ClassAction.com Pursuing NorCal Wildfire Lawsuits

ClassAction.com has teamed with several California law firms—Panish Shea & Boyle LLP; Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy LLP; Dreyer Babich Buccola Wood Campora, LLP; Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger; and Abbey, Weitzenberg, Warren & Emery—to pursue lawsuits on behalf of victims of the Northern California wildfires. The fires have claimed 42 lives and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses, including several wineries.

Reports suggest that California utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) may have failed to maintain power lines, potentially causing or abetting the deadly wave of fire tearing through the state. California’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is now probing what role if any PG&E played in the blaze.

“We will help the victims recover and rebuild.”

“PG&E’s negligence has sparked too many wildfires in California,” said attorney Brian Panish. “This fire has done millions of dollars in damage, costing people their livelihoods and in some cases their lives. We will help the victims recover and rebuild.”

With that goal in mind, Panish Shea & Boyle LLP, ClassAction.com, and their partners have also launched FireLawsuit.com, an online resource for people impacted by the fires. The site offers news, FAQs, videos, a checklist for victims, and free consultations for those who may want to pursue legal action against PG&E.

PG&E Has History of Sparking Wildfires

PUC is investigating PG&E for a few reasons. First, Sonoma County emergency radio transmissions suggest that on the night the wildfires began, there were exploding transformers and downed electrical wires.

Second, power lines are the leading and most likely cause of fires in California.

Finally, PG&E has a checkered safety record and has been responsible for past fires.

In April, state regulators fined PG&E $8.3 million for a 2015 fire that torched 550 homes and killed two people. And in September 2010, one of PG&E’s natural gas pipelines ruptured, igniting a fireball that destroyed part of San Bruno and killed eight. A federal investigation found that PG&E’s lack of maintenance was primarily to blame. (Panish Shea & Boyle LLP represented numerous plaintiffs after that catastrophe as well.)

Juries and investigators have also found PG&E responsible for sparking several other wildfires in the state, including a large 1994 fire in the Sierra. For its role in that fire, PG&E was convicted of 739 counts of negligence for failing to trim its trees. That blaze destroyed 12 homes and a schoolhouse.

Regulators have attributed other fires to other utility companies, and fined them accordingly:

  • A 2007 fire in Malibu resulted in a $37 million fine for Southern California Edison
  • A trio of 2007 fires in Witch, Rice, and Guejito led to a $14.4 million fine for San Diego Gas & Electric

Even after a slight rebound this week, PG&E shares are down 18 percent since last Wednesday. The PUC investigation and lawsuits could hang over the company for the foreseeable future, driving investors away.

Panish Shea & Boyle Not Afraid of Utility Companies

Panish Shea & Boyle LLP has a long, impressive track record of going up against negligent utility companies like PG&E.

The firm previously filed suit against Southern California Gas Company (SoCal Gas) and Sempra Energy after a 2015 gas leak in Aliso Canyon devastated the community of Porter Ranch, CA. That lawsuit is on behalf of people who have experienced health problems (blackouts, vision problems, headaches, etc.) and financial losses as a result of the leak.

Panish Shea & Boyle won a $19.8M verdict against SoCal Gas.

In 2014, Panish Shea & Boyle LLP won a $19.8 million verdict against SoCal Gas after a man’s home exploded, leaving him with brain injuries and severe burns. That was their second massive verdict against SoCal Gas, after a $15 million award in 2008 for a boy who was struck by a SoCal Gas truck.

Joining forces with the largest consumer protection firm in the country, Morgan & Morgan—as well as several other firms—forms a legal powerhouse in the corner of wildfire victims.

If you or a loved one live in Napa or Sonoma County and suffered injuries, property damage, or financial losses as a result of the fires, contact us as soon as possible for a free, no-obligation legal consultation.

10 Ways to Protect Your Child from Identity Theft

With each new data breach to hit the headlines, Americans become more concerned about protecting their personally identifiable information (PII) against potential thieves.

But there is an important set of data they may be overlooking: their children’s information.

While children don’t have bank accounts or credit card numbers that thieves can exploit, they do offer blank records that are appealing to anyone looking to assume a new identity. Plus, since credit reports are rarely run for children until they reach 18, identity theft can go undetected for years.

Ten percent of minors were victims of identity theft before they reached adulthood.

Identity thieves have unfortunately caught on to this unassuming trove of data. In a 2011 study conducted by the Carnegie Mellon CyLab, 10 percent of minors were victims of identity theft before they reached adulthood.

It isn’t just the number of victims that is alarming, but also the severity of these crimes.

If a child is a victim of identity theft, they can inherit years of fraudulent charges and a decimated credit score by the time they reach adulthood. When Dr. Axton Betz-Hamilton, a child identity theft researcher, discovered in college that her identity was stolen at the age of 11, she had ten pages worth of fraudulent charges to resolve. Her credit was so damaged that she was forced to claw her way up from an abysmal 380 credit score.

Unlike an adult who may be able to rest on their previously healthy credit to dispute fraudulent charges, a minor doesn’t have any credit to fall back on. For someone like Dr. Betz-Hamilton, it can take years to resolve a stolen identity.

The best way to fight childhood identity theft is to ensure it doesn’t happen in the first place. Here are ten ways that parents can secure their children’s identities.

1. Check to see if your child has a credit report. 

If they don’t have a report, that’s a good thing—it means there aren’t any lines of credit attached to their name. If they do have a report, you’ll have a detailed account of the fraudulent activity with which to work.

Experts recommend checking for a credit report on a yearly basis, but especially around your child’s 16th birthday. If their identity has been compromised, you will have enough time to resolve it before they apply for student loans or jobs.

2. Don’t overshare on social media.

Yes, it’s thrilling when your family welcomes the arrival of a new baby or your teenager receives their driver’s license, but not every one of your 500-plus Facebook “friends” need to know every detail. Never share your child’s full name or birthdate, and don’t post images that may contain personal information (like your child holding their license or a college acceptance letter).

It should go without saying that if you are sharing any information about your family, your accounts should be private.

3. Ask questions.

Who has access to your children’s personal identifiable information? Why do they need it? How do they store it? How do they dispose of it?

You should especially familiarize yourself with the data privacy policies of your child’s school, pediatrician, child care facility, and extracurricular programs. In addition to checking that your child’s Social Security number isn’t exposed, keep an eye out for the more innocent (and common) ways that your child’s PII may be shared, like birthday calendars or classroom contact lists.

4. Limit who has your child’s Social Security number.

You should never share your child’s SSN unless the other party has a legitimate reason for needing it. In some cases, you may be able to provide the last four digits of their social instead.

If you have a new baby, family members may ask for their SSN in order to purchase a savings bond in their name. While this is necessary to purchase a savings bond online, it isn’t necessary to obtain a paper version through a financial institution. Your friend or family member can provide their SSN instead.

5. Properly store your child’s personally identifiable information.

If you have physical documents with your child’s Social Security number, lock them up in a file cabinet or safe. If you ever need to dispose of documents with your child’s PII (even if it’s junk mail with their name and address), make sure you shred it.

Any sensitive documents on your computer should be encrypted. You can even encrypt the file they are stored in and hide it within a larger file so it is difficult for a thief to find.

6. Freeze your child’s credit.

This is helpful if your child’s information was exposed in a data breach. A freeze will prevent someone from opening new lines of credit or accounts under your child’s name.

You must contact each credit reporting agency and pay your state’s fee, which is typically no more than $10. You can lift the freeze when your child turns 18, or temporarily for a specific length of time or party.

7. Request an initial fraud alert.

With a fraud alert, companies must verify your identity before issuing new credit. An initial fraud alert is intended as a precautionary measure, like after a data breach that compromises your child’s information. It can stop fraudulent credit before it happens.

Unlike the extended seven-year fraud alert, you do not need an identity theft report to obtain the initial alert. You can get this free alert by contacting one of the three major credit reporting agencies (each is required to alert the other two). The alert lasts for 90 days but can be extended if necessary.

8. Enroll in an identity theft alert system.

Services like LifeLock can help you detect when your PII has been compromised before it results in a stolen identity.

LifeLock has a service specifically for minors called LifeLock Jr. For $5.99 a month, it will alert you if your child’s PII is listed on the black market, credit is opened in their name, or if their identity has been compromised.

9. Be careful with smart toys.

In July, the F.B.I. issued a warning for smart toys. These interactive toys gradually tailor the play experience to each child using data from previous interactions. In some cases, they store conversations with children or require personal information like a child’s birthdate or name to create their user profile.

When these toys are connected to the Internet, they may be vulnerable to getting hacked. Make sure your child only plays with these toys on secure and trusted Wi-Fi providers.

10. Talk to your children.

Long before your child joins social media they will use apps, online games, and other digital toys. Just like you would warn them about trusting strangers, you should teach them to be cautious when sharing any personal information online.

Were You Hacked?

If your identity was stolen after a data breach, you may be eligible for compensation. Our attorneys have filed lawsuits in response to some of the largest data breaches in history, including Yahoo and Equifax. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation legal consultation.

The Potential Pitfalls of a Bayer-Monsanto Merger

Alarm bells have been ringing since agribusiness giants Bayer and Monsanto announced their proposed merger in September 2016.

The deal is the latest in a series of multibillion-dollar agriculture mergers that, if approved, would give a few multinational corporations unprecedented control over the chemicals and seeds on which farmers rely. While Bayer and Monsanto say the merger will lower prices, allow for greater innovation, and boost crop yields, many in the industry expect the exact opposite to occur. There are also concerns about the effects of the megamerger on consumers and the environment.

Bayer and Monsanto have long histories of pursuing profits at the expense of people and the planet.

Separately, Bayer and Monsanto have demonstrated a willingness to single-mindedly pursue profits, sometimes at the expense of people and the planet. Together they have the potential to do even more harm, yet their consolidated power could allow them to escape consequences through regulatory capture.

At the heart of the Bayer-Monsanto merger controversy is a simple question: Who benefits from large corporations having enormous influence over our food supply?

ClassAction.com takes a look at the possible impacts of a Bayer-Monsanto merger and reminds you that we help people fight back against corporate power. In fact, we have filed a lawsuit against Monsanto and other companies for allegedly damaging farmers’ crops with herbicides.

Bayer and Monsanto: “A Marriage Made in Hell”

To better understand the future marriage between Bayer and Monsanto—which Friends of the Earth Europe has called “a marriage made in hell”—one must examine these companies’ pasts. Each of their histories contain dark episodes that should give pause to anyone concerned about the environment and public health.

For starters, it’s worth asking how Bayer—a German pharmaceutical company best known for products like Aspirin and Alka-Seltzer—and St. Louis-based Monsanto, a former chemical company, got into the agriculture business.

A Brief History of Bayer

Bayer was founded in the 1860s. Its first major products were the pain reliever Aspirin and (believe it or not) heroin, the latter of which was marketed as a cough suppressant and non-addictive morphine substitute. “Heroin” was a Bayer trademark for decades.

During World War I, Bayer was involved in the development of chemical weapons such as chlorine gas. After the war ended, German chemical giant IG Farber took over Bayer. Dozens of IG Farben board members and executives were sentenced to prison at the Nuremberg Trials for alleged war crimes of the Nazi regime, including mass murder and slave labor.

The Allies broke up IG Farben following World War II and Bayer was reestablished as an independent business. An IG Farben board member sentenced at Nuremberg was elected the head of Bayer’s supervisory board in 1956.

Bayer’s postwar period products have included the neuroleptic Chlorpromazine, Primodos—a controversial pregnancy test pulled from the market in the mid-1970s for alleged birth defects—and the clotting agent Factor VIII. Recent reports suggest that in the 1980s, Bayer knowingly sold HIV-contaminated Factor VIII to Asia and Latin America after the agent was pulled from U.S. and European markets. Bayer’s statin drug Baycol, introduced in the 1990s, was linked to more than 50 deaths.

As the website Corporate Watch details, Bayer has also drawn scrutiny for its monopoly on the anti-anthrax drug Cipro, suing South Africa to protect profits from its patented AIDS medication, funding health and environmental groups that affect public policy pertaining to many of Bayer’s products (including pesticides), the heavy use of antibiotics in livestock that has led to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and the production of toxic pesticides and insecticides. Neonicotinoids (neonics), a type of pesticide produced by Bayer, has been linked to the collapse of bee populations.

The proposed deal would give Bayer control over one-quarter of the world’s seed and pesticide supply.

Bayer is one of the companies that has profited from the so-called “Green Revolution” that replaced traditional agriculture with high-yield patented seeds and agrochemicals. During the 1990s the company sold millions of dollars of agrochemicals to developing countries with the help of loans secured through the World Bank.

Bayer became a market leader in GMOs and agribusiness when it acquired Aventis CropScience and merged it into their CropScience agrochemical division in 2002. That same year, Bayer acquired one of the top five seed companies in the world (at the time), the Netherlands-based Nunhems.

Bayer offered $66 billion last year to acquire Monsanto. If approved by regulators, the deal would make Bayer the world’s largest seed and agriculture chemicals company, with control over roughly one-quarter of the world’s seed and pesticide supply.

A Brief History of Monsanto

Founded in 1901, Monsanto’s first major product was the artificial sweetener saccharin, which has been linked to cancer in mice and rats.

During the 1920s Monsanto moved into chemical production, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a known human carcinogen that the United States banned in 1979. Monsanto claimed that it was not aware of PCB toxicity until the late 1960s, but internal company memos show that the company knew about the dangers early on and engaged in an extensive disinformation campaign.

The company that helped bring us nuclear weapons, PCBs, and dioxins shifted its focus in the 1970s to agricultural chemicals.

In the 1940s, Monsanto played a role in the Manhattan Project (which produced the first atomic weapon), became one of the first manufacturers of the insecticide DDT (banned in the 1970s for its toxicity), and began promoting the use of agricultural pesticides containing dioxins (one of the so-called “dirty dozen” environmental pollutants).

In the 1960s Monsanto used dioxin to manufacture the defoliant Agent Orange. Agent Orange was sprayed extensively by U.S. forces in the Vietnam War to clear jungle and is estimated to have contaminated millions of Americans and Vietnamese, resulting in countless deaths, disabilities, and birth defects. As with PCBs, Monsanto used questionable science to present dioxin as safe, but internal company documents later showed that Monsanto had long known about dioxin’s deadly effects.

The company that helped bring us nuclear weapons, PCBs, and dioxins shifted its focus in the 1970s to agricultural chemicals, with a focus on herbicides—in particular the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup).

Marketed to farmers and consumers as environmentally friendly, evidence is emerging that Roundup—the most-used agricultural chemical of all time—is a human carcinogen. There is also evidence that Monsanto colluded with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conceal Roundup’s risks.

The World Health Organization has named glyphosate a probable human carcinogen, and California recently added glyphosate to a list of potentially cancerous chemicals and may add warning labels to products containing the chemical.

Use of Roundup increased dramatically when Monsanto introduced genetically modified “Roundup Ready” crops. These crops contain a gene that allows them to survive glyphosate as it kills surrounding weeds.

Despite widespread public skepticism about GMO safety, the scientific consensus is that GMOs do not pose a threat. The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicines released a report in May 2017 declaring GMOs safe for both humans and the environment. But critics point out that the National Research Council—the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences—has financial ties to Monsanto, the world’s biggest seller of GM crops, and other GMO-friendly businesses.

Image Source: Occupy Sonoma County

Who Benefits from the Merger?

When top executives at Bayer and Monsanto are asked to defend the companies’ merger, they argue that consolidation is necessary to drive agricultural innovation, increase crop yields, and reduce farming input costs.

Shortly after Bayer’s bid to acquire Monsanto was announced, Bayer CEO Werner Baumann and Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant were interviewed by CNBC. Mr. Baumann said of the deal, “We can bring better solutions, faster to the growers so they can help contribute to feeding an ever growing world. That’s what this is all about.”

Mr. Grant echoed these sentiments, telling CNBC that the Monsanto-Bayer combination would “unlock future innovation growers desperately need at the moment.” He pointed to a ten-year low for corn prices and a five-year low for wheat prices.

“The mergers are as much about maintaining profit and staying financially healthy as they are about the development of new technologies.”

In a separate statement, Monsanto chief technology officer Robb Fraley said, “The whole agricultural industry is basically going through a transformation. It’s the last big industry in the world to be digitized.”

The merger, says Fraley, “allows us to make more investments, have more capabilities and build better products for farmers, that they can use to grow crops with higher yields… and farm better, farm smarter.”

While it is true that the agriculture industry is in the midst of a recession—American farm revenue dropped from $120 billion in 2013 to $62 billion this year, and the costs of seeds, pesticides, and fertilizers have risen by double digits over the last 4-5 years—it is also true that Monsanto and other agricultural giants are going through a sales slump. Monsanto said in 2015 that it would lay off 12 percent of its employees.

“From that perspective,” writes Quartz, “the mergers are as much about maintaining profit and staying financially healthy as they are about the development of new technologies.”

(Click below for page 2.)

Monsanto Sued for Allegedly Killing Farmers’ Crops

On September 11, ClassAction.com attorney Rene Rocha filed a lawsuit against Monsanto, BASF, and DuPont—the three largest dicamba manufacturers in the U.S. Mr. Rocha filed the complaint in the Southern District of Illinois on behalf of Brian Warren, owner and operator of Warren Farms in Broughton, Illinois.

Dicamba is an herbicide that is sold under the names Xtendimax (Monsanto), Engenia (BASF), and Fexapan (DuPont). It is highly volatile and, according to the lawsuit, can “travel considerable distances and cause injuries to plants several miles away.”

Read the Complaint

The complaint claims that Monsanto and the other defendants deceptively marketed their latest dicamba formulations as “low-volatility” herbicides that would not be as prone to off-target movement. As a result, the lawsuit says that significant damage was done to millions of acres of American crops, including hundreds of acres of Mr. Warren’s crops.

“This has been a major issue for American agriculture,” said Mr. Rocha. “Farmers across the country relied upon the defendants’ assurances that these new formulations of dicamba could be used safely and without harm to others. That simply isn’t true, and as a result thousands of farmers are staring down lean harvests and uncertain futures.”

“Thousands of farmers are staring down lean harvests and uncertain futures.”

The complaint alleges that in June and July of this year, Mr. Warren observed cupping, curling, strapping, discoloration, leaf elongation, wrinkling, stunting, and twisting on his soybean and pumpkin crops. As a result, he says he sustained a loss of crop yield and will also sustain future losses.

The complaint states, “Numerous farmers within the vicinity of plaintiff purchased and planted Xtend variety soybean and cotton, and applied Xtendimax, Engenia, and Fexapan to their Xtend variety crops.” It also says that these farmers used the herbicides in the manner intended and expected by Monsanto, BASF, and DuPont.

The lawsuit notes that there have been thousands of allegations of dicamba damage in dozens of states, and that “millions of acres of American crops have been damaged.”

It also alleges that the defendants should have known this damage would occur, and that their actions were therefore “willful and malicious.” It says the defendants are liable for defective design, failure to warn, negligence, fraud, deceptive business practices, and continuing nuisance, among other charges.

“The dangers of this herbicide have been understood for decades.”

Mr. Rocha emphasized, “The dangers of this herbicide have been understood for decades. Unfortunately, instead of producing safe and effective weed control options, it appears that the defendants are using the threat of harm to eliminate their competition and dictate what crops farmers can and cannot plant.”

The lawsuit seeks permanent injunctions stopping these companies from marketing or selling Xtend crops, Xtendimax, Engenia, and Fexapan. It also requests compensation for plaintiffs’ losses, punitive and exemplary damages, statutory damages, attorneys’ fees, and any other relief the Court deems just and proper.

If you or a loved one suffered crop damage or losses because of dicamba’s off-target movement, contact us today for a free, no-obligation legal consultation.

ClassAction.com Files Lawsuit over Equifax Data Breach

Attorney John Yanchunis of ClassAction.com filed a class action lawsuit yesterday against Equifax, one of the three largest credit reporting agencies in the U.S., for the data breach that potentially compromised 143 million consumer records. The complaint was filed in the Northern District of Georgia.

Read the Complaint

Yesterday Equifax announced that unauthorized users accessed the names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and (in some cases) driver’s license numbers of consumers from mid-May through July 2017. Equifax also admitted that credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 U.S. consumers were accessed.

Lead plaintiffs Jamie McGonnigal and Brian Spector allege that Equifax failed to properly secure and safeguard consumers’ personally identifiable information, which resulted in criminals obtaining their personal and financial information.

Equifax discovered the breach on July 29—more than one month before announcing it to the public.

The complaint alleges that not only could Equifax have prevented this data breach, but that once discovered, they failed to notify consumers in a timely manner. Equifax acknowledged it discovered a breach had occurred on July 29, 2017, but the company failed to announce it to the public until more than a month later.

As a result of the company’s negligence and failure to properly safeguard consumers’ records, Mr. McGonnigal and Mr. Spector allege that their personal and financial information was stolen and they incurred out-of-pocket costs for identity theft protection and unauthorized use of their financial accounts.

In addition, they allege that they will likely suffer future injuries because criminals have access to their personal and financial information.

Lead Attorney Says Equifax Breach is “Shocking”

Class action members are represented by one of the leading data breach attorneys in the country: John Yanchunis. He currently serves as lead counsel in the Yahoo data breach case, one of the largest class actions in history.

Previously, Mr. Yanchunis represented consumers in the Home Depot Inc. and Target Corp. data breach cases, which settled for $13 million and $10 million, respectively. He has litigated some of the largest data breaches in history, yet when asked about the Equifax breach, Mr. Yanchunis described it as “shocking.”

“Equifax contains one of the largest databases of consumer information and they should have been better prepared for any attempt to penetrate its systems,” he said.

Equifax Managers Sold Stock Prior to Breach Announcement

Coinciding with news of the data breach is the revelation that three managers sold their stock in Equifax just prior to the announcement. After learning of these events, Mr. Yanchunis said the data breach may justify punitive damages.

“Equifax has acknowledged that it discovered the breach on July 29th. What it hasn’t explained is why it waited so long to make an announcement that the breach had occurred,” he stated. “The profiteering before the company’s announcement is astounding.”

“The profiteering before the company’s announcement is astounding.”

Plaintiffs seek statutory damages under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) and state consumer protection statutes, reimbursement of out-of-pocket losses and other compensatory damages, credit monitoring services beyond Equifax’s current two-year offer, and an order requiring Equifax to improve their data security measures.

‘Poison Papers’ Reveal Chemical Industry Secrets

Tucked away in an Oregon barn for decades was a collection of internal documents, correspondence, and chemical safety studies detailing the lengths the chemical industry took to conceal the dangers of their products.  

The documents in this collection—dubbed the “Poison Papers”—allege fraudulent chemical safety testing, corporate concealment of chemical dangers, and collusion between the industry and the regulators who were supposed to be protecting the public and environment. Commonly used herbicides like Roundup (glyphosate), dicamba, atrazine, and 2,4-D feature prominently among the papers, as do nearly every large chemical corporation. 

Now, thanks to the combined efforts of the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and the Bioscience Resource Project (BRP), this collection is available online for the first time.

We spoke with Lisa Graves, CMD’s executive director, about what the collection reveals and how we’re still feeling the effects from improper chemical approvals from decades past.

(This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

***

What are the Poison Papers? What kinds of documents are in the collection and how did this project come about?

Lisa Graves

We launched PoisonPapers.org this summer as a project of the Bioscience Resource Project and the Center for Media and Democracy.

The Poison Papers are the digitization of about three tons of files from litigation against Monsanto, litigation involving some of the Dow Chemicals products, open records requests, and Freedom of Information Act requests to the federal government as well as state agencies. It represents documents that were discovered over the past 40 years but some of the documents, including scientific studies, are older than that because they are from litigation.

What they reveal is just the exceptional level of involvement of these big chemical companies in trying to limit public protections against their chemicals. They show in some instances collusions with government officials. There’s some very telling episodes from the Reagan administration with his EPA working hand in glove with companies to try to limit the limits so to speak on products.

“What they reveal is just the exceptional level of involvement of these big chemical companies in trying to limit public protections against their chemicals.”

And there’s an array of documents from studies that show harms by a number of chemicals, including PCBs, dioxins, and more. What we’re left with is a situation in which many of these chemicals remain on the market, are in products that are being used by consumers and by government agencies, and continue to pose a risk to human health and to the health of our ecosystem.

One of the reasons why we were so eager to get these materials more broadly out into the public realm is because there’s sort of this pre-Google, post-Google world we live in. If it’s not Google-able, many people can’t find the information.

In this instance, these materials were in the barn of one of the leading activists on these issues, Carol Van Strum, who really spearheaded a lot of the work to drag into light what was happening in terms of spraying of forests and fields with these poisons. The materials in the barn were spoiling so we were concerned that they may not survive if they weren’t digitized.

The collection includes information on the Industrial Bio-Test Laboratories scandal. What was that? How are we still feeling the effects of the scandal?

“The IBT scandal…involved more than 800 studies on more than 140 chemicals by 38 chemical manufacturers. Those studies were either non-existent, fraudulent, or invalid.”

One of the historical tales told by the documents is this testing scandal. It turns out that a substantial number of the tests that were used to justify allowing chemicals to be sold in the U.S. were based on false or fake test results. But one of the things that is apparent from the documents is that in many instances some of the chemicals were not subject to other testing in the face of the scandal.

When there are rigged tests that basically allow certain chemicals to enter the marketplace (and not just in the U.S. but globally), that has a longstanding impact on human health. If the chemicals weren’t properly tested in the first instance and then weren’t really subject to truly independent testing subsequently, how can you trust the determination that certain products were safe or are safe?

Even though the IBT scandal was in the late 1970’s, it involved more than 800 studies on more than 140 chemicals by 38 chemical manufacturers. Those studies were either non-existent, fraudulent, or invalid. What the documents show is how the EPA in the 1980’s colluded in our view with the pesticide manufacturers to keep invalidly registered products on the market and basically helped cover up the problems with many of those chemical tests.

In the U.S., manipulation of these agencies has basically allowed the corporations to select the testers, what’s tested, what’s not tested, and sort of make their case to the agencies that are regulating those chemicals. In many instances those agencies are too often staffed by former industry officials, whether they are political appointees or whether they are burrowed in employees. Too often those agencies are I think allowing chemicals to be used based on what amounts to attestations by the companies or the firms hired by the companies to say that the products are safe.

Since you launched the collection have you heard anything from corporations trying to downplay or discredit the documents?

One of the things that was interesting was that initially Scott Partridge, who is the vice president of Monsanto’s global strategy, admitted in a Guardian article that he didn’t dispute the authenticity of the documents. But then subsequently some other official at Monsanto questioned the authenticity of the documents which is pretty absurd.

The documents are plainly historical documents—you can see for yourself if you go to the library. You can see the markings on them from litigation and the clips from newspapers. Carol Van Strum was meticulous in collecting information about what Monsanto was up to and we certainly trust her files far more than whatever assertions Monsanto PR flacks are making.

I’m not surprised. That’s been their strategy for a while: To deny.

Yeah, deny, deny, deny. But we stand by the documents and we think that they’re important for the public to know.

This is an industry that has a well-documented history—and certainly Monsanto has a well-documented history—of scandals and serious problems with products, so we’ll see what happens next. But we think the public has a right to know the information in these materials and we are very grateful for the activists who spent decades collecting them through their own litigation and efforts to try to shine a light on these issues.

There are a number of companies whose documents, materials, or positions are referenced in these files. You can do a search by name of the company or by the name of the chemical and find all of the papers that reference that chemical, product, or corporation.

You can see documents about how dioxins were in human breast milk after certain chemicals like 2,4-D were applied to forestlands under the management of the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). There are a number of tests that show how some of these chemicals impact reproductive capacity of animals, including the shrinkage of gonads. If that’s true, what is the impact on human health if these chemicals bioaccumulate in human fat or accumulate in our food supply system?

These are serious issues raised by these materials about chemicals that have been applied and applied over many years in our agricultural communities and in people’s own backyards.

You’ve already raised a few disturbing points, but was there anything else that shocked you when you went through the collection for the first time?

We actually did a project a couple of years ago on atrazine, which is a chemical that is marketed in part by Syngenta. We created an atrazine exposed site to make sure the public could see documents from atrazine litigation. Some show a high level of contamination of water supplies where atrazine was applied, for instance in corn fields.

A scientist out at the University of California Berkeley was basically attacked by the industry for his scientific study—his independent, not corporate analysis—of the potential impacts of this herbicide on frogs, which is significant for impacts on human health. When you look at atrazine what you see is an impact not just on animals but also on plants and the ecosystem.

A number of these chemicals are still subject to litigation by lawyers who are trying to protect the health of their clients, whose clients suspect or are concerned that the evidence indicates that they have been harmed or their children have been harmed by these products. It is certainly the case that lawyers may have access to things that have been filed in the public records, but with the atrazine exposed project and this Poison Papers project, we’re making sure the documents that may be known to only a few attorneys, a few litigants, or a few concerned citizens are available as widely as possible to the press and public.

Have you found that the public is more interested in what’s happening because of these projects?

Yeah. Certainly after the articles that broke the story about the Poison Papers, including from The Intercept and The Guardian, we’ve had a number of inquiries from reporters about the materials and the stories they tell.

We cannot tell all the stories or even most of the stories that are in there. The public service that we are trying to provide is to make the documents available for anyone to explore and reveal those stories and connect the dots to the current battles, especially with Scott Pruitt at the helm of EPA and their efforts to basically roll back virtually anything they can get their hands on.

We’re at a point in U.S. history where there is an assault on regulation. But in many instances these regulations, which they are trying to use as a dirty word, are actually about protecting our health, our water, our air, and our food supply. Yet this administration has shown that it is more than happy to do the bidding of the industry and the corporations that want to minimize protections. Many of these companies are the very companies that are involved in these documents that have fought over time to sell their products without restrictions and have tried to change public policy so that it serves their private interests rather than the broader public interests.

It’s great that the public can access these documents and become empowered.

“This moment is a moment in which we’re witnessing so much extraordinary influence by corporations on our democracy, and not in a good way.”

My hope is that ultimately as people learn more about what’s happening, in terms of the efforts to basically give away the store to these chemical companies, that people will respond and that the movement to protect our health and our planet will grow even stronger. I hope that there will be opportunities in the future to not just restore protections, but also, since some of those protections were I think inadequate, to really make stronger protections for our health and our environment.

This moment is a moment in which we’re witnessing so much extraordinary influence by corporations on our democracy, and not in a good way. But I think there is a growing movement of people—there are certainly a number of lawyers out there who have been working hard over the years to try to protect people’s rights and our environment. My hope is that together we can all be more informed and push back this corporate distortion of our democracy that these documents in many ways reveal.

More than 1 in 5 Mesothelioma Cases Left Untreated

More than 20% of mesothelioma patients do not undergo surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or take cancer medications.

Mesothelioma is an extremely aggressive form of cancer caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. Prognosis if left untreated is grim: A patient with untreated mesothelioma will survive on average for six months, according to a study from the Texas Occupational Medicine Institute.

Pleural mesothelioma (of the lungs) can cause difficulty breathing, chest pains, and coughing, while peritoneal mesothelioma (of the abdomen) can cause abdominal pain or swelling, nausea, and vomiting. Because of the short prognosis and these uncomfortable and painful symptoms, most patients begin treatment immediately. But more than 20% of mesothelioma patients do not undergo surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or take cancer medications.

The news comes from a National Cancer Institute study published in August of this year. It found that 29.3% of pleural mesothelioma patients and 21.5% of non-pleural mesothelioma patients do not receive any form of cancer therapy.

Age contributed to the likelihood of a patient receiving treatment. Younger patients (aged 50 and younger) were more likely than older patients (aged 70 and older) to receive cancer treatment.

Side Effects May Deter Some from Treatment

Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer, and the treatment for it can often feel just as terrible. The side effects of chemotherapy and radiation for malignant mesothelioma can severely weaken a patient and leave them bedridden.

Chemotherapy can result in:

  • Hair loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased risk of infection, bruising, or bleeding
  • Fatigue

Radiation side effects can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Sunburn-like skin problems
  • Hair loss
  • Lung damage (specific to chest radiation)
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (specific to abdominal radiation)

Pleural mesothelioma surgery comes with its own complications risks which can include bleeding, blood clots, infections, pneumonia, and loss of lung function.

Some patients, especially those who are older, may prefer to spend their last moments with family in a relative state of comfort, rather than being weakened by cancer-fighting drugs and procedures. 

“Financial Toxicity” is Another Hurdle for Patients

One-quarter of cancer patients chose not to refill a prescription because of the costs, and 20% of patients took smaller doses than prescribed to save money.

In addition to the physical complications, mesothelioma patients are often hit with hefty medical bills for treatment, even if they are insured. This “financial toxicity” is just one more burden that a diagnosis brings, and it may prevent some patients from receiving treatment.

For many, the financial toll of cancer is unexpected. According to a Duke University report published in August 2017 in JAMA Oncology, more than one-third of cancer patients are surprised by their out-of-pocket medical expenses. Of those patients, the median monthly amount they spent after insurance was $703.

This is a huge hit to the average monthly income. Patients in the study reported spending on average 11% of their income on treatment. Some reported amounts as high as 30%.

A 2013 study in the Oncologist confirms that high drug costs can affect treatment: It found that one-quarter of cancer patients chose not to refill a prescription because of the costs, and 20% of patients took smaller doses than prescribed to save money.

Cancer costs have gotten so high that a few sympathetic oncologists are even experimenting with lower doses and shorter treatment lengths to lower costs for patients.

Lawsuits Help Recover Medical Costs, Compensate for Suffering

All forms of cancer are devastating, but mesothelioma is an especially cruel diagnosis because most cases were caused by a corporation that ignored the health risks of asbestos.

Asbestos is still legal in the U.S. despite being a known carcinogen. Inhaling the mineral’s small fibers can result in mesothelioma decades later, even if the person was exposed to a low concentration for a short length of time.

Asbestos was linked to cancer as early as the 1930’s, but despite this, companies continued to use it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 27 million workers were exposed to asbestos between the 1940’s and 1970’s. Some are only now being diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Most corporations knew exactly what kind of dangerous conditions they were placing their employees and consumers in when they continued to use asbestos in insulation, textiles, auto parts, and more. Because of this, many mesothelioma patients and their loved ones have successfully sought legal justice against asbestos manufacturers.

Garlock Sealing Technologies established a mesothelioma fund worth $480 million.

A Washington jury awarded a mesothelioma widow $82 million against Napa and Genuine Parts in April 2017. Gerri Coogan’s husband, Doy, passed away in 2015 after a lifetime of regularly using Napa and Genuine auto parts, including brakes and gaskets which have been known to contain asbestos. 

Some companies have already created compensation funds for mesothelioma patients. Last year, Garlock Sealing Technologies established a fund worth $480 million to permanently resolve lawsuits filed against them for asbestos-tainted gaskets.

Overall, it is predicted that asbestos litigation will soon reach more than $200 billion in total compensation for victims. These funds can help cover medical bills (which as we noted above, can take a huge toll on a family’s income) and compensate for pain and suffering.

If you or a loved one were diagnosed with mesothelioma, contact our attorneys today for a free, no-obligation legal review. While a verdict or settlement could never eliminate the suffering that a mesothelioma diagnosis brings, it can provide compensation to help a family towards recovery.

Dicamba Complaints in Arkansas Approach 1,000 Mark

Unlike dicamba itself, the dicamba crisis isn’t going anywhere.

Grievances about crop damage caused by the volatile herbicide continue to mount across the country. Hundreds of farmers in at least 21 states have filed complaints alleging that the weed-killer moved onto their properties, harming non-resistant crops and reducing their yields. This could mean tens of thousands of dollars in losses for many farms.

In Arkansas alone, there have been 950 complaints as of August 23. On July 11, Arkansas and Missouri voted to restrict dicamba use for 120 days (the rest of the growing season). Arkansas also increased the maximum fine for herbicide misuse from $1,000 to $25,000, which took effect August 1.

dicamba-complaints-ark
Source: Arkansas Agriculture Dept.

Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson went on a talking tour earlier this month to speak with farmers about dicamba, among other things. He also created a task force to address the problem, but thus far the task force has not issued any recommendations. It held its second meeting on August 24.

According to Monsanto, half the estimated soybean crops in Arkansas are comprised of dicamba-tolerant soybeans. That amounts to 1.5 million acres. This equal divide among farmers—with many looking out for their own livelihoods perhaps at the expense of their neighbors’—has sparked conflicts and cost at least one man his life.

Half the soybean crops in Arkansas are comprised of dicamba-tolerant soybeans.

Some, though, have no desire to turn their neighbors in, even if they were harmed by dicamba. They are crossing their fingers for insurance money to recover losses from their reduced yields. But they might have more success filing a lawsuit against herbicide producers like Monsanto, DuPont, and BASF.

ClassAction.com attorney Rene Rocha is now pursuing these cases. If you or a loved one suffered a reduced crop yield or other losses as a result of dicamba, contact us today for a free, no-obligation legal consultation. You pay nothing unless we recover for you.

Crisis Not Confined to Arkansas and Missouri

While Arkansas—especially Eastern counties like Mississippi, Crittenden, and Craighead—is considered ground zero for the dicamba crisis, this issue impacts a broad swath of the country, from North Dakota all the way down to Georgia.

Experts estimate that more than three million acres have already been affected by dicamba’s propensity to volatilize and move offsite. And given Monsanto’s statement that there are 18 million acres of dicamba-tolerant soybeans in the U.S., that number will only continue to grow.

Just three weeks prior to the affected area being 3.1 million acres, it was 2.5 million. That’s a nearly 25 percent increase in just a few weeks—making for some scary extrapolations going forward.

dicamba-acres
Estimates of dicamba-injured acreage by state; Source: University of Missouri

Similarly, the total number of national complaints skyrocketed from 1,411 to 2,242—an increase of more than 50 percent. The numbers above are from 13 days ago, which means they have already risen even higher. In Arkansas, for example, the number of complaints has gone up by 74.

At Dakotafest, “the premiere ag event of the Northern Plains,” the question South Dakota State University weed science coordinator Paul O. Johnson got most often was how hard soybeans affected by dicamba would be hit in terms of their yield. Unfortunately, Mr. Johnson had few answers for them, saying, “Trying to predict soybean yield response to observed short-term plant injury symptoms caused by dicamba injury is nearly impossible.”

4,550-Word Instructions Add Vagueness to Volatility

It’s bad enough that Monsanto’s new, supposedly improved formulation of dicamba, XtendiMax, appears to be much more volatile than the company suggested. What’s worse is that it comes with a 4,500-word instruction label that confounds many farmers.

XtendiMax can only be used when winds are blowing between three and 15 miles per hour. It can only be used, at max, 24 inches above the crops. If the temperature rises above 91 degrees Fahrenheit (as it often does in places like Arkansas during the summer), farmers must make adjustments. After spraying dicamba, farmers must wash their equipment three times.

“You have to be a meteorologist to get it exactly right.”

With so many detailed instructions, it is easy to imagine someone missing a crucial piece of information—or worse, not reading the instructions because they’re so long. “The restriction on these labels is unlike anything that’s ever been seen before,” Iowa State University agronomy professor Bob Hartzler told Reuters.

“You have to be a meteorologist to get it exactly right,” said Missouri farmer Hunter Rafferty. Monsanto says its instructions are simple enough and that dicamba misuse most likely occurred because farmers didn’t follow the directions. But the more complaints—and lawsuits—that are filed, the less water that explanation holds.

This Is Why Cyber Criminals Want Your Medical Records

This year is already on track to topple 2016’s record-breaking 1,093 data breaches. In the first six months of 2017, 791 data breaches have already been reported, according to a report from the Identity Theft Resource Center and CyberScout. This is a 29% increase compared to this time last year. 

By hacking an insurance company or hospital, criminals can access all of your sensitive information in one fell swoop.

Data breaches have become so common that credit card numbers are virtually worthless on the black market because there’s so many available. That’s disturbing in itself, but what’s even more scary is that this oversupply has caused cyber criminals to set their sights higher by targeting the health care industry.

So far in 2017, the health care industry has suffered the largest jump in data breaches of any other sector: In the first half of 2017, they already represent 30.7% of data breaches, compared to 22.6% last year.

The Anthem data breach is just one example of how severe these breaches can be. In 2015, the insurance provider announced that 80 million patient records were compromised, which included sensitive data like Social Security numbers and health care ID numbers. In June of this year, they offered to pay a $115 million settlement, which if approved by the judge, would make it the largest data breach settlement to date.

Health Care Records Offer One-Stop Shop for Criminals

Health care records are essentially microcosms of your life, containing everything from your medical history and contact information, to your financial information and Social Security number.

By hacking the private records of an insurance company or hospital, a criminal can gain access to all of your sensitive information in one fell swoop. And, with often little invested in cyber security, the health care industry may make it easy for criminals to do so.

“Doctors don’t become doctors so they can protect data.”

“As other sectors, such as financial services, put measures in place to protect their electronic data, it is typical for fraudsters to move to what they consider the next low-hanging fruit. With the amount of personal health information now available in electronic format, it is a natural progression for cyber criminals to migrate to health care,” Ann Patterson, Senior Vice President of the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance, explained to us.

“Doctors don’t become doctors so they can protect data. In fact, by law, insurers are required to not exceed certain amounts of ‘administrative’ spending (including anti-fraud measures) to ensure that the majority of money is applied toward paying claims for actual health care.”

But, as health care data breaches climb, so does medical identity theft. Consumer Reports estimates that in 2014, there were 2.3 million cases of medical identity fraud. Health care providers may not be in the business of cyber security, but it’s time they make it a priority. 

Victims Spend Thousands to Resolve Medical Fraud

On average, companies pay $380 for every health care record breached. That’s more than the $225 average for breached records in other industries. These estimates cover direct expenses (like legal costs and identity protection services) and loss of business.

Consumers pay an even higher price for data breaches though if their identities are compromised. In 2015, the average medical identity theft victim spent $13,500 to resolve fraudulent activity, while other victims of identity fraud only spent $55 on average.

What makes medical identity theft even more problematic is that victims cannot simply shut down their medical records and open new ones like they can with credit cards. Their information could theoretically be used for life to open bank accounts, obtain medical care, reroute prescriptions, and more.

And, medical fraud is often harder to detect than stolen credit card information.

“Unlike financial identity fraud, medical ID fraud is hard to quickly identify and remediate,” explained Ann Patterson. “There is no mechanism for a hospital to alert you when someone with your identity has obtained services at their facility. There is no central repository of health care accounts in your name where you can obtain a report to review.”

Medical Identity Theft Can Create Medical Inaccuracies

A doctor may base treatment on a medical condition the victim doesn’t have, a surgery they never received, or a prescription they don’t take.

Undetected medical fraud can be far more serious than a damaged credit score. If a criminal assumes someone else’s identity to obtain medical care, it can negatively affect the health of the victim.

Victims can receive the wrong form of medical treatment or diagnosis if their medical information is mixed up with a criminal’s. A doctor may base treatment on a medical condition the victim doesn’t have, a surgery they never received, or a prescription they don’t take. And, even if incorrect data is detected, it can be nearly impossible to remove from health records.

“Your health history is what it is; if you’re sick or have been sick, that is a historical fact that doesn’t change,” said Patterson.

In other cases, patients may not receive their prescribed treatment at all. Criminals can change the mailing address for prescription drugs, leaving victims without their medication.

This is particularly a problem for opioids—prescription pain medication like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone which are responsible for one of the worst drug epidemics in history. Some criminals may use someone’s medical identity to obtain new opioid prescriptions or reroute existing ones for their own benefit.

Opioid prescriptions are closely monitored because patients can easily develop a dependency on the medication. If a thief visits multiple health care providers to fraudulently obtain opioid prescriptions under a victim’s name, it could even lead to a warrant for their arrest.

This is what happened to Deborah Ford. Her medical identity was stolen after a thief stole her wallet which held her health insurance identification cards. The criminal used her identity to obtain multiple opioid prescriptions until it was flagged by law enforcement. Ms. Ford had to fight an arrest warrant and multiple charges on her previously clean record.

Were You Hacked?

If you suspect that you are a victim of medical identity theft, the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance provides multiple resources on what you should do next. To find out if your information was compromised in a data breach (regardless of industry), you can look up your email address on Have I Been Pwned.

ClassAction.com attorneys have fought on behalf of consumers in some of the largest data breach lawsuits to date, including lawsuits filed against Home Depot, Target, and Yahoo. If your information was stolen in a data breach, you may be eligible for a lawsuit. Contact us for a free, no-obligation legal review.

What You Need to Know About Dicamba Damage

Dicamba has been making headlines lately, but unless you’re a farmer living in Arkansas or Missouri, you may not know what it is. That’s why ClassAction.com has put together this primer on dicamba damage—one of the most important issues impacting American farmers in 2017.

What is dicamba?

Dicamba is a highly volatile herbicide with a propensity to move onto off-site locations. Dicamba’s brand names include Banvel, Diablo, Oracle, Vanquish, XtendiMax (a newer formulation made by Monsanto) and Engenia (a newer formulation made by BASF). According to the National Pesticide Information Center, more than 1,100 herbicide products contain dicamba.

Due to its volatility, until recently dicamba had not been approved for use on crops. But that didn’t stop farmers from using it on Monsanto GMO crops that are resistant to both the weed-killer Roundup and dicamba. This has led to thousands of cases of dicamba volatilizing and moving onto neighboring farms, damaging non-resistant crops.

What is dicamba drift?

Dicamba drift occurs when a dicamba herbicide sprayed on one farmer’s crops goes airborne and floats or drifts onto another farmer’s land. This can be devastating because presumably the first farmer’s crops are dicamba-resistant, while the second farmer’s crops may not be. If this is the case, a huge swath of crops can be damaged.

Arkansas farmers have already filed more than 500 dicamba drift complaints in 2017.

More than 200,000 acres in Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee were damaged by dicamba last year. Farmers have already filed nearly 1,000 dicamba complaints in Arkansas this year.

Why did Arkansas vote to restrict dicamba use?

As dicamba misuse complaints continue to pile up, the Arkansas Agriculture Department’s State Plant board voted on June 23 to adopt an emergency rule severely restricting the use of dicamba for 120 days. It is now considering banning it next year as well.

On Friday, June 30, Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson approved the 120-day ban of dicamba. Governor Hutchinson also created a dicamba task force and approved raising the potential fines for herbicide misuse up to $25,000, from their previous max of just $1,000. He said that the hundreds of dicamba complaints demanded emergency action.

“According to the calls I’ve gotten from growers, there’s a lot of suspected dicamba drift in the state.”

Other states may take similar measures. Missouri voted to ban the herbicide, then replaced that all-out ban with restrictions. Tennessee banned older formulations of dicamba and imposed restrictions that give farmers just a seven-hour window (from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) each day in which to apply dicamba. Kansas, too, is investigating complaints of dicamba damage, and may take action to restrict its use.

What is Monsanto’s role in the dicamba controversy?

Monsanto’s Roundup has been the pesticide of choice for on-crop applications for several decades; approximately 90 percent of all U.S. soy, cotton, and corn are glyphosate-resistant genetically modified (GMO) crops.

“It’s the irresponsibility of the agrochemical industry that led to this crisis, and yet farmers are the ones paying the price.”

The widespread use of Roundup over many growing seasons has resulted in natural selection of weeds that are resistant to glyphosate’s toxicity. These so-called “super weeds” have spread across the United States: 61 million farm acres—more than two-thirds of all the farm acres in America—now harbor glyphosate-resistant super weeds. In 2010, that number was just 32.6 million acres.

To address this issue, Monsanto invented new GMO crops that are resistant to both Roundup and dicamba. These crops were introduced to the market during the 2016 growing season, before any dicamba formulation received approval for on-crop applications. This led to widespread illegal spraying of older dicamba formulations, which led to dicamba volatilizing and moving, causing catastrophic crop damages.

Carey Gillam, an investigative journalist who has been covering agrochemicals for 20 years, tells ClassAction.com, “This costly and destructive situation was foreseen years ago when Monsanto and other chemical companies said the answer to the overuse of pesticides was the proliferation of more pesticides. It’s the irresponsibility of the agrochemical industry that led to this crisis, and yet farmers are the ones paying the price.”

Monsanto produces one of the newer dicamba formulations, XtendiMax.

Why are farmers filing dicamba lawsuits?

While local authorities have leveled some fines against farmers who misuse dicamba, these fines are often between $200 and $1,000—numbers that pale in comparison to the damage done by dicamba. According to Modern Farmer, farmers impacted by dicamba will lose an estimated 10 to 30 percent of their annual crop yield.

“The manufacturers of dicamba failed to ensure their products could be used safely, and farmers will pay the price at harvest.”

Because these fines are so minimal, and because Monsanto and BASF are unlikely to face criminal charges, many farmers in Arkansas and neighboring states have filed lawsuits against Monsanto, BASF, and DuPont seeking restitution for the damage done to their crops.

ClassAction.com attorney Rene Rocha, who is pursuing dicamba lawsuits against the above companies, says:

Farmers know how devastating one bad year can be. This year, farmers have to contend not only with Mother Nature and unpredictable prices, but with faulty herbicides migrating from other farms and destroying their crops. The manufacturers of dicamba failed to ensure their products could be used safely, and farmers throughout the country will pay the price at harvest.

Mr. Rocha says his clients are seeking damages for destroyed crops and reduced yields.

If you or a loved one have suffered damages as a result of dicamba drift, please contact us today for a free legal consultation.

Friends of the Earth’s Myriam Douo Talks Monsanto Politics

“When you turn a public health issue with scientific evidence into something that becomes more of a political issue, then the consequences are going to be tremendous.”

It’s a critical time for Monsanto as the company faces legal and political battles over the safety of its star herbicide, Roundup.

In the U.S., lawsuits in California allege that glyphosate (the primary chemical in Roundup) causes cancer. Documents recently came to light that allege Monsanto even influenced the EPA to declare the chemical was safe.

While the EPA’s claims that glyphosate is safe look weaker by the day, in Europe the E.U. is poised to vote on the reauthorization of glyphosate. Regardless of which side of the Atlantic it’s on, Monsanto’s tactics remain largely the same as it seeks to influence political decision-makers that the most applied herbicide in the world is safe.

We spoke with Myriam Douo, a lobby transparency campaigner and corporate capture expert with Friends of the Earth Europe, to better understand how Monsanto has turned a public health issue into a political game. As Ms. Douo points out, Monsanto’s influence on the world’s food supply could become even greater if its proposed merger with Bayer is approved.

(This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

***

Monsanto claims that glyphosate is safe because groups like the U.S. EPA approved it. How would you respond to that?

Myriam Douo

The scientific evidence is here. The World Health Organization (WHO) did say that glyphosate is a probable cause of cancer in humans, which in our opinion is enough to ban it. The strategy that Monsanto has been using is to discredit those scientific studies by saying that it’s garbage research.

Research in general costs a lot of money. So it’s really hard to find trustworthy, reliable, independent research on glyphosate. Monsanto has been funding a lot of the research.

Agency risk assessments, for instance, are based on documents that Monsanto provided. Companies typically provide the evidence, and agencies conduct an impact assessment using those documents.

But we don’t know what’s in those documents. They’re not available to the public or they’re very, very partially available despite Freedom of Information Act requests. The E.U. Green Party just announced they are going to court over the lack of transparency around the European Food and Safety Authority’s glyphosate review.

Monsanto is a big group with a lot of resources compared to these agencies that rely on the information and resources that Monsanto provides. In reality, the agencies likely did not go through all of the research as they are supposed to.

Friends of the Earth Europe has been especially vocal about the proposed Bayer and Monsanto merger. Why should consumers be concerned?

It’s two agribusiness giants who are going to merge who already have a monopoly in their fields. Bayer specializes in pesticides and Monsanto in genetically modified seeds. Each of them has a major market share and if they merge this is going to become a massive monopoly on foodsomething that is so basic that we all need.

If all three mergers go through, we’ll have three companies controlling 70% of the world’s agrochemicals and 60% of the seeds.

There’s not only the Bayer and Monsanto merger; there are three mergers happening at the moment of the six big agribusinesses. It’s really important to look at the big picture because it might look like it’s one merger here and one merger there but at the end of the day, if all three mergers go through, we’ll have three companies controlling 70% of the world’s agrochemicals and 60% of the seeds.

It’s especially a problem when you consider Monsanto’s patented seeds. The patents prevent farmers from reusing the seeds from one year to the other, and Monsanto aggressively pressures U.S. farmers for alleged patent infringements. It basically traps farmers to continue buying seeds from Monsanto.

What we advocate for is a system where we have food sovereignty: a system of freedom for everyone to decide what they want to eat without GMOs, without pesticides, without something that’s harmful for people and the planet and our health. These mergers are basically the opposite of that.

How could the mergers potentially give these major agribusinesses greater political influence?

Michael Taylor was responsible for regulation of genetically modified crops, or lack thereof, while having very close relationships with Monsanto.

In terms of political and corporate implications, you have these already massive giants that are going to have even more power.

If you take just a glimpse into the revolving door issue, there’s a very telling case involving Michael Taylor in the U.S. He first started at the USDA, then was a lawyer for Monsanto, then went back to the USDA and the FDA, then back to Monsanto, and then he was appointed by President Obama as a senior adviser to the FDA. He left a few months ago and I’m trying to figure out where he is now but I can tell you it’s not good!

Taylor was responsible for regulation of genetically modified crops, or lack thereof, while having very close relationships with Monsanto. That in terms of corporate capturethe influence of companies on our decision-making processes and our democraciesis really worrying and it needs to ring a very strong bell.

More than 200 organizations around the world petitioned the European Commission to reject these mergers. Unfortunately the first two have been green lighted: Dow Chemicals and DuPont, and Syngenta and ChemChina.

The Bayer-Monsanto merger hasn’t been approved yet. We’re trying to stop the process and prevent that merger from happening. We’re campaigning throughout Europe and around the globe with other groups and NGOs.  

What is on our side is that Monsanto has a bad reputation. Luckily they didn’t really manage well in terms of PR. Everybody knows them. Everybody knows what they do. Not a lot of people like them, and rightly so. So hopefully that will work for us to stop this process.

Monsanto and Bayer pledged to divest $2.5 billion of their assets, but regardless, it sounds like they don’t have the public’s best interests at heart. 

When companies manage to promote their personal interests over the general interests of the entire population of the planet that is typically a case where corporate capture needs to be fought.

We can’t possibly give these companies more power than they already have. If we want to fix our food system at some point, we need to go in the opposite direction.

Monsanto and Bayer spend millions on lobbying every year, but you’ve noted that we don’t know how large this sum actually is. Why is this a problem?

Lobby spending is really important because that’s the way we measure an actor’s firepower or influence.

In the E.U., as in the U.S., there’s a register where all lobbyists need to declare what they spend every year both on their direct lobbying and on indirect lobbying. If you pay a PR firm to create a communication campaign, or a law firm to get counsel on the redaction of some bill amendments, or if you are a member of any trade associations who are going to lobby on your behalf, that should count as your lobby power.

In the U.S., the lobby register is legally binding so if you don’t declare your information properly you can receive a penalty.

We know we can’t trust the data but we have no way of knowing exactly how much they spend.

In Europe, we have a voluntary lobby register. The only disadvantage if you don’t register is that you are not allowed to meet the top-level members of the European Commissionthe presidents, the commissioners, the director generals, and their cabinets. That’s only about 1 percent of the whole commission. And we all know that the people drafting the legislation are the ones you want to talk to, not the political decision-makers who are only going to rubber stamp the legislation.

The fact that the lobby register is not legally binding also means that all the information that’s declared in it is not reliable. You can compare the U.S. data at OpenSecrets.org and Europe’s on LobbyFacts.eu.  

In 2015, Bayer, for instance, declared $7.7 million of lobby spending to the U.S., versus $1 million to the E.U. for an equivalent market. We know we can’t trust the data but we have no way of knowing exactly how much they spend.

How does this lack of transparency ultimately affect consumers?

Credit: Friends of the Earth Europe

Everything is so obscure and it’s quite tricky for people to understand or untangle the whole web of interconnections that these companies have.

Ultimately, it’s an issue of public health. And when you turn a public health issue with scientific evidence into something that becomes more of a political issue, then the consequences are going to be tremendous.

Monsanto, for example, created the glyphosate task force in August 2016 and it is solely dedicated to renewing the glyphosate registration in the E.U. It’s a lobby group, clearly, but they are presented as a kind of trade association with members and everything.

Monsanto has also tried to instrumentalize farmers and the agricultural sector. They like to ask, “If we ban glyphosate, how are our famers going to survive and grow their crops?” That’s the strategy of them presenting themselves as “feeding the world” which is not exactly true. Small, non-industrial farmers actually produce more food on less land.

You can understand why they are defending glyphosate because it’s their moneymaker. Monsanto created genetically engineered seeds that are resistant to glyphosate, and farmers use glyphosate to kill weeds. If it’s banned, there’s a whole range of their products that are going to be, not irrelevant, but they will have to start over basically.

But there’s public mobilization around it. A European Citizens Initiative was launched asking the European Commission to ban glyphosate. It has gathered 1.5 million signatures so far.

The awareness is there. People know what it is, which is quite impressive given the technicalities of the topic and the fact that it’s kind of an obscure chemical.

March Against Monsanto Protests Roundup Worldwide

More than 200 cities worldwide participated in a March Against Monsanto on May 20, 2017. Thousands of protesters raised their voices and signs against the manufacturer of the most applied herbicide ever, Roundup.

Protestors marched to raise awareness of Roundup’s possible effects on public health. Monsanto currently faces hundreds of lawsuits which allege the weed killer is a carcinogen.

A Facebook Page Starts a Worldwide Movement

Tami Canal, a concerned mother of three, founded March Against Monsanto after California’s Proposition 37 failed to become law in 2012. If passed, the bill would have required a label on all GMOs.

As the world’s largest producer of genetically modified seedsseeds which are specially designed to resist Roundup Weed and Grass KillerMonsanto had a right to be concerned about the ballot measure. They were the largest contributor to the Prop 37 campaign, spending more than $8 million to kill it.

From that loss grew a worldwide movement that started from a simple call to action on Facebook to protest Monsanto’s impact on the world’s food supply. Canal’s social media campaign quickly grew into an annual march across cities as diverse as New York City, Brussels, and Accra, Ghana.

“It is important to march and get out in the streets to educate our communities on Monsanto’s many crimes against humanity.”

“It is important to march and get out in the streets to educate our communities on Monsanto’s many crimes against humanity,” Canal told us.

The 2017 March Against Monsanto drew support from consumer advocacy groups around the world, including the Organic Consumers Association and Moms Across America.

Zen Honeycutt, Moms Across America founder, told us that the march offered a way for the organization to stand up to Monsanto.

“Getting out and gathering in mass is the first step in letting our politicians and corporations know that we will not put up with their corruption,” she said.

Roundup was Enemy No. 1 at the 2017 March

“How much of the cancer epidemic are Monsanto and the EPA directly responsible for?”

While protesters had plenty to march against, including Monsanto’s impact on the environment and small farmers, the special focus of this year’s march was the herbicide Roundup.

Roundup, which is made predominantly from the chemical glyphosate, is linked to non-hodgkin’s lymphoma and has been declared a “probable carcinogen” by WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

The questionable safety of the herbicide combined with allegations that Monsanto purposely covered up its safety data made it enemy number one this year, Canal told us.

It is not only used on the majority of the conventional food supply, but Monsanto’s weedkiller has also been discovered in the air and rain, breast milk of nursing mothers, prenatal vitamins, and childhood vaccines.

In a class action lawsuit currently happening in San Francisco, it has been revealed that Monsanto and the EPA have conspired for almost four decades to hide the truth of Roundup’s extreme carcinogenicity from the public. Cancer affects one in two men and one in three women. How much of the cancer epidemic are Monsanto and the EPA directly responsible for?

The lawsuit Canal refers to unearthed internal documents that showed a cozy relationship between the former manager of the EPA’s pesticide division, Jess Rowland, and Monsanto. In one document, Rowland refers to another department’s glyphosate review, claiming, “If I can kill this, I should get a medal.”

But despite these damning accusations, Monsanto referred to last week’s protests as a simple difference of opinion.

“We know people have different points of view on these topics, and it’s important that they’re able to express and share them,” Monsanto said.

It’s Not Just Monsanto; It Was a March Against Big Ag

Basel, Switzerland was host to one of the largest March Against Monsanto events. The march and street fair united thousands of protesters against Monsanto and Basel-based Syngenta.

“We consider Syngenta the twin of Monsanto.”

Syngenta is the largest producer of pesticides worldwide, and the third largest manufacturer of genetically modified seeds. They manufacture atrazine, an herbicide with a reputation that could rival Roundup’s.

Atrazine, which is banned in the E.U. but still heavily sprayed in the U.S. midwest, has been linked to birth defects. California just labeled atrazine as a carcinogen under their Prop 65 law. Despite a lawsuit from Syngenta, atrazine will have to carry a warning label starting July 2017.

Because of the similarities between the companies, it is no surprise that Basel didn’t just march against Monsantothey marched against Syngenta, too.

“We consider Syngenta the twin of Monsanto,” Basel’s organizers told us.

They were inspired to organize after the Basel government invited Syngenta to represent the city at Milan’s controversial “Feeding the Planet” world exposition. Critics accused the exposition of failing to address corporate power and gross inequalities associated with the world’s food supply.

“This was the starting point for the movement,” they said in an email statement. “Our march led through the city to the headquarters of Syngenta.”

Hold Monsanto Accountable

ClassAction.com’s attorneys are taking the Monsanto fight to the courtroom. If you or a loved one were diagnosed with cancer after using Roundup, you may be eligible for a lawsuit. Contact us today for a free legal review.

Think Twice Before Using These 5 Hair Care Products

After many high-profile allegations of personal injuries and false advertising, there is a growing movement in the U.S. to regulate the beauty industry. The Personal Care Products Safety Act, a bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate earlier this month, would greatly enhance the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) ability to monitor the beauty industry and regulate ingredients used in personal care products. It would also imbue the FDA with the authority to issue recalls of these products.

Here are five hair care products that could be subject to regulations or even recalls for not being what they claim to be.

1. Babyganics

What is it? Babyganics is a Westbury, New York-based company that claims to sell baby-safe, organic household and childcare products (shampoos, lotions, wipes, detergents, etc.). It has grown rapidly over the past 15 years, generating $30 million in revenue in 2013 and securing a sale by SC Johnson in 2016.

Why should you think twice? Many parents allege that Babyganics products are not as organic or kid-friendly as they appear.  As a result, multiples lawsuits have been filed against Babyganics in recent years.

A class action suit filed by ClassAction.com alleges that Babyganics misled consumers through labeling that claimed certain bath products were “tear-free,” gentle, non-allergenic, and safe for infants—when in fact they contain substances that are eye irritants.

Another class action lawsuit filed in September 2016 alleges that products labeled as “organic” or “mineral-free” actually contain ingredients that are neither.

One mother also claimed that Babyganics baby wipes caused her five-week-old baby to break out with a bumpy rash on his face.

Most serious of all, Theresa Jones alleges that Babyganics’ tear-free shampoo burned her son Hunter’s eyes, potentially causing serious and permanent damage.

2. WEN® by Chaz Dean

What is it? Founded by celebrity hair stylist Chaz Dean, WEN® is a line of sulfate-free hair care products. The WEN Cleansing Conditioner promises to clean, nourish, moisturize, detangle, and strengthen hair, all in one product and without the use of harsh sulfates. WEN’s website says it has sold over 40 million products since 2008.

Why should you think twice? In 2015, more than 200 women joined a class action lawsuit claiming that use of the WEN Cleansing Conditioner led to extreme hair loss, hair breakage, scalp irritation, and rash.

The lawsuit also alleged that WEN misled customers with deceptive marketing, and that the company blocked or removed negative comments and reviews from its website and social media pages.

WEN settled that lawsuit for more than $26 million. The FDA is currently investigating the cleansing conditioner and warns consumers to stop using the product if they experience any adverse reactions.

3. Keratin Hair Products

What are they? Keratin is the protein from which hair is made. Many shampoos and conditioners claim to include keratin and promote the protein’s restorative qualities. The products’ labels say they can repair damage caused by over-processing.

Why should you think twice? Most hair products that advertise the benefits of keratin don’t actually contain it or even specifically target the protein. To make matters worse, there is no evidence that keratin additives benefit hair health or growth.

As a result, ClassAction.com has filed a false advertising lawsuit against Matrix and L’Oreal, claiming their products do not contain keratin and therefore are unable to provide the benefits they advertise. If you have purchased keratin hair products made by these companies, contact us today to find out if you are owed money.

4. Hair-Smoothing Products with Formaldehyde

What are they? Hair-smoothing products are meant to control frizz and curls for an extended period of time; they often contain formaldehyde. The application process is usually done in a professional salon and requires heat from a flat-iron or blow dryer.

Why should you think twice? When formaldehyde and related ingredients such as methylene glycol are heated, formaldehyde gas is released into the air, which can be hazardous to your health. The FDA and The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have issued warnings about Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution and Brasil Cacau Cadiveu, citing safety and labeling violations.

Exposure to formaldehyde can cause health problems such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, chest pain, respiratory-tract problems, eye irritation, rash, and more. The labeling violation letters allege that the product labels do not warn people of these potential harmful effects.

The FDA recommends avoiding products that contain formaldehyde, formalin, or methylene glycol, and to report any adverse reactions.

5. “Natural” Products that Contain Synthetic Ingredients

What are they? Due to increasing consumer demand, many brands are starting to create more “natural” products and trying to stay away from using synthetic and artificial ingredients.

Why should you think twice? In recent years, certain brands have come under fire for labeling products as “natural” when in fact they contain synthetic and chemical ingredients. In 2016, Unilever settled a class action suit levied against its TRESemmé Naturals product line for $3.25 million and discontinued the line.

Another class action suit was filed in February 2017 against Procter & Gamble’s Herbal Essences Wild Naturals line for misleading labels and false advertising.

If you purchased a Babyganics, keratin, or other hair product and think you fell victim to false advertising, contact us for a free legal consultation. You could be eligible for a class action lawsuit.

FCC Commissioner May Empower Telemarketers

If the FCC commissioner gets his wish, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) could soon be a shell of itself.

These changes would weaken the TCPA, which many feel has grown too powerful in recent years.

In a speech delivered at the ACA International’s Washington Insights Conference on May 4, Federal Communications Commission head Michael O’Rielly laid out major changes he would like to see made to the TCPA. Not surprisingly, these changes would weaken the act, which many companies and judges feel has grown too powerful in recent years.

Mr. O’Rielly said that under his leadership, “We have the chance to undo the misguided and harmful TCPA decisions of the past that exposed legitimate companies to massive legal liability without actually protecting consumers.”

More specifically, here are the three areas in which he said he would like to see improvement:

  • Mr. O’Rielly feels that companies should be allowed to contact customers for informational and telemarketing purposes. He argued that “[we] need to make broader changes to the rules to ensure that all consumers are able to get relevant and timely information.”
  • He would like to narrow the definition of an autodialer, which currently includes smartphones. Mr. O’Rielly says that legitimate businesses should be entitled to contact consumers “in an efficient manner.”
  • Finally, Mr. O’Rielly advocated for the FCC to focus on the spirit as opposed to the letter of the TCPA. He would like the FCC to pursue cases only against companies with bad intentions or abusive practices, not well-meaning ones who may have committed minor or technical TCPA violations.

Mr. O’Rielly concluded by expressing his concern that TCPA reform would be “met with hysterical claims about the harms that will come to consumers” and emphasizing that the FCC must allay those fears by vowing to continue to protect consumer rights.

It’s unclear when and how Mr. O’Rielly’s vision for the TCPA will take shape, but given his comments and the Trump administration’s commitment to deregulation, serious change is likely on the way for the TCPA.

Trump Looks to Roll Back Regulations

Although Donald Trump has not commented specifically on the TCPA, he has repeatedly pledged to loosen federal restrictions so businesses can operate more freely.

Mr. Trump issued the Presidential Executive Order on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs.

Just two weeks into his presidency, Mr. Trump issued the Presidential Executive Order on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs, which required all federal agencies to cut two regulations for each regulation they enacted.

A few weeks later, Mr. Trump issued the Presidential Executive Order on Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda, which seeks to find and eliminate extraneous regulations.

During his first address to Congress, Mr. Trump said he would “slash the restraints” on the “slow and burdensome approval process” at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that “keeps too many advances… from reaching those in need.”

His budget includes major cuts to myriad domestic programs – such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); the Departments of Labor, Health, and Human Services; and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) – severely limiting these agencies’ abilities to regulate businesses.

Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court appointment, Neil Gorsuch, is widely regarded as more prone to side with corporations than consumers. Meanwhile, the House recently passed a bill, The Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017, that would make filing class action lawsuits considerably harder.

All of the above stances and proposals suggest an administration and a Congress that want to excise laws and regulations that might hinder businesses from operating and growing to their full potential. The TCPA – which has generated massive, multimillion-dollar awards for consumers – is a natural target.

Professional Plaintiffs Tarnish TCPA’s Reputation

It doesn’t help the TCPA’s cause that Mr. Trump’s own presidential campaign was sued for violating the TCPA last spring. Nor does it help that some plaintiffs have blatantly exploited the TCPA for personal gain.

As reported by Forbes, a woman named Melody Stoops owned 35 cell phones for the sole purpose of accumulating unwanted calls and messages she could use to file TCPA lawsuits against telemarketers.

Ms. Stoops has filed at least 11 TCPA lawsuits, testifying in court, “It’s my business. It’s what I do.” (Another plaintiff, Nicole Blow, recently filed a $1.8 billion TCPA lawsuit.)

“It’s my business. It’s what I do.”

That bald-faced exploitation of the law doomed Ms. Stoops’ last case, filed against Wells Fargo in Pennsylvania. After learning of the plaintiff’s “vocation,” Judge Kim R. Gibson tossed the case on the grounds that Ms. Stoops had not actually suffered an injury since she sought out the calls.

“Because Plaintiff has admitted that her only purpose in using her cell phones is to file TCPA lawsuits, the calls are not ‘a nuisance and an invasion of privacy,’” Judge Gibson wrote.

Cases like Ms. Stoops’ could endanger not just her profession but the law that serves as its foundation – which is intended not to enrich consumers, but to protect them.

An Interview with Vince Megna, the Lemon Law King of Wisconsin

Any case from Vince Megna, settle it as soon as possible.

 — Memo from General Motors to its attorneys

***

Vince Megna, the Lemon Law King of Wisconsin, is perhaps the most prolific and successful lemon lawyer in America. Over the past 27 years, he and his team have filed thousands of cases in Wisconsin against carmakers and dealers. They very rarely lose.

“This is an absolute passion for me and my partners. We are all obsessed with this,” he says. “I love this law. I love this work.”

It was love at first sight for Mr. Megna, who tried his first lemon law case against Chrysler in 1990—just one year after selling a guitar store he ran with Daryl Stuermer, a former member of Genesis. (Mr. Megna is a musician in his spare time.) He had a blast, won the case, and things snowballed from there.

He was on “48 Hours” in 1995. He published a book, Bring on Goliath, in 2004. The Washington Post profiled him in 2006. In 2013, after an eight-year battle with Mercedes-Benz, he won the largest lemon law payout in history: $880,000. (He also got a sizable settlement from Tesla in 2014.)

Mr. Megna has long been one of the country’s foremost experts on what is considered a niche practice area among attorneys. He says he has published 36 appellate court opinions and five Wisconsin Supreme Court opinions.

We spoke on the phone last week about the erosion of American consumer rights, why automakers fight, and what everyone should do when buying a car.

(This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

***

Wisconsin is kind of a microcosm for what lawmakers are trying to do to consumer rights across the country. What changes has the state made to its laws over the past few years?

The biggest change went into effect in March 2014, when they gutted the lemon laws. So there’s hardly anybody left here in the state who does these cases, which is exactly what Scott Walker and the Republicans wanted.

They cut the statute of limitations in half, from six years to three years. It always was a six-year statute. A lot of people call me after three years, after their warranty is up, because a lot of warranties are three years. But they cut that in half, so they don’t have a case under the lemon law. That’s a big one.

They cut the statute of limitations in half, from six years to three years.

Another thing they did: We had a double damage provision, so if the manufacturer didn’t settle with us within 30 days we got double damages. They took that away, which doesn’t stop us from doing these, but you don’t have the same leverage anymore.

And then they capped the fees in all consumer cases, not just lemon law. All consumer law cases. They capped the fees at three times the amount that the plaintiff gets. That’s very, very dramatic, because we take smaller cases. For example, $5,000 car cases on misrepresentation. We take them and we’ve never lost one of those. But now it’s harder to do with this cap.

If the fees are that low, attorneys feel like it’s not even worth their time to take the case and so the case never happens, right?

Absolutely. Absolutely. You know what will happen—the manufacturers and the dealers will just make you jump through every hoop. Let’s say you’ve got a $5,000 misrepresentation case, and we’re suing under a state law. Alright, when they get our fees up to $15,000, they’re already thinking that they’re at the cap. They will keep going. They have no incentive to settle; they just want to get our fees beyond $15,000, which isn’t that hard to do. And then they’re saying, “Well everything you’re doing, you’re never going to get paid for.” That hasn’t stopped us, but it has stopped a lot of lawyers.

Attorneys have to get paid. If they don’t, there won’t be any attorneys to take these cases.

Attorneys have to get paid. If they don’t, there won’t be any attorneys to take these cases, and the consumer will have nothing. The purpose of the law is to help people. The reason we have fee shifting is so people can afford to go to court, because the attorney will get paid by the manufacturer. If there’s no attorney to take these cases, we’re completely closing the door to all these people.

Do you see a parallel to what Congress is trying to do now with the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act, the FACT Act, and some of the other proposed bills?

Oh, yeah, sure, it’s similar. Because this drives attorneys out of this business. That’s why we get all the calls now. We always did get a lot of calls, but now we get all of them because nobody’s taking these cases anymore. Attorneys hear all these horror stories about the laws and they’re not even willing to get into it. It’s all designed to stop you. That’s the agenda—to stop consumers from filing cases.

How do you think Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court will impact consumer rights?

It’s definitely not going to help. It’s going to hurt us, because he really leans to the right. That’s what we don’t need. It’s a shame. I believe he’s so corporate-minded that we now have a five-four court. I hear they’re trying to water down Dodd-Frank. They want to get rid of everything that’s consumer-helpful or consumer-friendly.

That’s how it’s going around the country. There are 33 Republican governors, and they’re abolishing these consumer laws step by step, inch by inch. I mean, why? Why? These are just consumers who got screwed by someone. Stripping them of their rights is the wrong thing to do.

They say they’re trying to correct a problem—“frivolous class actions”—that doesn’t seem to exist on a large scale.

Everything the legislators do favors the corporations.

Yeah, there’s not a problem here. They just want to cut down your chances of filing a case. I mean, this is our whole legislature in this state, and this state is not that different than other states like Indiana and Texas. Everything the legislators do favors the corporations, favors the manufacturers, favors the car dealers. Because our state is open for business and it’s better for business if these little guys can’t sue these big dealers in the state. They make it so hard.

Arbitration is running rampant. Most of the car dealers are including it and getting people to sign an arbitration clause, and people don’t read anything and they don’t understand, and they find themselves bound by arbitration. It’s a nightmare.

I don’t think people realize what Congress is doing or what any of these laws mean until one affects them personally.

That’s exactly right.

Why do automakers fight lemon law cases so hard? To them the damages are chump change, and they seem to be in the wrong the vast majority of the time.

It really depends on the automaker. Mercedes—they just love to fight. They either hate me, or they love to fight. It’s the mentality of a few manufacturers, like Toyota fights everything. You file a case against Toyota, you’re going to court. They’re tough; they’re really tough cases. They just fight and fight. I think the reason they do it is they want to set an example: “We’ll spend hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting you.” They’re trying to discourage people from filing these cases.

I really like General Motors, though. They settle the fastest. I have filed over 400 cases against General Motors: We have never lost one case against General Motors. We have never lost a motion, we have never lost an appeal, we have never lost a trial. They’ve won nothing in 27 years.

General Motors settles the fastest.

The last trial we did against General Motors was ten years ago. And the attorney who was in charge of it actually wanted to settle, because it was a really good case for us. One attorney at GM wanted to settle it, but the other one thought they could win. So we go to trial. It was a three-day trial, and it takes only one hour for the jury to come back. One hour, they come back and we get a verdict. This was in November ten years ago. After that trial, the GM attorney reads me this memo from General Motors: “Any case from Vince Megna, settle it as soon as possible.” Honest to God. And they have settled ever since.

But they’re doing the right thing, because the fees aren’t that much when we settle—the fees might be six or eight thousand dollars. These other manufacturers are paying us tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands. So General Motors is doing the right thing. People want out of these cars.

What advice would you give to someone buying a car?

First of all, people should start reading what they’re signing. Hardly anybody does. I don’t believe anyone that I know has ever read a motor vehicle purchase contract. But they’ve got to. You’ve got to read and at least look for things that give up your rights, and stop buying all these add-ons when you buy a car. Don’t buy rust-proofing. Some manufacturers, if you buy rust-proofing at the dealer, it voids your warranty if you run into rust problems later.

People should start reading what they’re signing.

When you buy an after-market extended service contract, they can charge anything. They get as much out of you as they can. With the manufacturer’s extended warranty, that at least has a price on it that everybody pays. These after-markets, it’s like the Old West. They can charge whatever they can get out of us.

There’s so much, but reading is important. When buying a car, you should always look for an arbitration clause, and just refuse to sign it. You don’t have to sign that thing. They’ll still sell it to you.

You really need help going to the dealer. It’s rough out there.

What advice would you give to consumers in general?

People have to become aware of what their rights are and what they should be. I also think people have to get beyond, “It’s just about me.” You know, “If I don’t have any car problems, I couldn’t care less.” We have to look to everybody, because everybody’s important. Odds are you’re not going to have a problem, but why should the next guy have to suffer? There are a lot of bad cars out there. Everybody should be aware of this.

We need more people involved in consumer advocacy.

We need laws. We need laws that help us, that help consumers. And the consumer can’t just look at themselves and worry about themselves. We need more people involved in consumer advocacy. I think that’s important.

GameStop Looks to Level Up Its Site’s Cybersecurity

It could be game over for GameStop shoppers.

The video game store GameStop has confirmed that it is investigating a potential data breach that may have occurred on its website between September 2016 and February 2017. The compromised data may include credit card numbers, verification codes, and expiration dates, as well as names and addresses.

In an email to Fortune, a GameStop spokesperson issued the following statement: “GameStop recently received notification from a third party that it believed payment card data from cards used on the GameStop.com website was being offered for sale on a website. That day a leading security firm was engaged to investigate these claims.”

GameStop also expressed regret for any concern the incident may have spurred, and reminded customers to monitor their credit cards for suspicious charges.

This alleged incident is just the latest attack to take place in the increasingly rocky cybersecurity landscape. If you or a loved one suffered financial losses that you believe were caused by a data breach, please contact us today for a free, no-obligation legal consultation.

1.4 Billion Records Breached in 2016

The potential GameStop breach is one of many high-profile incidents involving companies like Arby’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, and of course Yahoo. These breaches finally prompted the state of New Mexico to enact cybersecurity legislation, leaving just two states—Alabama and South Dakota—without these types of laws on the books.

Even two states holding out is surprising given the ever-growing prevalence and threat of data breaches. Cybersecurity company Gemalto recently found that worldwide there were 1,792 breaches in 2016—an 86% increase from 2015. Roughly sixty percent of those breaches (1,100) occurred in the U.S.

The 1,792 global breaches compromised 1.4 billion records. Here are a few of Geralto’s other disturbing findings:

  • Identity theft was the most common type of breach, comprising nearly 60% of incidents.
  • Malicious outsiders—which only accounted for 13% of breaches in 2015—accounted for 68% of breaches in 2016.
  • Fewer than half (48%) of breached organizations reported the full extent of the breaches when they first announced them.

These figures paint a frightening picture: more and more, data breaches are carried out by someone with malicious intent, i.e., identity theft. And all too often, companies not only fail to protect their customers, but they don’t even disclose all (or any) of the details upon learning of the breach.

Gemalto Regional Director Graeme Pyper said, “Hackers are casting a wider net and are using easily attainable account and identity information as a starting point for high-value targets. Clearly, fraudsters are also shifting from attacks targeted at financial organizations to infiltrating large databases such as entertainment and social media sites.” 

Anthem Scares Off Data Breach Plaintiffs

Anthem, Inc. suffered a 2015 data breach that impacted as many as 78.8 million people. The compromised data allegedly included social security numbers, addresses, birthdates, income data, and medical IDs. Experts presume that the data has been sold or will be sold on the black market (which is common after a massive breach).

Anthem’s strategy in battling these lawsuits has been coldly effective.

Naturally, this breach resulted in several class action lawsuits filed by affected consumers. Anthem’s two-pronged strategy in battling these lawsuits has been brilliant and coldly effective.

First, Anthem has released as few details about the breach as possible, which could help the company preserve its innocence in court. Unlike Yahoo, for example, which acknowledged that it took more than a year for the company to announce its massive breaches—a blatant violation of California state law (among others).

Second, Anthem has demanded that plaintiffs turn over their personal computers, ostensibly to prove that any alleged breach did not occur prior to the Anthem incident. As a result of this request, many plaintiffs have dropped their lawsuits. (Many people feel squeamish about turning over their browser histories and other computer habits to a stranger, let alone an attorney.) So even if Anthem loses or settles these cases, the payout will be smaller than it would have been prior to this request.

Until these cases go to trial, we won’t know how many plaintiffs (if any) actually suffered breaches that were unrelated to the Anthem incident—or if Anthem can effectively make the case that these breaches were consumers’ faults, not the company’s.

But if this continues to be an effective strategy, one can expect more and more companies—including, potentially, GameStop—to adopt it in the future.

Children’s Product Recalls, Injuries Spiked in 2016

Not only did companies issue more product recalls in 2016, they were slower to respond to incidents and injuries involving children.

A new report from children’s product safety group Kids in Danger confirms what many have suspected: There were more children’s product recalls, injuries, and incidents in 2016 than in years prior.

The number of recalls for children’s products increased by 12% from 2015, with 76 recalls in total.

Even more alarming was the number of products affected. The number of individual items recalled was the highest since 2004. A total of 66,813,956 items were recalled last yeara 1,000% increase from 2015.

IKEA and McDonald’s Recalled 29 Million Products Each

IKEA and McDonald’s led the list of worst offenders. Each company issued recalls of 29 million products.

McDonald’s recalled their Happy Meal Step-It activity wristbands in August after 70 reports of skin irritation and burns were made to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Some children suffered second-degree burns on their wrists after wearing the device for less than 10 minutes.

IKEA issued their recall after a string of furniture tip-overs involving their chests and drawers. If not securely mounted to walls, the unstable furniture could fall onto children, especially if they attempted to climb or pull on it.

Before recalling their chests and drawers (the majority of which were from the MALM line), IKEA offered free wall anchors to customers. But the initiative wasn’t well-publicized, and after 49 injuries and seven deaths, the company finally recalled the furniture in June 2016.  

The recall arrived too late for many grieving families. In December 2016, IKEA offered a $50 million settlement to three families who lost their toddlers in furniture tip-over incidents.

Companies Slow to Issue Recalls

“They should use the same effort to retrieve these products as they do to sell them in the first place.”

IKEA wasn’t the only company to take their time responding to reports of children’s injuries. In 2016, it took an average of 64 reports to be made before a company issued a recall, compared with an average of 12 reports in 2015 and five reports in 2014.

“Kids in Danger hopes that manufacturers and retailers will increase efforts to identify and remove dangerous products from store shelves and homes,” the group told us. “They should use the same effort to retrieve these products as they do to sell them in the first place.”

Manufacturers’ reluctance to issue recalls resulted in an increase in product incidents and injuries from previous years:

  • The number of incidents reported prior to a company issuing a recall increased by 492%: 4,842 incidents were reported in 2016, compared to 892 in 2015.
  • Sippee Spill-Proof Cups, made by Tommee Tippee, claimed the most incidents prior to a recall: 3,066 ingestion incidents were reported because of mold that could grow inside the cups.
  • Instep and Schwinn Swivel Wheel Jogging Strollers allegedly caused the most injuries prior to a recall: 215 injuries were reported; the wheels could come loose and fall off.

Resources for Parents

For a complete list of the 76 children’s products recalled in 2016, parents can refer to the last few pages of the Kids in Danger report.

Other notable dangerous products listed in the report include:

  • Hillsdale Furniture’s Children’s Bunk Beds: 650 falling incidents reported
  • Britax’s B-ready Strollers: 117 choking incidents reported
  • Rainbow Play Systems’ Plastic Trapeze Rings: More than 100 falling incidents reported

“We hope parents learn that they should check products for recalls AND report any problems they have with products to SaferProducts.gov,” Kids in Danger told us.

To stay up-to-date on the latest child product recalls and safety alerts, parents can follow CPSC.

The following organizations also provide information on child safety hazards:

  • Safe Kids Worldwide: Shares safety tips and information on preventable children injuries, the number one cause of children’s deaths in the U.S.
  • Shane’s Foundation: A nonprofit dedicated to furniture tip-over prevention and resources.
  • Keeping Babies Safe: Publishes safety hazards and recalls affecting infant nurseries and sleep products.

Was Your Child Involved in a Furniture Tip-Over Incident?

IKEA isn’t the only manufacturer that has sold unsafe furniture. Twenty-five thousand children are injured in furniture tip-over accidents each year. 

If someone in your family was injured from falling furniture, you may be eligible for lawsuit against the manufacturer. Our team of product liability attorneys can help determine if you have a case during a free, no-obligation legal review.

 

Saks, Arby’s Data Breaches Spur State Legislation

Data breaches aren’t going away anytime soon, and the latest rash of privacy violations has spurred not just consumer concern but state legislation.

This year has already featured major breaches at Saks Fifth Avenue, Arby’s, and JobLink.

U.S. data breaches hit an all-time high in 2016, with nearly 1,100 breaches—a 40 percent increase compared to 2015. They may peak again in 2017, with several high-profile breaches already endangering Americans’ private information.

This year has already featured major breaches at Saks Fifth Avenue, Arby’s, and JobLink. Those breaches may have compromised hundreds of thousands of consumers’ data.

These attacks also prompted the state of New Mexico—previously one of the few states with no data breach notification laws on the books—to finally enact a Data Breach Notification Act.

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Saks Breach Allegedly Threatens Tens of Thousands

As first reported by BuzzFeed News last week, Saks Fifth Avenue allegedly posted customers’ email addresses, phone numbers, IP addresses, and product codes (of the times they were interested in purchasing) on unencrypted pages on their website. If true, this vulnerability would have endangered the data of tens of thousands of customers.

“This is as bad as security gets. Everyone is vulnerable.”

A spokesperson for Canada-based Hudson’s Bay Company—which owns and runs the Saks website—told BuzzFeed News, “The security of our customers is of utmost priority, and we are moving quickly and aggressively to resolve the situation, which is limited to a low single-digit percentage of email addresses.”

The spokesperson added, “We have resolved any issue related to customer phone numbers, which was an even smaller percent.”

But cybersecurity expert Robert Graham told the site, “This is as bad as security gets. Everyone is vulnerable.”

As a result, many consumers are exploring data breach lawsuits against Hudson’s Bay Company. If you or a loved one have suffered financial or reputational damage as a result of this alleged breach, please contact us today to find out if you might qualify for compensation.

Neiman Marcus Settles Data Breach Lawsuit for $1.6M

Coincidentally, Saks owner Hudson’s Bay Company is reportedly in talks to merge with Neiman Marcus—which recently settled a data breach lawsuit filed by ClassAction.com attorney John Yanchunis for $1.6 million. (If the rumored merger occurs, it may be hard for customers to feel safe using their credit cards at Hudson’s Bay stores.)

The Neiman Marcus breach in December 2013 allegedly exposed the credit card information of 350,000 shoppers. Neiman Marcus claimed the number was much lower, just 9,200 accounts.

Under the terms of the settlement, each member of the class can receive up to $100, while class representatives may receive up to $2,500 for their service.

Mr. Yanchunis has established himself as perhaps the foremost data breach attorney in the country. Recently he was named lead plaintiffs’ counsel in the Yahoo data breach case—the largest class action lawsuit in history, one that includes more than a billion plaintiffs.

New Mexico Finally Passes Data Breach Law

In the wake of these large-scale breaches—along with those of Arby’s and JobLink, among others—the state legislature of New Mexico has finally enacted a piece of cybersecurity legislation: the Data Breach Notification Act, or H.B. 15. That act will now go to Governor Susana Martinez’s desk for her signature.

H.B. 15 states the following:

  • Companies and entities must dispose of personal identifying information once those records are “no longer reasonably needed for business purposes.”
  • Companies and entities must “implement and maintain reasonable security procedures and practices appropriate to the nature of the information to protect the personal identifying information from unauthorized access, destruction, use, modification or disclosure.”
  • Companies and entities must notify affected parties of a data breach within 45 days of learning of it. That said, no notice is required if the breach does not create “a significant risk of identity theft or fraud.” (“A significant risk” is something attorneys will presumably hash out in the courts.)
  • If a breach impacts more than 1,000 New Mexico residents, the attorney general and credit bureaus must also be notified.

If the above measures seem fairly common-sense, they are. All but three states—New Mexico, Alabama, and South Dakota—have similar data breach laws on the books. With New Mexico joining the rest of the country in the 21st century, that leaves just Alabama and South Dakota’s consumers relatively unprotected.

If you or a loved one fell victim to fraudulent credit card charges and/or identity theft as result of a data breach, contact an attorney today for a free, no-obligation legal consultation.

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. But this “natural flow of information” 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.

(Click below for page 2.)

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.