumers Rattled

At this point, the word “Samsung” is almost synonymous with “explosive.”

Samsung has received 733 reports of the washers malfunctioning.

Right on the heels of its massive Samsung Galaxy fiasco, last month the Korean electronics giant recalled nearly three million washing machines over hundreds of reports of the machines vibrating excessively and even firing their tops off.

The recall—which Samsung announced more than a month after the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warned consumers of the washer risks—impacts 34 models encompassing 2.8 million machines. (For a full list of affected models, see the official CPSC page.) Samsung says it has received 733 reports of the washers malfunctioning, and at least nine reported injuries.

The CPSC page says injuries include “a broken jaw, injured shoulder, and other impact or fall-related injuries.”

Though the recall offers consumers either a free in-home repair or rebate to be used toward a new washer, many aren’t satisfied with Samsung’s response.

Consumers Get “Market Value” for Broken Machines

Unless a consumer purchased a washer after October 6, 2016, he or she has two options:

(1) A free in-home repair of the busted machine, which includes a one-year extension of the product’s warranty, or

(2) A rebate applied to the purchase of a new machine, plus a free installation of that machine and free removal of the old one.

At first glance, this sounds like an okay deal (especially #1). But many consumers have complained about delays in their machine repairs, or not even being able to reach Samsung.

Meanwhile, the rebate in the second option will be for the broken washer’s “current market value,” which naturally will be much lower than it was upon purchase. (Washing machines are like cars: their values plummet as soon as you take them home.)

So, Samsung is offering consumers either a partial refund/rebate for a defective machine that Samsung produced and marketed—or, a repair that has been plagued by delays.

It’s no wonder so many people are heading to court to hold Samsung accountable.

Samsung Faces Multiple Class Action Lawsuits

Way back in March, Suzann Moore and Michelle Soto Fielder filed a class action lawsuit against Samsung, alleging that their washers blew their tops. Ms. Moore said that after two uneventful years, her machine “violently exploded” in December 2015.

The complaint, filed in New Jersey (where Samsung U.S.A. is headquartered), also contends that Ms. Fielder’s machine blew up in February 2016 “with such ferocity that it penetrated the interior wall of her garage.” As with Samsung’s Galaxy phones, there are numerous YouTube videos that appear to show these devices post-explosion.

In the town of Trail, British Columbia, a man filed a lawsuit against Samsung not over physical damage or injuries, but because allegedly the rebate offered by Samsung fails to fully compensate consumers.

For example, a woman who joined the Canadian lawsuit, Brandy Robertson, received only a $410 rebate for a machine that originally cost her $900. Ms. Robertson also said she had to pay a $200 delivery fee for the new machine.

She told CTV News in Vancouver, “They should be replacing full cost of the top loaders… I think they are making money off of their recall.”

If you or a loved one have suffered physical or financial damage because of a faulty Samsung washing machine, contact us today to learn your rights.

Child Deaths Underscore Threat of Falling Furniture

The tragic death of an 18-month-old boy in Yakima, Washington has further stressed the threat of falling furniture, especially for couples with young children.

On average, 26 children are killed every year by furniture and television tip-overs—about one every two weeks. As many as 40,000 people are injured in these incidents annually.

The Yakima accident comes just a few weeks after another IKEA-related death came to light, one of seven fatalities associated with the IKEA line of Malm chests that the furniture giant recalled in June 2016.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), IKEA has also received 41 reports of tip-over incidents related to the Malm line of chests and dressers. These injuries and deaths have spawned several lawsuits.

On December 22, 2016, IKEA announced that it had reached a $50 million settlement with the families of Curren Collas, Camden Ellis, and Ted McGee: three toddlers who were crushed to death by IKEA furniture in recent years. The $50 million (total) will be distributed among the three families.

Hold IKEA Accountable

IKEA Recalled 29 Million Chests in June

In a statement last month, IKEA reiterated that “the safety of our products is our highest priority,” adding, “This additional incident further underscores the need to properly secure chests of drawers to the wall with the included restraints per the assembly instructions.”

But according to The New York Times, the 29 million dressers and chests IKEA recalled in June fail to meet voluntary safety standards set by the CPSC.

After the recall, CPSC chairman Elliot F. Kaye warned, “If you have or think you have one of these products, act immediately. It is simply too dangerous to have the recalled furniture in your home unanchored, especially if you have young children.”

That message has been reinforced by the CPSC’s announcement last month that a two-year-old boy in Woodbridge, Virginia was killed by a falling Malm chest in September 2011.

This is the fourth Malm fatality by the CPSC’s official count, and the seventh such death according to IKEA.

Anchoring Furniture Is Best Way to Prevent Accidents

In July 2015, IKEA gave out free wall anchor kits to customers to increase the safety of its products. Unfortunately, the offer went unnoticed by the bulk of customers, as they were unaware of the threat posed by freestanding furniture.

In a jarring and comprehensive exploration of the tip-over crisis by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Olivia Hall writes, “But some [victims’ parents] say their regrets aren’t from having ignored a warning. They had never heard of tip-overs until one killed their child.”

The CPSC’s guidelines for preventing furniture tip-over injuries are as follows:

  • Anchor and protect!
  • Use sturdy furniture
  • Secure your TV
  • Mount flat-screen TVs
  • Follow instructions
  • Low and stable (CRT TV)
  • Secure top-heavy furniture
  • Remove tempting objects

But the commission may not have been entirely helpful throughout this furniture tip-over crisis.

Philadelphia Inquirer Sues CPSC for Records

The Philadelphia Inquirer and the CPSC should be on the same side of the furniture tip-over issue: both seem to want greater awareness of the risks and more accountability for manufacturers.

But on November 21, the Inquirer filed a lawsuit requesting that the commission be more forthcoming with requested information. According to the eight-page complaint:

… CPSC has ignored entirely seven of the ten [Inquirer’s] requests and, for two of the other three, it still has not informed Plaintiffs what records it does and does not intend to produce. These nine outstanding requests are the basis of this lawsuit.

The requests in question are for the following records:

  • CPSC emails about the July 2015 repair program and June 2016 recall
  • Contracts for CPSC employees hired in connection with the recall
  • A copy of the CPSC’s agency travel policy
  • The names, titles, and salaries of all CPSC employees
  • Market research conducted by the CPSC related to service contracts and the IKEA recall
  • Records of CPSC’s travel card program participation
  • Reimbursement records of any CPSC employees who traveled to Sweden or another IKEA office
  • CPSC reports completed in relation to the IKEA repair and recall initiatives
  • Specific documents regarding IKEA product testing and accident notifications
  • A PowerPoint presentation made to the CPSC by IKEA and its attorneys
  • Correspondence between IKEA attorneys and the CPSC
  • A letter containing IKEA’s full report on one dresser model

The complaint seems to suggest that the Philadelphia Inquirer wants to investigate potential collusion between the CPSC and IKEA. Or, at the very least, the newspaper wants all the facts surrounding the controversial Malm line of dressers and the CPSC’s handling of the issue.

“Hospital data show the trend [of furniture deaths] is not subsiding.”

The Inquirer complaint also emphasizes, “Hospital data show the trend [of furniture deaths] is not subsiding, despite efforts by safety advocates and others.”

A judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania will now determine if the lawsuit has merit.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a furniture tip-over incident, please contact us today for a free, no-obligation case review.

Florida Man Files Lawsuit After Vape Explosion

ClassAction.com has filed another product liability and negligence lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturers and retailers after an alleged vape explosion that injured Florida man James Dardini and adversely impacted his wife, Angela Dardini. This is one of several such cases ClassAction.com has filed in recent months.

Mr. and Mrs. Dardini’s lawsuit alleges that a vape device erupted in Mr. Dardini’s right pocket, causing second and third degree burns that would require at least one skin graft surgery.

The complaint was filed in Volusia County, Florida earlier this fall. Defendants include Kangertech, which allegedly made the vape devices; Sunshine Vapor, the retailer that allegedly sold Mr. Dardini the vape products; and Perfect Vape, which allegedly imported the devices and sold them to Sunshine Vapor.

Read the Complaint

The complaint alleges negligence, design and manufacturing failures, and failure to adequately warn plaintiffs of the products’ risks, among other charges.

The lawsuit seeks compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering, plus any further relief that the Court deems just and proper.

Plaintiff Says Leg Was Engulfed in Flames

Mr. Dardini says he purchased a Kanger vaporizer and battery from the Sunshine store on September 21, 2015. (The complaint includes a receipt from this purchase.) Around 11am on December 28, 2015, while working in Ocoee, Florida, Mr. Dardini says that the vaporizer exploded in his front right pocket, “engulfing [his] leg in flames.”

Mr. Dardini allegedly had to be transported to Health First Hospital in Clermont, Florida, before then being transferred to the Burn Unit at Orlando Regional Medical Center (ORMC) to be treated for second and third degree burns. While at ORMC, Mr. Dardini says he had to undergo “a significant skin graft surgery to his right leg.” (The complaint includes photos of all the alleged injuries and devices in question.)

As a result of this alleged incident, the complaint states, “Mr. Dardini sustained severe, permanent and life-altering injuries to his groin, legs and lower back.”

Mr. Dardini’s wife Angela is a plaintiff because Mr. Dardini’s injuries have allegedly affected their marriage and caused Mrs. Dardini “loss of affection” and “mental anguish.”

Dardini Case Is Similar to Others Filed by ClassAction.com

The Dardinis’ lawsuit shares some similarities with three other e-cig lawsuits recently filed in Florida by ClassAction.com. In one of those cases, that of William Pickett, an e-cig allegedly exploded in his pocket as he drove to work, “engulfing [his] leg in flames.” Mr. Pickett says he suffered second and third degree burns.

In another case, Florida man David Studer was allegedly injured when an e-cigarette battery exploded in his shorts pocket, catching them on fire. Mr. Studer’s complaint says he suffered second and third degree burns on his thigh.

A third plaintiff, James Lauria, claims an e-cigarette exploded in his mouth, blasting a large hole between the roof of his mouth and his naval cavity and fracturing his teeth and hand, among other injuries.

Mr. Lauria says he had to be intubated because his esophagus was so swollen that he couldn’t breathe on his own. He was allegedly airlifted across state lines to the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) trauma and burn unit, where he was treated for extensive injuries.

ClassAction.com Fights for Injured Vapers

While the specifics of each lawsuit vary, they all have one thing in common: an e-cigarette exploded, seriously injuring someone who had no way to protect against such a traumatic incident.

Our attorneys are pursuing these lawsuits in the hope that we can stem the tide of this rising public health crisis.

Our attorneys are pursuing these lawsuits against e-cigarette companies in the hope that we can stem the tide of this rising public health crisis. Through legal action, we will obtain relief for these victims and hold e-cig companies accountable for their negligence.

If you or a loved one has been injured by e-cigarettes, please contact us immediately for a free case review. Don’t hesitate; these cases are time-sensitive, and you may be entitled to compensation.

ClassAction.com Attorneys File Lawsuits Over Explosive E-Cigs

[WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES.]

Around 11am on July 29, 2015, James Lauria was taking a vape break from his job as a concierge at the Beach House, a Wyndham Resort in Destin, Florida. Without warning, the e-cigarette in his mouth exploded, blasting a large hole between the roof of his mouth and his naval cavity and fracturing his teeth and hand, among other injuries.

ClassAction.com attorneys have filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers who made Mr. Lauria’s e-cigarette and the retailers who sold it to him.

Mr. Lauria had to be intubated because his esophagus was so swollen that he couldn’t breathe on his own. He was airlifted across state lines to the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) trauma and burn unit, where he was treated for extensive injuries.

ClassAction.com attorneys have filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers who made Mr. Lauria’s e-cigarette and the retailers who sold it to him. We have also filed two other lawsuits on behalf of Florida residents injured by e-cigarette blasts. You can read the complaints here:

These lawsuits seek damages for pain and suffering, mental anguish, hospital/medical bills, and lost wages (past and future).

Victim Suffers Fractured Vertebrae, Third Degree Burns

David Studer's leg after an e-cig battery allegedly exploded in his pocket.
David Studer’s leg after an e-cig battery allegedly exploded in his pocket.

Like millions of Americans, Mr. Lauria took up vaping so that he might be able to quit smoking and protect his health. It is tragically ironic, then, that an e-cigarette wound up causing him such terrible pain and suffering.

According to Mr. Lauria’s complaint, the e-cig explosion “caused extensive damage” to him,

including but not limited to puncturing the palette in the roof of his mouth leaving a gaping hole all the way through to his nasal cavity, jamming teeth through his gum, fracturing teeth, burning his left hand which was holding the vaporizer, fracturing his hand and his C-5 vertebrae, burning the left side of his face and chest area, and scratching his left eye from flying debris from the explosion.

In the case of another plaintiff, William Pickett, an e-cigarette exploded in his pocket as he drove to work, “engulfing [his] leg in flames.” Mr. Pickett says he suffered second and third degree burns.

In another case, Florida man David Studer was injured when an e-cigarette battery exploded in his shorts pocket, catching them on fire. Mr. Studer’s complaint says he suffered second and third degree burns on his thigh.

While the specifics of each lawsuit vary, they all have one thing in common: an e-cigarette exploded, seriously injuring someone who had no reason to expect and no way to protect against such a traumatic incident.

Attorney Mike Morgan said, “The scary part about the e-cigarettes is that most of the devices and their components are made in China. The batteries we see exploding are cheaply made or simply re-wrapped lithium ion batteries.”

Mr. Morgan added, “Many of the devices lack proper ventilation, turning the device into a pipe bomb where heat discharged from the battery builds up in the e-cig until the pressure is so great that it explodes.”

E-Cigs Have Same Explosive Batteries as Samsung Phones

But our clients’ experiences are not isolated incidents: there have been dozens such explosions. There were at least 25 e-cig explosions between 2009 and 2014, at least a dozen more in 2015, and there have already been dozens more in 2016. According to The Wall Street Journal, the FDA received 134 reports of vape-related fires and explosions from 2009 to January 2016.

Earlier this month, footage of an e-cigarette exploding in a French man’s pocket went viral online. The man, Amine Britel, said he suffered second degree burns and that his jacket melted around his finger when he tried to extinguish the fire.

As noted by Mr. Morgan, these are the same kinds of volatile batteries that have plagued hoverboards and Samsung Galaxy phones. “As we saw in the Samsung debacle, these batteries are very sensitive and the smallest mistake can lead to disastrous consequences.”

In fact, one of the defendants in Mr. Pickett’s case is Samsung, which allegedly manufactured the exploding battery.

E-cigarette batteries are so volatile (and their ingredients so toxic) that earlier this year the FDA began regulating the vaping industry. The agency hopes that, by taking a closer look at what is going into these devices, it can curb calamities such as Mr. Lauria’s.

How You Can Hold Vape Companies Accountable

The myriad explosions and other health hazards associated with vaping have generated a flood of e-cigarette lawsuits against manufacturers and retailers.

Our attorneys are now pursuing lawsuits against e-cigarette companies in the hope that we can combat this rising public health crisis. Through legal action, we will obtain relief for these victims and hold e-cig companies accountable for their negligence.

If you or a loved one has been injured by e-cigarettes, please contact us immediately to complete a free case review. Don’t hesitate; these cases are time-sensitive, and you may be entitled to compensation.

10 Ways to Beat the Airline Industry’s Outrageous Prices

Airlines make a steep profit this time of the year, using tactics that are often questionable and sometimes even illegal. As planes become more uncomfortable and prices surge, some consumers are holding airlines accountable through class action lawsuits and savvy ticket purchasing practices.

It isn’t just your imagination that airplane travel has gotten extremely expensive. A class action lawsuit is pending for an alleged price-fixing scheme among the four major airlines (American Airlines, Delta, Southwest, and United Continental) dating back to 2009. Plaintiffs claim that the price-fixing conspiracy resulted in higher prices, fewer options, and ultimately a $21.7 billion combined profit in 2015.

In addition to being on the lookout for illegal practices, consumers can also beat airlines at their own game by understanding their pricing strategies. Here are a few ways to avoid falling victim to price surges this holiday season.

1. Use the “Stopover Trick”

Airlines operate using a “hub-and-spoke” system. Each airline has major “hub” cities (for example, Houston is a United hub and Atlanta is a Delta hub) that connect to its surrounding “spoke” cities. Flights to hub cities are often much more expensive than flying to a nearby city because of the number of flights through hub airports.

Before booking a direct flight to a major hub city, research the fares for nearby cities that will likely connect in your destination. For example, if you want to fly direct to Atlanta on Delta (the airline’s major hub city), booking a flight to Savannah, GA that connects in Atlanta could save you a lot of money. Ignore your connecting flight and enjoy a cheaper, direct flight to your original destination.

Note that you can’t check bags if you do this, and airlines frown upon it.

The “stopover trick,” “hidden city,” call it what you will, was popularized by Skiplagged.com founder Aktarer Zaman. United Airlines and Orbitz tried to sue him for lost revenue, claiming the site was “unfair competition,” but they eventually withdrew.

Zaman maintains that his site is strictly pro-consumer: “I’m just providing people with information and making them more informed,” he said in an article for CNN.

2. Search for Error Fares

Sometimes an airline or hotel posts the wrong price because of human error, inaccurate currency conversions, etc., allowing passengers in the know to save money on airfare. Sites like Secret Flying use custom code to detect these errors for the benefit of other travelers.

3. Book Your Flight During the “Prime Window”

The best time to book a flight is between 112 and 21 days before your departure date, according to research from CheapAir. If you really want the lowest price, on average you will find the lowest fares 54 days before you fly.

If you can, try to book on a Tuesday around 3 p.m. Airlines typically release their flight deals on Monday afternoon, sending them to sites like Travelocity and Expedia. By Tuesday afternoon, competitors have already adjusted their prices accordingly, increasing your chances to find the best rates.

4. Pick the Cheapest Travel Days and Times

Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays are the slowest days to travel, making them also the cheapest days to travel. For domestic flights, you can save up to 40% by simply flying out a day earlier or later.

Choose your departure time wisely as well. The cheapest fares are found between 5 and 7 a.m. and after 8 p.m. (Save money and sleep on the plane.)

5. Switch Flights on the Day of Your Departure

Yes, that flight at 6 a.m. will be cheaper, but it’s far less pleasant than flying at 10 a.m. If you are debating between departure times, try booking the cheaper one in advance and switching flights the day of. Same-day change fees are typically around $50, which is often cheaper than the initial price difference when booking.

Note that this only works if there are still seats on the second flight and if you switch your reservation before your scheduled departure.

6. Book Tickets Separately

If you are booking a flight for a group, pay for each ticket separately. Even if there are a few cheap seats left, by booking in a group you will be charged the higher price for each reservation. Booking one seat at a time allows you to save on at least some of the seats.

Also, research prices for return flights on other travel sites and airlines before making a round-trip reservation to ensure you are getting the best deals each way.

7. Know Your Passenger Rights

Cancelled flight? Lost luggage? You may be entitled to compensation.

The U.S. Department of Transportation requires airlines to compensate passengers for delayed and lost baggage, up to $3,300 for domestic flights and $1,500 for international, depending on the value of the contents and the length of the delay.

You can receive up to $650 for shorter travel delays, and up to $1,300 for longer delays.

If you are bumped from an overbooked flight or your flight is cancelled, you are entitled to compensation. You can receive up to $650 for shorter travel delays (arriving one to two hours later for domestic flights and one to four hours later for international flights), and up to $1,300 for longer delays.

Airlines may also downgrade passengers (from first class to business, for example). In these cases, most regulatory authorities will require that you are compensated for the difference in fares. Ask that you are compensated for the difference in fares when you booked, rather than the difference on the day you fly (that seat in coach will be much more expensive and result in a smaller refund).

Some airlines may offer to compensate passengers in the form of miles or vouchers. This is acceptable but know that you are also entitled to cash if you prefer.

Hold Them Accountable

8. Volunteer to be “Bumped Off” a Crowded Flight

Airlines estimate how many people will cancel or miss their flight. Sometimes they overestimate this number and there aren’t enough seats to accommodate passengers.

If your schedule permits it, volunteer to switch to a later flight. In return, you can receive perks like lounge access, upgrades, and cash. If there aren’t many volunteers, keep in mind the fees airlines are expected to pay for bumping unwilling customers and negotiate accordingly.

9. Sell Your Aisle Seat

If you are looking for a few bucks and don’t mind the middle seat, you can sell your aisle or window seat to another passenger. The app Seataroo lets passengers sell their prime airplane real estate to other travelers for a small fee.

10. Beware of Fake Travel Sites and Scams

It’s tempting to jump at the first deal you find, but make sure it is legitimate before you give away your credit card information. Fake travel sites are becoming more commonit’s estimated that as many as 15 million hotel reservations were made on imposter sites in 2014.

And just because you recognize the company name, doesn’t mean it’s safe. Imposter sites regularly pose as major airlines and hotels, scamming consumers through fake social media sweepstakes and online deals. Look out for fuzzy logos, odd URLs, etc. that may signal a scam.

Refer to the Federal Trade Commission’s tips for more guidance.

Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals Cost U.S. $340 Billion Annually

Chemicals used in everyday products cost the United States more than $340 billion per year in health care and lost earnings, according to a new study.

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals—found in consumer goods that include plastics, metal food cans, furniture, carpeting, toys, detergents, cosmetics, and pesticides—interfere with the body’s endocrine (hormone) system and contribute to developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune dysfunction.

Endocrine disruptors are linked to IQ points loss, autism, ADHD, diabetes, cancer, and more.

In the United States, the economic disease burden of endocrine-disrupting chemicals—which reflects direct treatment costs as well as indirect lost productivity costs—is estimated to be higher than in the European Union, where industrial chemicals are more tightly regulated. Endocrine disruptors cost the U.S. $340 billion per year (2.33% of GDP) and the European Union $217 billion per year (1.28% of GDP).

The greatest difference in U.S. vs. E.U. disease costs, say the study authors, comes from IQ points loss and intellectual disability due to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), a chemical blend used as a flame retardant on furniture. PBDE causes 43,000 annual cases of intellectual disability annually in the U.S., compared to 3,290 in the EU. Europe has restricted PBDEs since 2008.

Costs associated with organophosphates—chemical substances found in pesticides—are significantly lower in the United States ($42 billion) than in Europe ($121 billion). U.S. regulators are stricter about organophosphates than their European counterparts.

Other diseases linked to endocrine disruptors looked at in the study included autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, and endometriosis.

“These findings speak to the large health and economic benefits to regulating endocrine-disrupting chemicals,” senior study author Dr. Leonardo Trasande told Reuters.

Researchers based U.S. data on endocrine-disrupting hormones found in blood and urine samples of patients in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and compared it to the results of an earlier European study.

“Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the USA: a population-based disease burden and cost analysis” is published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology.

Differences in U.S., EU Policy Underlie Exposure Disparity

Chemical policy in the United States operates differently in the European Union and helps explains why more people in this country are exposed to chemicals like endocrine disruptors.

“Adults and children in the U.S. carry more industrial chemicals in their bodies than their European counterparts simply due to differences in chemical policies,” public health researcher Joseph Allen of Harvard told Reuters.

European Union chemical policy endorses the precautionary principle, a burden of proof that does not require a substance to be proven absolutely safe. Rather, when the precautionary principle is invoked, a company may be required to prove the absence of danger. This allows potentially hazardous chemicals to be restricted even without a complete scientific evaluation. Only substantial, credible evidence of human or environmental health risks is needed to trigger regulatory action.

U.S. law, which does not formally endorse the precautionary principle, sets a much higher bar for proving a substance is safe. In the U.S., evidence of actual harm must generally be produced before regulatory action is taken.

“Our chemical policy largely follows the approach of our legal system – ‘innocent until proven guilty,’” said Joseph Allen. “This is appropriate for criminal justice policy but has disastrous consequences for health when used for chemical policy.”

Endocrine Disruptors Can Wreak Havoc on Bodies

There’s room for debate about whether European and American chemical regulations are significantly different in their overall outcomes. For example, the measured effects of polybrominated diphenyl ethers and organophosphates in the E.U. and U.S. from the Lancet study show how regulators on each continent vary in their precautionary approaches to the same chemicals.

Americans are effectively acting as guinea pigs for the chemical industry.

But there’s no debating the fact that endocrine disruptors pose significant health risks. Since the precise nature of those risks are still being studied, Americans are effectively acting as guinea pigs for the chemical industry.

What is known about endocrine disruptors is cause enough for concern. They’ve been linked to cancers, reproductive problems, early puberty, birth defects, kidney and thyroid disease, nervous system dysfunction, and other serious problems.

The prevalence of these chemicals in our bodies underscores their omnipresence. BPA—a chemical used in plastics that can cause cancer, obesity, and heart disease—has been found in 93% of Americans. Atrazine, used on U.S. corn crops and pervasive in drinking water, has been shown to feminize male frogs and is linked to several cancers.

Avoiding these chemicals therefore requires major lifestyle changes, such as eating organic, avoiding plastic food containers, and filtering drinking water.

The Environmental Working Group offers a free download that details twelve of the most prevalent endocrine disruptors and how to avoid them.

Comcast’s Hidden Fees Could Be Illegal

A new class action lawsuit filed in the Northern District of California on October 15, 2016 alleges that Comcast’s notorious hidden fees constitute false advertising. Among the other charges in the 76-page complaint:

  • Comcast falsely advertised its cable TV service at flat monthly rates when it intended to charge more than promised via a Broadcast TV Fee and/or a Regional Sports Fee.
  • Comcast did not adequately disclose and describe these fees to plaintiffs.
  • Comcast’s representation of these fees on customers’ bills was deceptive.
  • Comcast breached its own contracts by charging these fees.
  • Comcast failed to give adequate notice to plaintiffs before increasing fee amounts.
  • Comcast misled and lied to customers about the nature and purpose of its fees.
  • Comcast breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing with customers.

Though Comcast requires all customers to agree to an arbitration clause (as part of their service agreements) that ostensibly forbids them from taking the cable giant to court, the complaint argues that this clause is “unconscionable, illusory, and unenforceable,” and that plaintiffs were not informed of the clause and/or did not agree to it.

Cable_Satisfaction_Ratings

In response, Comcast will likely point not only to the arbitration clause but to the fact that its “hidden” fees are usually noted in the fine print of advertisements and bills.

(That fine print helps explain why the cable industry is one of the most hated in America, along with airlines—though these aren’t the only ones whose actual prices dwarf their advertised ones.)

Comcast may have the law on its side, but it certainly won’t have public opinion in its corner—or the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

FCC Fines Comcast $2.3 Million for Shady Billing Practices

Just days before the class action was filed, the FCC hammered Comcast with a $2.3 million fine for charging customers for equipment and services they hadn’t requested or authorized. In many cases, customers had even rejected the service offers when speaking to Comcast reps.

 

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau chief, Travis LeBlanc, said in a statement:

“It is basic that a cable bill should include charges only for services and equipment ordered by the customer—nothing more and nothing less. We expect all cable and phone companies to take responsibility for the accuracy of their bills and to ensure their customers have authorized any charges.”

The practice of “negative option billing”—charging customers for services or equipment they never asked for—is rampant in the cable industry, among others. Though Comcast acknowledged its bills could have been clearer and its customer service better, it denied any wrongdoing or even “problematic policy.”

In a statement, the company said the FCC simply found “isolated errors or customer confusion.”

WA Attorney General Sues Comcast for $100 Million

If the billing and customer service practices cited above are just isolated errors, they bear a striking resemblance to the ones outlined by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

In August 2016 Mr. Ferguson filed a $100 million lawsuit against Comcast, alleging the company violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act (CPA). Among that complaint’s charges:

  • Comcast duped 500,000 consumers into paying $73 million in subscription fees for a supposedly comprehensive “protection plan” that actually does not cover the vast majority of wiring work done at consumers’ homes.
  • Comcast hit subscribers with fees for service visits related to malfunctioning Comcast equipment and networking errors. (Despite the company’s guarantee: “We won’t charge you for a service that results from a Comcast equipment or network problem.”)
  • Comcast authorized service technicians to charge for work that should be performed for free.
  • Comcast performed thousands of unauthorized credit checks on customers, negatively impacting their credit scores.

Comcast’s policy states that customers with good credit scores can waive the deposit fees. At least 6,000 times, though, customers opted to pay the deposit fee—only to have Comcast check their credit anyway.

“This case is a classic example of a big corporation deceiving its customers for financial gain.”

In his press release announcing the lawsuit, Mr. Ferguson stated, “This case is a classic example of a big corporation deceiving its customers for financial gain. I won’t allow Comcast to continue to put profits above customers—and the law.”

If you have been the victim of false advertising and/or deceptive billing practices, contact us to learn your rights. You may be entitled to compensation for financial losses and other damages.

The New Tobacco? 10 Ways Big Soda Got Us Hooked

A decades-long campaign involving classic advertising, targeting youth, fighting taxes, influencing research, and obscuring facts? Sounds like a story we’ve already seen played out when we lifted the veil on Big Tobacco. This, however, is Big Soda—whose main players include The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo—and their tactics are all too familiar.

Today, we face an added sugar crisis. Sugar consumption has increased by 30% in the last 30 years. The average American adult consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day, and American children consume 32 teaspoons—way above the World Health Organization’s six teaspoon recommendation. According to the latest Federal Government Dietary Guidelines, soft drinks currently represent 25% of Americans’ sugar intake, and sugar-sweetened beverages in general (including sports drinks and juice) represent 39% of our sugar consumption. Just one 12-oz can of coke has 9.5 teaspoons of sugar.

Why is soda so bad for us?

As the largest source of added sugars in the American diet, soda is a major contributing factor to a host of medical conditions. High amounts of sugar can lead to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, teeth and bone damage.

The more soda a person drinks, the greater the chance that he or she is overweight. “People who drink this ‘liquid candy’ do not feel as full as if they had eaten the same calories from solid food and do not compensate by eating less,” said Harvard researchers.

“People who drink this ‘liquid candy’ do not feel as full as if they had eaten the same calories from solid food.”

“I know of no other category of food whose elimination can produce weight loss in such a short period of time,” said Dr. David Ludwig, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital.”

Science also shows that excess sugar consumption can affect cognitive function. UCLA scientists discovered that if your diet doesn’t have a sufficient amount of Omega-3 fatty acids to balance a diet high in sugar, your ability to learn and remember information will suffer. In their study, two groups of rats were fed a sugared solution for six weeks. The rats that didn’t receive Omega-3 fatty acids to offset the high glucose amounts significantly underperformed in a maze.

There are also claims that sugar has similar effects on our brain that drugs like cocaine do. In fact, Coca-Cola was initially made with cocaine, so it isn’t that much of a stretch. Sugar activates the rewards system in our cerebral cortex and releases dopamine, producing a good feeling. Too much sugar and it can create an addiction, similar to drugs and alcohol.

If we know soft drinks are so bad for us, why are they still so popular? Here are ten ways that Big Soda got us to overlook damaging statistics and continue consuming sugary beverages.

1. They told us that physical inactivity was to blame for obesity

The soda industry successfully shifted the obesity conversation away from diet and on to exercise. They argue that the high obesity rates today are attributed to Americans becoming more sedentary and not moving as much as they used to. The solution, according to them, is exercise—not making changes to our diets.

To ingrain the misconception that exercise is the cure-all for obesity and diabetes, Coca-Cola proclaims on their website: “There is increasing concern about overweight and obesity worldwide, and while there are many factors involved, the fundamental cause in most cases is an imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended.”

This theory formed the basis for Coca-Cola’s short-lived and controversial Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN). GEBN proclaimed that the cause of obesity was a discrepancy between “energy in” (the amount of calories consumed) and “energy out” (calories burned in physical activity). The nonprofit disbanded at the end of 2015, less than two years from its formation, after it was revealed that Coca-Cola paid University of Colorado researchers $1 million to promote these ideas.

While it’s true that exercise is important in leading a healthy lifestyle, it doesn’t have a major impact on our waistlines. A year-long study conducted in 2007 followed sedentary, overweight adults as they started a regular exercise regimen. Without making any changes in diet, men had lost an average of 3.5 pounds by the end of the year, and women only 2.5 pounds. Similarly, Loyola University released a report in 2015 that argued that unless you are exercising well above the recommended daily activity levels, the only way to lose weight is by cutting calories.

Even fitness experts, who would normally love pro-exercise arguments, have told us that resting the weight of obesity on physical activity is unrealistic. Crossfit Founder Greg Glassman actively opposes Coca-Cola’s pro-exercise programs, saying that if people believed that exercise is the solution to obesity, then what he was promoting at Crossfit was akin to “medical malpractice.”

2. They funded pro-soda and pro-sugar research

Big Soda supports their pro-exercise argument by funding research studies to ensure that they have “science-backed” claims. Just last year, the Mayo Clinic published a Coca-Cola-funded report that claimed “the American diet is no longer a significant risk factor for disease for most individuals.”

Most importantly, Big Soda rests on a decades-long pro-sugar campaign. It was only this year that we learned from the University of California San Francisco that the sugar industry manipulated research on the causes of heart disease. After research emerged in the 1950s that connected sugar to heart disease, the Sugar Research Foundation sponsored a 1965 Harvard University literature review that downplayed sugar’s risk factors. Instead, researchers shifted the blame to fats, shaping public misperception of heart health for decades.

Researchers shifted the blame to fats, shaping public misperception of heart health for decades.

In addition, the sugar industry influenced dental health research, particularly in the 1970s. Sugar-funded research and campaigns focused attention on fluoride toothpaste and other measures to prevent tooth decay, rather than urging people to lower sugar consumption.

The current president of the Sugar Association has said that sugar doesn’t cause obesity—that it’s a “slippery slope” to connect the two. Current PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi has made similar remarks: “We have to approach this as a complex problem that requires a multifaceted solution, as opposed to a simple solution such as tax the company or make bans happen.”

FDA labelMisperception of sugar comes all the way from the top. The federal government didn’t provide recommendations on sugar consumption until this year. (Now they suggest sugar should be less than 10% of your daily calories.)

To make Americans more aware of the sugar they consume, the FDA unveiled new nutrition labels that will take effect in July 2018. The new labels break out added sugars and list the percentage of your daily recommended sugar intake.

Not surprisingly, the Sugar Association released a statement protesting the new guidelines: “We are concerned that the ruling sets a dangerous precedent that is not grounded in science, and could actually deter us from our shared goal of a healthier America.” They go on to argue that adding another category to the labels and fixating on one dietary aspect “may undermine consumer efforts to have healthier diets.” The American Beverage Association (ABA) also believes the new label is unnecessary, but because soda companies are already addressing sugar concerns.

Though the new labels are a move in the right direction, many health advocates argue that the FDA should stop measuring sugar in grams and instead use teaspoons, of which Americans have a better understanding. Tina Rosenberg writes in an op-ed for The New York Times, “In general, the industry has been able to make nutritional labels as feeble and confusing as possible. It’s hard to tell what’s a little and what’s a lot.”

3. They influenced health groups, researchers, and dietitians 

In addition to funding pro-soda and sugar research, Big Soda also pays health professionals outright to make statements supporting them. This is especially common when legislators propose soda taxes. Kyle Pfister, a public health advocator, discovered that dieticians were tweeting against the soda taxes, using hashtags like “#partner” and “#advisor” to allude to their connections with the soda industry (like the one below).

But their influence goes much deeper than just paying for endorsements here and there. A study from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported that Coca-Cola and PepsiCo financially supported nearly 100 health organizations between 2011 and 2015, including, ironically, the American Diabetes Association and the American Society for Nutrition.

Though they are one of the leading causes of obesity, soda companies are completely woven into the fabric of our health and wellness organizations.

Rhona Applebaum, Coca-Cola’s chief scientist and health officer stepped down in November 2015, after leaked emails between Applebaum and University of Colorado professor James O. Hill showed just how biased the Global Energy Balance Network’s health recommendations were.

Soda companies are completely woven into the fabric of our health and wellness organizations.

Applebaum allegedly told Hill that the GEBN researchers had to cooperate with the soda industry—”that is non-negotiable.” It was also leaked that Hill wrote to another Coke executive, stating: “I want to help your company avoid the image of being a problem in peoples’ [sic] lives and back to being a company that brings important and fun things to them.”

In June 2016, Dr. Barbara Bowman, director of CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, resigned after leaked emails showed she was collaborating with Coca-Cola executives. Emails revealed her offering executive Alex Malaspina help connecting with the World Health Organization (WHO), which had previously given Coca-Cola the cold shoulder.

In some cases, soda companies have hired public health officials who previously fought against them. PepsiCo hired Dr. Derek Yach, a public health advocate who worked for WHO and led their fight against tobacco, as director of PepsiCo’s global health policy. Yach argued that he wanted to make change from within. However, critics (like Soda Politics author Marion Nestle) argued that this move only lended more credibility to PepsiCo.

4. They created fake grassroots movements to fight soda taxes

To fight obesity, 33 states have passed some form of a soda tax. However, the tax amounts are generally small enough not to affect consumption levels. When communities have come together to propose higher soda taxes and restrictions, the industry has reacted with a force equal to Big Tobacco lobbying.

In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg witnessed this firsthand when he proposed the Soda Cap, prohibiting the sale of sugary beverages 16 ounces or larger. This measure ignited the soda-backed grassroots movement. New Yorkers saw anti-soda cap propaganda from what appeared to be community-based organizations (e.g., “New Yorkers against Soda Cap”), but who were in fact created and supported by the soda industry.

To fight San Francisco’s Prop E soda tax in 2014, Big Soda created The Coalition for an Affordable City, which deceptively sounded like a community group fighting against the high cost of living. They hired non-residents to hold signs during “No-on-E” protests, and even published the names of many companies who opposed the tax that were actually in favor of it.

San Francisco’s Prop E didn’t pass, but when taxes and amendments are approved they are immediately challenged in court by the American Beverage Association. After the New York soda cap was approved by the NYC Board of Health, it was defeated in the New York Supreme Court in June 2014.

Though hailed as a success story, Philadelphia is now battling the ABA over their Sweetened Beverage Tax. Revenue from the tax, which is the highest in America at 1.5 cents per ounce, goes towards pre-K programs, parks, and rec centers. The ABA argues that it’s double taxation and therefore unconstitutional. It is still unclear if the tax will take effect in 2017 as planned.

“They hired every lobbyist in America—some from the moon.”

Big Soda spent $10 million to fight the tax in Philadelphia alone, and it has spent $67 million nationwide to fight similar legislation. In an interview with The New York Times, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney tried to make light of the fierce battle with Big Soda, noting that “they hired every lobbyist in America—some from the moon.”

5. They pushed stevia-sweetened sodasthe new “healthy cigarette”

15924685866_3abcd9aa03_bCoca-Cola and Pepsi’s diet sodas have long been the industry’s answer to sugar critics. Though lower in sugar and calories than regular cola, the ingredients in these beverages don’t fit the healthy banner they sit under.

Coca-Cola Life and Pepsi True, which were both introduced in the U.S. in 2014, are packaged in green cans and marketed for their low-calorie natural sweetener, Stevia. Both companies have been criticized for their claims about how “natural” Stevia is, which they support with advertisements that feature plants and the color green.

Stevia sweetener, which is derived from the Stevia plant, doesn’t just fall off the plant like the ads suggest. It is significantly processed.

A class action lawsuit against stevia argued that, “A reasonable consumer would not consider food products containing unnaturally processed, synthetic substances… created via chemical processing to be ‘all-natural.’”

Furthermore, critics argue that the green, natural images Coca-Cola and PepsiCo project with these products lead consumers to believe (wrongly) that they are healthy. But Pepsi True contains 3.2 teaspoons of sugar in its small 7.5-ounce can, while Coca-Cola Life has a whopping six teaspoons of sugar for every 12-ounce can.

Queensland University of Technology’s Professor Amanda Lee said, “It reminds me of the stage we were up at 30 years ago when manufacturers were making healthy cigarettes. I’m worried, it’s trying to make a product that’s intrinsically unhealthy, healthy.”

(Click below for Part 2.)

A Timeline of Monsanto’s Roundup Controversy

Monsanto is no stranger to controversy. This is the company that brought us Agent Orange, an herbicide deployed during the Vietnam War that wound up traumatizing both the Vietnamese and our own troops. (Monsanto would later reach a $180 million settlement with Vietnam vets over diseases like leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease, and respiratory cancer.)

Hold Monsanto Accountable

In 1974, four years after the U.S. stopped using Agent Orange, Monsanto introduced Roundup (glyphosate)—another powerful herbicide that quickly became a mainstay on most American farms.

But like Agent Orange, Roundup would be linked to cancer. This herbicide, too, could wind up costing the company millions due to lawsuits.

1996

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Monsanto patents and releases Roundup-Ready seeds, which are genetically modified to withstand the ubiquitous Roundup herbicide. (These seeds/crops are known as GMCs: genetically modified crops.) This allows farmers to kill weeds (in the short term, at least) without also dooming their own crops.

Over the next 20 years, Roundup-Ready crops will come to dominate their respective markets, eventually reaching a 90% share.

Thanks to the Roundup-Ready patent and relevant legal protections—and Monsanto’s aggressive acquisitions of its competitors—some argue that Monsanto has a monopoly on the biotech industry. (Without question, it is the largest biotech company in the world.)

2009

The Oscar-nominated documentary Food, Inc. is released on June 12. The film shows Monsanto in a harsh light, portraying the company as mobilizing an army of attorneys to bully farmers into using their Roundup-Ready soybeans—and suing those who won’t cooperate.

Importantly, the film emphasizes that the Roundup-Ready seeds are “terminating” seeds. That means farmers can’t replant them; instead, they must go back to Monsanto to buy more seeds whenever they run out.

Food, Inc. inflicts so much damage on Monsanto’s reputation that the company creates several pages on its website just to respond to the charges lobbed in the film.

2013

Entropy—a peer-reviewed scientific journal based in Switzerland—publishes a study that concludes

glyphosate enhances the damaging effects of other food borne chemical residues and environmental toxins. Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body.

According to the study, one of the consequences of this negative impact is cancer.

Hold Monsanto Accountable

2015

In March, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC (part of the World Health Organization, or WHO) assesses the potential cancer-causing (carcinogenic) effects of glyphosate (Roundup). It determines that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

That fall, plaintiffs file the first of at least 25 lawsuits against Monsanto over Roundup’s allegedly cancer-causing effects. Many plaintiffs, like Yolanda Mendoza, just sprayed Roundup on their yard every week.

Ms. Mendoza, a mother of three, contracted Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2013. (After intensive chemotherapy, her cancer is currently in remission.)

“What everyone has in common is that they all used Roundup and they all have non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”

Her attorney Robin L. Greenwald tells CBS News, “Some people are landscapers, some people are migrant farm workers, some people are farmers. What everyone has in common is that they all used Roundup and they all have non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”

For the year, Monsanto rakes in $4.75 billion in herbicide sales.

2016

In April, the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOME) publishes a study that concludes that herbicides like glyphosate are “associated with a high risk of cutaneous melanoma” (skin cancer), “in particular among those exposed to occupational sun exposure.”

In September, pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG announces it will buy Monsanto for $66 billion, raising serious concerns about rising prices for farmers. (This is the second massive merger of the year after the Dow-DuPont deal.)

Later that month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finds trace amounts of Roundup in various oatmeals, cereals, and baby foods.

The next month, federal judges consolidate 21 Monsanto Roundup lawsuits into a multi-district litigation (MDL) in the Northern District of California.

TODAY

If you or a loved one contracted cancer after using Roundup, please contact us today to explore your legal options. Our firm is one of the most successful consumer protection firms in the country, with more than 300 attorneys and a support staff of 1,500. We have a history of standing up to bullies and have never represented a large corporation—that’s why our motto is “For the People.”

We may be able to help you get relief for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other expenses. Don’t wait; these lawsuits are time-sensitive, and you may be owed compensation.

Jury Hammers R.J. Reynolds with $6.4M Verdict for Family of Emphysema Victim

Last week, a jury in Florida found R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company partially to blame for the death of John Price, a 74-year-old man who died in 2010 from emphysema.

ClassAction.com attorneys filed the lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Price’s family. They claimed that R.J. Reynolds, which produces brands like Camel and Lucky Strike, was guilty of hiding the dangers of smoking throughout most of the 20th century, making the company liable for Mr. Price’s nicotine addiction and eventual death.

Fight Big Tobacco

Tobacco Industry Denied Health Risks for 25 Years

Reynolds_Building_WS_2Research published as early as the 1950s showed that cigarettes were a leading cause of lung disease. Starting in 1965, tobacco companies were required to print Surgeon General’s warnings on cigarette packs.

But despite this knowledge, the tobacco industry publicly denied that smoking cigarettes was a health risk up until the 1990s.

Throughout the 20th century, smoking was marketed as a leisurely activity by tobacco companies who glossed over the extremely addictive nature of its primary ingredient, nicotine. They went so far as to group the habit-forming effects of smoking with chocolate consumption or online shopping, though clearly neither of these vices has the same deadly effects as tobacco.

“The web of deceit was massive and well-funded and extraordinarily planned,” said Morgan & Morgan attorney Keith Mitnik.

John Price Was “Ideal Customer” for R.J. Reynolds

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) causes blockages of the airways, resulting in diseases like asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Eight out of 10 COPD-related deaths are caused by smoking.

Those who start smoking when their lungs are still developing—like Mr. Price—are even more at risk of developing COPD-related diseases later on.

Mr. Price’s death is a tragic example of how addicting nicotine can be. He started smoking as a teen and continued for more than 30 years, smoking an average of three packs a day before eventually succumbing to emphysema.

“John Price was not some rogue smoker… He is precisely what it was all about for [R.J. Reynolds].”

“John Price was not some rogue smoker,” said Mitnik in his closing remarks. “He is precisely what it was all about for [R.J. Reynolds]. Someone that would smoke all day long, because that’s where the money comes from.”

“They say, ‘We’re changed’… It’s new faces but the same problem. They still have an iron grip on nicotine addiction.”

Lawsuits Pile Up After Engle Decision

Florida has a long history of big wins against Big Tobacco. In 1994, a class action lawsuit (Engle v. Liggett Group Inc.) found tobacco companies guilty of hiding the dangerous side effects of smoking for most of the 20th century, resulting in a $145 billion verdict. Though the verdict was decertified in 2006, individuals can still use the jury’s findings in court if they demonstrate a link between nicotine addiction and a smoking-related disease.

Mr. Price’s case was just one of three Engle progeny lawsuits filed against R.J. Reynolds within a week.

Mr. Price’s case was just one of three Engle progeny lawsuits filed against R.J. Reynolds within a week. The company paid $3 million to the widow of Julius Smith, who died from emphysema. R.J. Reynolds was also hit with a $9.1 million verdict alongside Philip Morris for the death of Dennis Oshinsky, who passed away from lung cancer.

File A Lawsuit

Mr. Mitnik, who also obtained a $90.8 million verdict against R.J. Reynolds in 2010, has lost faith in the company’s capacity to change.

“They acknowledge it’s addictive,” he said. “But that’s it and then it’s all sugar-coated, downplayed. Anything but acknowledging openly that’s the problem.”