Johnson & Johnson Hit With Historic $4.69 Billion Talc Verdict

On July 12, a jury hit Johnson & Johnson with a $4.69 billion verdict for allegedly failing to warn of the presence and health risks of asbestos (a known carcinogen) in their talcum-based products.

Lawsuits filed on behalf of 22 women (six of whom have since passed away) claimed that they contracted ovarian cancer after years of allegedly using Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder and shower-to-shower products.

The St Louis jury found that Johnson & Johnson’s negligence contributed to the plaintiffs’ injuries. They awarded the women $550 million in compensatory damages and hit J&J and J&J Consumer with $4.4 billion in punitive damages. This roughly broke down to $25 million for each woman who filed a claim individually, and $12.5 million for the husbands of the six women who have since passed away.

Plaintiffs Allege J&J Hid Talc Cancer Link for Decades

The plaintiffs alleged that Johnson & Johnson knew of the potential health risks of their talcum-based products as early as the 1970s but failed to warn consumers.

Plaintiffs have surfaced multiple J&J internal documents in similar talc trials to argue that the company knew there was a link between their products and cancer. These include a document in which a medical consultant allegedly compared ignoring the risks of hygienic talc use to ignoring the cancer risks associated with smoking.

Other documents have allegedly suggested the company was aware of the presence of asbestos in their talc products. In 1974, a J&J official reported that occasionally two types of asbestos were detected in the company’s baby powder that might be classified as asbestos fiber.

Dozens of recent studies have also suggested that using talc-based products can increase the risk of developing cancer. A 2013 report from the American Association for Cancer Research suggested that talc powder is “associated with a modest 20-30 percent increase in risk of developing epithelial ovarian cancer.”

$4.69B Verdict Latest in String of ‘Enormous Verdicts’

“The profits over safety theme has enraged jurors and resulted in these enormous verdicts.”

Despite a growing number of unearthed internal documents and research reports suggesting talc’s cancer risk, J&J continues to fight claims from consumers who allege talc caused their cancer. But many juries aren’t buying the company’s denials, and have often sided with plaintiffs by issuing multi-million dollar verdicts for their alleged injuries.

In April, a jury awarded Stephen Lazo $117 million for allegedly contracting mesothelioma after using Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder and shower-to-shower products for more than 30 years. Mesothelioma is a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos that typically affects the lungs.

In May 2017, Lois Slemp was awarded the first nine-figure verdict against Johnson & Johnson. She alleged that her ovarian cancer was caused by more than 40 years of using their baby powder and shower-to-shower products. The jury awarded her $110 million, including $105 million in punitive damages.

Other notable J&J losses include a $55 million verdict for Gloria Ristesund and a $70 million verdict for Deborah Giannecchini—both of whom were diagnosed with ovarian cancer—and a $25.7 million verdict for Joanne Anderson who was diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Surprisingly, these losses haven’t made a dent in J&J’s position that their products are safe. In fact, after the latest loss, they called the verdict “fundamentally unfair,” and vowed to appeal it.

“What is astonishing here is that a simple warning by J&J of the link between its baby powder and ovarian cancer would take away the profits over safety theme that has enraged jurors and resulted in these enormous verdicts,” said Michael Goetz, head of the Mass Tort section of the Morgan & Morgan Complex Litigation Group.

J&J Still Faces 9,000 Talc Cancer Claims

This is nowhere near the end of J&J’s talc litigation. There are 9,000 lawsuits still pending that also allege a link between J&J’s talc products and ovarian cancer.

If you or a loved one used J&J’s baby powder or shower-to-shower products and later developed cancer, you may be eligible for a lawsuit. A lawsuit may be able to help recover damages like medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and loss of companionship.  

Contact our attorneys today for a free case review. It never costs a thing unless we win a jury verdict or settlement for you.

This Is Why Electronic Devices Keep Exploding

Nearly all of our rechargeable electronic devices are powered by lithium-ion batteries—the same batteries that cause e-cigarettes to explode and hoverboards to burst into flames.

Manufacturers continue to rely on these volatile power sources because their energy density is unparalleled—more than double that of household alkaline or NiCD rechargeable batteries. The injuries and property damage that have resulted from lithium-ion battery explosions though raise serious questions about what companies are doing to ensure their products are as safe as possible.

What are Lithium-Ion Batteries?

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries have been around since the 1970’s. But despite their age, they have become more dangerous, not less, as demand for slimmer electronics with longer-lasting batteries increases.

Li-ion batteries have four main components: positively-charged cathodes, negatively-charged anodes, a highly flammable liquid electrolyte, and a thin sheet of polypropylene that separates the cathodes from the anodes.

When a li-ion battery is charging, electricity moves from the cathodes through the porous polypropylene separator and the liquid electrolyte to the anodes. The reverse process happens when a device discharges.

Why Do Lithium-Ion Batteries Explode?

“These aren’t the batteries you grew up with.”

Problems with lithium-ion batteries start when the opposing electrodes, the cathodes and anodes, touch. The thin layer of polypropylene that serves as the battery separator is supposed to prevent this from happening, but it’s a difficult job as devices become slimmer and batteries stronger.

When the cathodes and anodes do touch, the battery may short circuit, leading to thermal runaway. Thermal runaway is a chemical chain reaction that causes battery chemicals to quickly heat up, sometimes reaching temperatures hotter than 1,000° F. With temperatures that high and the intense pressure that comes along with it, the flammable liquid electrolyte is likely to combust.

But what exactly causes the battery to short circuit in the first place? There are a few common causes:

  • Manufacturing errors: Poor quality batteries can be susceptible to short circuiting if the batteries are designed with poor insulation or ventilation. Other reported manufacturing errors have included jagged battery edges that pierced the all-important separator, and batteries designed with too little space between the separator and the electrodes.
  • Long-term wear and tear: Dropping your phone too many times can damage the battery and cause it to visibly swell up, putting pressure on the battery chemicals.
  • Poorly made chargers: Poorly made chargers can sometimes overcharge batteries, causing them to overheat and short circuit.

“These aren’t the batteries you grew up with—they’re not like alkaline batteries,” warns Mike Morgan, managing partner of Morgan & Morgan’s Product Safety Group. “They shouldn’t be sold loose to consumers without proper training. Instead, they should be sold as ‘captured batteries’ that are protected and allow for safer use. You shouldn’t have to have a degree in electrical engineering to safely operate these devices.”

Yet, these batteries are everywhere and in everything, electrical engineering degrees notwithstanding.

Which Electronic Devices Are Susceptible to Overheating?

Lithium-ion batteries aren’t just different from alkaline batteries for their complex design; they also differ from the average household batteries in that they are more likely to overheat and explode.

It doesn’t matter how large or small the battery is, nor what device it’s powering or the product manufacturer. These batteries can explode anywhere and at any time; while charging, in use, or even while lying dormant. 

Remote controls, wireless ear buds, children’s toys, and even baby monitors have all been known to catch fire unexpectedly. Here’s a roundup of the most notable li-ion battery explosions and recalls.

Laptops

Laptops were among the first electronic devices to catch fire because of overheating li-ion batteries. In 2006, Dell recalled more than four million laptops. But, overheating laptops are nowhere near a thing of the past for the company. In 2017, a camera captured a teen’s Dell laptop as it burst into flames while charging in his living room.

Dell isn’t the only company that has problems with their laptop batteries. At the beginning of 2018, HP recalled 50,000 laptops because of their susceptibility to overheat. Before the recall was announced, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) had received eight reports of batteries overheating, melting or charring, causing both property damage and first-degree burns.

E-cigarettes

“The batteries, when unstable, can pack the punch of a roman-candle grenade.”

E-cigs, or vape pens, can cause devastating injuries if they explode since they are used so close to the face and mouth.

When former professional soccer player Danny Califf’s vape pen exploded in his face in 2016,  the li-ion battery when through his cheek. He suffered a broken cheekbone and a concussion as a result.

Other vape pen explosions have ripped holes near people’s mouths, blinded eyes, caused second and third-degree burns, and even set cars on fire. From 2009 to January 2016, the FDA received 134 reports of vape fires and explosions.

“The batteries, when unstable, can pack the punch of a roman-candle grenade,” said Mike Morgan. “When you put the battery in a steel tube like a vaporizer, it builds up with such pressure that you effectively have a pipe bomb. You’re taking that and putting it in your mouth and your pocket, and walking around every day with it.”

Hoverboards

It wasn’t long before this must-have holiday gift ranked as one of the most dangerous toys.  

Hoverboards rely on powerful li-ion batteries that pack a dangerous punch when they explode. More than half a million hoverboards were recalled in 2016 after a string of fires and explosions.

These self-balancing scooters have caught fire while charging, riding, and sometimes when they are not in use at all.

A family in Louisiana tragically lost their home when a charging Fit Turbo hoverboard exploded. The fire spread so quickly that their teenage daughter had to jump out of a second-floor window to safety.

The CPSC reported that they received 99 reports of hoverboards “overheating, sparking, smoking, catching fire and/or exploding.” These incidents resulted in more than $2 million in property damage.

Samsung Galaxy Phones

Samsung phones were so prone to exploding that they were eventually banned from airplanes. The phones weren’t manufactured with enough space between the battery’s separator and the electrodes, causing the cathodes and anodes to come in contact. Samsung was eventually forced to recall the Note 7. Overall, there were 92 cases of Galaxy Note fires, 26 burns, and 55 incidents of property damage.

But soon after the first Note 7’s exploded, it was clear that the problem was occurring in other Samsung models, like the S7 Edge.

An S7 Edge exploded in the pocket of Daniel Ramirez while he was on a job site in Ohio. The explosion caused second and third-degree burns on his leg, groin, and lower back. ClassAction.com is representing Daniel Ramirez in a lawsuit against Samsung.

Can I File a Lawsuit If My Electronic Device Caught Fire?

While lithium-ion batteries are a problem industry wide, it doesn’t mean that manufacturers are off the hook when it comes to product safety.

Consumers who have suffered physical harm or property damage after an electronic device caught fire may be eligible for compensation. Lawsuits filed against product manufacturers usually allege some combination of the following:

  • Failure to operate as marketed or advertised
  • Inadequate or absent instructions and warnings
  • Dangerous and defective condition, with a propensity to explode under normal conditions

If your electronic device caught fire unexpectedly, contact us today for a free, no-obligation legal review. Our attorneys have filed lawsuits against Samsung and e-cig manufacturers and have the  experience to hold companies accountable for the harm they may have caused.

Chili’s Grill & Bar Owner Sued Over Data Breach

Yesterday, Morgan & Morgan attorneys John Yanchunis and Patrick Barthle filed a proposed class action lawsuit against Brinker International, the owner of Chili’s Grill & Bar, after Brinker acknowledged a data breach compromised the payment card information of Chili’s customers.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida on behalf of three plaintiffs—Marlene Green-Cooper, Shenika Thomas, and Fred Sanders—and all other customers who made a credit or debit card purchase at an affected Chili’s location during the data breach.

Read the Complaint

“It is surprising that payment card breaches continue to be a problem at retailers,” said Yanchunis. “Consumers need to be cautious when using a debit or credit card and ask how the retailer is protecting their payment card information. They need to be vigilant and closely monitor the transactions being made with their cards to ensure that each transaction is what they authorized.”

“Consumers need to be vigilant and closely monitor the transactions being made with their cards to ensure that each transaction is what they authorized.”

In March 2018, hackers gained access to Brinker’s network and installed malware on Chili’s point-of-sale (POS) systems. The malware allowed the hackers to steal the payment information of Chili’s customers.

Approximately two months after the breach, Brinker acknowledged that customers who used payment cards for transactions at certain corporate-owned Chili’s restaurants from March through April 2018 had their customer data stolen, including credit or debit card numbers and cardholder names.

As a result of the data breach, the plaintiffs were the victims of fraudulent credit card charges, the lawsuit alleges. Unfortunately, these may not be the only repercussions from their payment information being compromised. Data breach victims are also at an increased risk of becoming victims of identity theft and fraud months or even years after their information was stolen.

Brinker, Chili’s Ignored Industry Data Breach Warning Signs

“Their approach to maintaining the privacy and security of Customer Data was lackadaisical, cavalier, reckless, or at the very least, negligent.”

POS systems are on-site devices, much like an electronic cash register, which manage consumer transactions. After a payment card is swiped, very briefly the card’s data is stored within the system’s memory. Hackers often install malware to capture this information.

P.F. Chang’s, Arby’s, Chipotle, and Wendy’s have all suffered from data breaches involving their POS systems. Despite industry warnings that arose from these highly publicized data breaches, the lawsuit alleges that Brinker failed to act in order to prevent a similar incident from affecting their customers.

The complaint states, “Brinker’s approach to maintaining the privacy and security of the Customer Data of Plaintiffs and Class members was lackadaisical, cavalier, reckless, or at the very least, negligent.”

The lawsuit claims multiple damages, including the theft of plaintiffs’ personal and financial information, future injury as a result of identity theft and potential fraud, and untimely and inadequate notification of the data breach.

Brinker Will Face Nation’s Top Data Breach Attorneys

Data breaches are an all too common occurrence, but that doesn’t mean corporations should get away with their negligence and failure to protect consumer data. Our attorneys fight on behalf of consumers to ensure that they don’t.

Just last week, attorneys John Yanchunis and Ryan McGee filed a lawsuit against SunTrust Bank over the potential data theft that compromised the private information of 1.5 million SunTrust customers. And in March, Yanchunis filed the first civil lawsuit in response to the unlawful mining of 87 million Facebook users’ private data by Cambridge Analytica. Yanchunis also currently holds leadership positions on the Equifax and Yahoo data breach cases.

If you suspect your personal data has been compromised, learn more about data breach lawsuits and how to join them.

Here’s How to Turn On Two-Factor Authentication

Bob Sullivan is an award-winning journalist and the author of four books, including two New York Times bestsellers. He is now a syndicated columnist, frequent TV guest, and co-host of the podcast Breach, which examines history’s biggest hacking stories. Read more of Bob’s stories at BobSullivan.net.

By now you’ve heard that Twitter has suggested to all users that they change their passwords. I’m here to tell you that you can do more to make yourself much safer with very little effort.

Now is a good time to turn on two-factor authentication at Twitter—and at Facebook, and Gmail, and Amazon, and anywhere else you can. A tiny percentage of consumers have done so—a Google engineer let slip recently that 90 percent of Gmail users don’t use two-factor—and that’s a mistake. It only takes a moment, and while it’s not foolproof, it is considerably safer.

Ninety percent of Gmail users don’t use two-factor authentication.

Good on Twitter, which sent out its provocative warnings yesterday after it discovered a bad password storage process. Some users’ passwords were theoretically viewable in plain text to employees or others on Twitter’s internal networks, though the firm says it has no reason to believe that actually occurred. Still, the familiar call went out to all users suggesting they change their passwords. For the vast majority of you, that means doing something fairly unhelpful like adding an exclamation point to your old password, or switching from one dog’s name to another.

That’s not great, but let’s face it: The average consumer needs to remember 150 passwords. No one can do that. So you reuse passwords. Of course you do. If that’s you, you might consider using a password manager, but they’re not for everyone.

Two-factor authentication, on the other hand, is for (almost) everyone, and you should turn it on now.

For those of you who’ve heard of two-factor—and that’s less than the half the U.S. population — but haven’t bothered to set it up yet, today’s the day. If you haven’t heard of it, well, today’s the day for you, too. You have to work on your Twitter security settings anyway.

What is two-factor authentication?

In general, two-factor authentication means you must tell a website something you know (a password) and prove there’s something you have (usually, your smartphone) before you gain access. This can become a problem for those of us (I mean me) who have an old smartphone with bad battery life. But that’s the price of security.

There are many flavors of two-factor, and not all are created equal. The most rudimentary involves a site sending you a text message with a one-time code you then use to log in. This is better than nothing, but hackers have figured out how to intercept such messages.

Two-factor authentication adds another serious speed bump to someone trying to log into your account.

So a better setup involves a code generator that lives on your smartphone, like Google’s Authenticator app. Users who log in open the app and enter a temporary code that’s only good for about 30 seconds. You can see why a dead cell phone would be a problem, right?

Even using this format, the steps vary slightly. You might need multiple codes to log in to multiple sites. Facebook generates such codes within the app itself. Google’s implementation works really well on Android. A Gmail login simply prompts a pop-up on the phone that asks, “Is this you?”

Again, two-factor isn’t foolproof. But it does add another serious speed bump to someone logging into your account, perhaps akin to the Club steering wheel lock that was once popular as an anti-theft device. One lesson from that era you should borrow: No one wanted to be the only car on the street without a Club. So as two-factor gets turned on, consumers who don’t bother will become bigger targets. Hackers will focus harder on their less-protected accounts. So don’t be that person.

Here are links to common two-factor instructions:

Rene Rocha Appointed to Dicamba Executive Committee

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr. named Morgan & Morgan attorney Rene Rocha to the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee in the lawsuit filed over dicamba crop damage. Mr. Rocha filed the lawsuit against dicamba manufacturers on behalf of farmers who allege their crops were harmed by the herbicide.

Read the Order

On February 1, this and similar lawsuits were consolidated into a multidistrict litigation, or MDL, to be tried in the Eastern District of Missouri.

Dicamba is a divisive herbicide that was previously deemed too volatile for use, as it was prone to drift onto neighboring farms. Then the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved newer formulations of dicamba that manufacturers like Monsanto say are more stable than previous versions.

But from last spring through the fall, thousands of complaints flooded agriculture boards in more than 20 states. The hardest-hit were those that produce the most soybeans, like Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, Kansas, and the Dakotas.

Several states—including Missouri, Arkansas, and North Dakota—enacted restrictions on dicamba use. Arkansas went so far as to ban the herbicide outright for the 2018 growing season—a decision Monsanto challenged in court, unsuccessfully.

Now Mr. Rocha will help shepherd these lawsuits to trial, a leader in the fight to hold dicamba manufacturers accountable for allegedly threatening farmers’ livelihoods.

What Is a Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee?

A layperson may be unfamiliar with the role of a plaintiffs’ executive committee. According to Judge Limbaugh’s order, the duties of the committee include the following:

  • Determine and present to the court and opposing parties the position of the plaintiffs on all matters arising during the proceedings;
  • Initiate, coordinate, and conduct all discovery on behalf of plaintiffs;
  • Make all work assignments on behalf of plaintiffs to promote the orderly and efficient conduct of this litigation;
  • Direct and execute on behalf of plaintiffs the filing of pleadings and other documents with the Court;
  • Negotiate and enter into stipulations and agreements with opposing counsel as necessary throughout the litigation;
  • Consult and employ experts as necessary;
  • Conduct settlement negotiations on behalf of plaintiffs.

In short, the plaintiffs’ executive committee will help direct this complex litigation by making important decisions and delegating work amongst themselves and the other attorneys. Their job is to ensure that the plaintiffs are well represented and that the case moves forward in a timely and efficient manner.

Mr. Rocha and the other committee members will operate under the direction of executive committee chair Don M. Downing of Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C.

Bayer-Monsanto Merger Worries Farmers

The dicamba MDL is moving forward against the backdrop of an increasingly likely Bayer-Monsanto mega-merger—a union that makes many farmers nervous. With less competition for seeds, herbicides, and other supplies, prices could soar. Less competition could also mean less diversity in seed and chemical choices.

Less competition could mean less diversity in seed and chemical choices.

The Bayer-Monsanto “marriage made in hell” could restrict the range of seeds and pesticides to which farmers have access. It could also increase reliance on herbicides and herbicide-resistant seeds.

Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops were supposed to decrease herbicide usage because farmers could replace a cocktail of herbicides with glyphosate and avoid tilling farmland to kill weeds, thus reducing runoff. But glyphosate-resistant “superweeds” have sprung up, which necessitate higher doses of glyphosate and other herbicides.

Conveniently, Monsanto has solutions to the superweed problem at the ready, including new or reformulated herbicides—such as dicamba.

If you or a loved one suffered crop losses because dicamba volatilized and moved onto your property from a neighboring farm, contact us today for a free consultation.

Facebook Sued Over Cambridge Analytica Data Mine

***NOTE: The case we filed will seek the certification of a class to include all 87 million users whose information was taken. As such, at this time there is no need to join the lawsuit, as we intend for all impacted users to be automatically enrolled.***

Morgan & Morgan attorney John Yanchunis has filed the first civil lawsuit in response to the unlawful mining of 87 million Facebook users’ private data by Cambridge Analytica. Mr. Yanchunis filed the complaint in the Northern District of California on behalf of Facebook user Lauren Price and all others similarly situated.

“The recent disclosure of the violation of the privacy rights of 87 million consumers who use and trusted Facebook represents yet another troubling example of a company’s failure to maintain the security of information consumers provided,” Mr. Yanchunis said.

Read the Complaint

“Even more alarming is the fact that Facebook executives knew several years ago that these violations occurred and chose to keep silent about it.”

In an online statement last Friday, Facebook announced that it had suspended Cambridge Analytica, a data-centric political consulting firm, after learning that it had failed to delete massive amounts of user data the company had obtained in violation of the social network’s privacy policies.

Among other clients, Cambridge Analytica worked with Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and allegedly used this unlawfully gained data to target Facebook users with campaign ads.

Mr. Yanchunis told Reuters, “Our client [Ms. Price] saw a tremendous uptick in political messaging during the campaign on her Facebook page, which she had never seen. She had a glimmer of understanding at the time, but now sees there was an attempt to influence her vote.”

On March 27, 2018, he filed a second lawsuit against Facebook for its allegedly improper collection of call and text histories from Android cell phone users who installed Facebook’s mobile application.

Facebook Disputes That Data Breach Occurred

While many have dubbed this violation one of the largest data breaches in history, Facebook is adamant that there was no security breach or hack and therefore the term does not apply. Regardless, 87 million users’ data wound up in the wrong hands, and Cambridge Analytica seemingly reaped enormous profits from this harvest.

The complaint filed today alleges that Facebook either knew about the data aggregation or “actively avoided discovering such knowledge in order to profess supposed ignorance.”

The complaint reads, “Plaintiff brings this suit to protect her privacy interests and those of the class,” which will likely consist of all 87 million impacted users (except for those who opt out). It seeks to prevent further “negligent, deceptive, unfair and unlawful business practices” from the defendants, Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.

Mr. Yanchunis said, “The filing of this lawsuit is a necessary step to secure and protect consumers’ private information, and to seek compensation for the companies’ bad acts.”

Yanchunis Is America’s Top Data Breach Attorney

Unfortunately for the defendants, this is not John Yanchunis’ first major data breach lawsuit. He is Lead Plaintiffs’ Counsel on the largest class action lawsuit in history—regarding the Yahoo data breach that allegedly compromised the data of three billion people around the world.

Moreover, last month U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Thrash named Mr. Yanchunis to the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee in the Equifax data breach case. Mr. Yanchunis filed that lawsuit (now part of a multidistrict litigation) after unauthorized users accessed the private data of 145 million Americans, whose credit Equifax monitors.

Mr. Yanchunis has also represented consumers in the Home Depot and Target data breach lawsuits, which settled for $13 million and $10 million, respectively.

In short, he is perhaps the most accomplished—and feared—data breach attorney in America. And he sounds confident, telling Reuters that Facebook “leaves a footprint of what was taken that cannot be erased.”

Optically, at least, it doesn’t help matters that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sold 5.4 million shares in the company in the two and a half months leading up to the Cambridge Analytica announcement. By doing so, Mr. Zuckerberg allegedly saved around $70 million, as Facebook’s shares tanked after the Cambridge revelation.

This calls to mind the Equifax breach. Equifax’s former Chief Information Officer, Jun Ying, allegedly sold nearly 7,000 shares in the company after learning of its data breach (but before Equifax announced it). As a result, the Securities and Exchange Commission has charged him with insider trading.

What to Do About an Inaccurate Credit Report

If you’ve ever found a mistake on your credit report, you’re not alone. Of the 250 million Americans with credit reports, about 20 percent have inaccuracies on their reports. That’s approximately 50 million people.

Of these 50 million, consumer protection attorney Tav Gomez estimates that around 11 million have serious mistakes that may qualify them for legal action under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

Mr. Gomez says, “Consumers have rights under the FCRA to ensure the information in their reports is accurate and complete. The reporting agencies need to be held accountable when they fail to correct inaccurate information.”

Around 50 million people have mistakes on their credit reports.

An erroneous credit report can cost someone a job, a loan, housing, or credit. Although consumers can dispute their credit reports—and/or fraudulent credit card applications and charges—bureaus have very little incentive to take them seriously. On average, Mr. Gomez says, a bureau spends just three minutes reviewing—and usually rejecting—each dispute and validating the information.

When a consumer tries repeatedly to get credit bureaus to correct a significant mistake, and the bureaus fail to do so, that consumer may want to file an FCRA lawsuit. A lawsuit may force the bureaus to correct the report. The plaintiff could also receive compensation for lost wages, loan denials, and other actual damages.

What Is the FCRA?

The U.S. Congress passed the Fair Credit Reporting Act in 1970 to “promote the accuracy, fairness, and privacy of information in the files of consumer reporting agencies.” The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces the act, along with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The FCRA ensures the following rights:

  • You must be told if information in your file has been used against you.
  • You have the right to know what is in your file.
  • You have the right to ask for a credit score.
  • You have the right to dispute incomplete or inaccurate information.
  • Consumer reporting agencies must correct or delete inaccurate, incomplete, or unverifiable information.
  • Consumer reporting agencies may not report outdated negative information.
  • Access to your file is limited to people with a valid need for access.
  • You must give consent for reports to be provided to employers.
  • You may limit “prescreened” offers of credit and insurance you get based on information in your credit report.
  • You may seek damages from violators.
  • Identity theft victims and active duty military personnel have additional rights.

The rights above make the consumer sound quite powerful, but reality tells a different story. The three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—still hold most of the cards.

A person can be denied a job or a home because of something they didn’t even do.

For example, employers often fail to tell prospective employees if they run a credit or background check, see something they don’t like, and therefore deny the applicant a job. In many cases, these failed background checks occur because of an alleged or expunged crime—something that should not be on someone’s record.

In other words, a person can be denied a job or a home because of something they didn’t even do. And if the company fails to tell them that the information in their file was used against them prior to the employer taking an adverse action, that itself is a violation of the FCRA.

Cases of identity theft can be just as frustrating.

A Broken System with No Fix in Sight

When someone disputes his or her credit report—even in legitimate cases of identity theft, which can quickly sink a person’s score—the bureau is required to do a reasonable investigation but they simply contact the creditor or debt collector to verify the reported information.

For example, let’s say your information was accessed in the Yahoo data breach, and someone then used it to open several credit cards in your name and run up a litany of charges. Your credit score plummeted, and you disputed the report on the grounds that your identity was stolen and you weren’t responsible for all those new cards and charges.

The credit bureaus should check with the credit card companies and verify, “Did you actually open these accounts and make these charges?” If the credit card companies said yes (they most likely would), that would be the end of it, and you would be out of luck.  You would receive a communication verifying the debt with little efforts from the credit bureaus.

“Credit bureaus have little economic incentive to conduct proper disputes or improve their investigations.”

It’s a broken system that has inspired one memorable “Last Week Tonight” segment and drawn criticism from the bipartisan Senate Banking Committee.

At a meeting last fall, Sen. John Kennedy (R – LA) said, “The bureaus have no obligation or interest right now to work with me to try and get the credit score correct.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D – OH) said, “We know the credit bureaus have a long history of consumer complaints and inaccurate reporting that has long term effects on people’s ability to get a job or a house.”

The National Consumer Law Center states, “Credit bureaus have little economic incentive to conduct proper disputes or improve their investigations.”

This is a huge problem that impacts tens of millions of people. In light of the quotes above, Congress should be trying to strengthen the CFPB—the agency meant to regulate and combat exactly these kinds of injustices.

But the new head of the CFPB, Mick Mulvaney, has instead slashed its budget and vowed to rein in what he views as excessive enforcement on the agency’s part. For the time being, it looks like consumers are on their own.

What Can I Do About an Inaccurate Credit Report?

To make sure your credit report is fair and accurate, do the following:

  1. Request free annual credit reports from each of the three major bureaus via AnnualCreditReport.com.
  2. Look for inconsistencies, discrepancies, duplicate reporting and errors. E.g., one bureau’s report may differ significantly from the other two. This suggests that bureau has made a mistake.
  3. Contact the bureau(s) to dispute any errors you find, and/or any strikes on your credit that occurred as a result of identity theft or fraud. Make sure to keep copies of the dispute communications and the results from the agencies.
  4. If or when the bureau fails to correct the report, contact an attorney to learn your rights under the FCRA.

Mr. Gomez says, “A good credit history is a huge asset for consumers. Information contained in a consumer’s reporting file affects their access to mortgages, car loans, credit cards, utility services, residential leases, employment and insurance.”

If you were denied housing, employment, or credit because of a mistake on your credit or consumer report—or if you were the victim of identity theft that impacted your credit score—you could be owed money for damages. Contact us for a free legal consultation.

Received an Email from the “IRS”? It’s a Scam

If you haven’t filed your taxes yet, you should do them as soon as possible—before someone else does.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) warns that tax refund fraud schemes have grown increasingly common in recent years. Criminals gain access to consumers’ private data, then use that information to file false tax returns and try to acquire the resulting refunds.

Tax refund fraud has grown increasingly common in recent years.

When the victim of this identity theft receives his or her (fraudulent) refund, the criminal contacts them, impersonates the IRS, says the refund is a mistake, and demands that they transfer the money to a different account.

Russell Schrader, head of the National Cyber Security Alliance, tells The New York Times, “It signifies the ingenuity of the fraudsters out there.”

In 2016, tax refund fraud accounted for an estimated $21 billion in false refunds—more than three times as much as in 2013.

The uptick in this type of fraud creates serious problems for businesses as well as individuals.

Businesses Suffer Phishing Scams, Data Breaches

To carry out tax refund fraud, criminals need a person’s name, birthdate, and Social Security Number. How do they acquire this information? Through phishing scams. The FBI states:

The most popular method remains impersonating an executive, either through a compromised or spoofed email in order to obtain W-2 information from a Human Resource (HR) professional within the same organization.

It’s obvious why this would be the most popular method: instead of having to acquire individuals’ data one by one, emailing an employee of a company’s human resource department allows criminals (if successful) to scoop up dozens or even hundreds of consumers’ data all at once.

To protect employees’ information, the FBI recommends that companies limit the number of people who can handle W-2 requests, require dual approval for wire transfer requests, and verbally confirm requests via phone calls to known contacts.

For individuals whose data was accessed—leading to identity theft and/or tax refund fraud—the best course of action may be a lawsuit.

Cyber criminals also obtain social security numbers in high volume by infiltrating companies that store personal identification information (PII) such as social security information. This form of theft and exposure of PII has become known as a data breach. It typically occurs due to lax cyber security measures on the part of the company that has sustained a breach.

For individual employees whose data was accessed in this manner—leading to identity theft and/or tax refund fraud—the best course of action may be to file a data breach lawsuit.

If you have fallen victim to identity thieves, contact us for a free consultation. You could be owed money for damages.

IRS Doesn’t Email People or Threaten Police Action

If you receive an email or phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, they are almost definitely lying. As a general rule, the IRS does not email or call people. The vast majority of the time, the IRS sends letters via the U.S. Postal Service.

The IRS also emphasizes the following:

  • They will not demand “immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer.”
  • They will always give you the opportunity to question or appeal how much you owe.
  • They will not threaten to “bring in local police, immigration officers or other law-enforcement to have you arrested for not paying.”
  • The IRS does not have the authority to take away your immigration status or driver’s license.
  • In the rare event of a home visit, IRS agents will always show two forms of official credentials.

In short, if someone is trying to bully or coerce you into swift payment with a specific kind of card, he or she most likely is a scammer.

Report phishing scams to phishing@irs.gov, file an identity theft complaint at the Federal Trade Commission site identitytheft.gov, and contact an attorney if you experienced financial or reputational damage because of a data breach.

How to Tell If a Company Is Taking Your Private Data Seriously

By following these protective measures, you can reduce the risk that you’ll end up victimized by a company with sloppy security—and the criminals that prey upon them.

Data breaches and malicious hacks unfortunately are a common occurrence. Every year, more companies admit that they’ve fallen victim to a hack or security breach. Their customers end up dealing with the fallout, including identity theft and long-term financial consequences.

The average U.S. internet user had over 150 different online accounts in 2017; each of those accounts required a password and other login details.

The problem is that no one can remember 150 different passwords—and most people reuse their passwords or forget them, which leads to the consumer having to request login details sent to their email. Over the last few years, email providers like Yahoo have been breached as well, leaving login details for many different accounts wide open for exploiting.

With such a dismal outlook, how can you know that a company is going to protect your information? Thankfully there are several actions you can take to help protect yourself.

Operate on a Need-to-Know Basis

Companies use your data as currency.

We’ve all done it—filled out an online form without really thinking about what we’re giving away or why the form is requesting it. But each time you hand over your email address, date of birth, or any other detail about yourself, you’re giving the company on the other end information they may not even need—and may not manage appropriately.

In many cases, companies use your data as currency. They’ll offer something for “free,” such as a guide to something, premium access, or some tangible object you might be interested in. All you need to do is enter your email, or name, or address, or other personal information. You get what you signed up for, but now that the company has that information, they’re free to do as they wish with it—and chances are you didn’t read their privacy policy to see what that includes.

The single easiest thing you can do to ensure that a company protects your information is not to give it to them unless they actually, absolutely need it. Next time you put your personal details into a web form, or sign up for a new account online, think about each piece of information. Is it something they need? If you know that they don’t need it, consider leaving it out. If it’s mandatory, you may want to reconsider whether you really need what the company is offering.

Check for Past Data Breaches and Security Problems

Another way you can check up on companies is by putting your email address into the search bar at http://haveibeenpwned.com. This will tell you if your information has already been compromised, and by whom.

The site, run by web security expert Troy Hunt, also maintains a list of companies whose data breaches have been added to their list. This gives readers an idea of which companies have already been caught failing to protect their users’ accounts.

If you see a company on this list, you may want to think twice before opening an account with them.

Read and Ask Questions About the Privacy Policy

The privacy policy outlines how companies will use your data—and whether they will sell it to a third party for marketing purposes.

This can end up being more difficult than it sounds. The average privacy policy, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon, is 2500 words—a ten-minute read. What’s more, they’re written entirely in legalese, so they’re not the easiest to understand.

While many people think that the existence of a privacy policy means that a company protects your private information, that’s not the case. It actually means that the company has outlined how it will use your data—and that could even include selling it to a third party for marketing purposes.

When you are looking at signing up for an account or purchasing something, take the time to go through the privacy policy. Ask questions if you need to, including whether the company will be building a profile and what that profile will be used for.

Rather than wade through the legal language, you can use the search tool in your browser to find words like “marketing,” “waive,” or “opt-out.” Those terms can point to the parts that could have the biggest effect on your decision to buy from or deal with that company.

You Can’t Put a Price on Peace of Mind

Taking these extra steps can add a bit of time to your online dealings; you might wind up having to postpone a purchase. But the potential risks of identity theft, spam, telemarketers, and more are well worth the extra effort.

Not every company goes the extra mile to protect its customers’ information. Sadly, some companies don’t even do the bare minimum. But with the protective measures outlined above, you can reduce the risk that you’ll end up victimized by a company with sloppy security—and the criminals that prey upon them.

Bill Hess founded PixelPrivacy.com, a blog that wants to make the world of online security accessible to everyone. Visit the site if you’re interested in keeping your private information private.

John Yanchunis Named to Equifax Steering Committee

U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Thrash has named Morgan & Morgan attorney John Yanchunis to the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee in the Equifax data breach lawsuit. Yanchunis filed the lawsuit—now part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL)—after unauthorized users accessed the private data of 145 million Americans.

Read the Order

Last fall, Equifax announced that a breach had compromised the personal information of tens of millions of consumers from mid-May through July 2017. The company knew about the breach for more than a month before coming clean to the public.

The Equifax breach impacted 145 million consumers.

As of this writing, the Equifax breach is the fourth largest data breach of all time. The largest ever—the Yahoo breach of 2013-2014—impacted roughly three billion users.

John Yanchunis is Lead Counsel on that case, which is the biggest class action lawsuit in history. He has also represented consumers in the Home Depot and Target data breach lawsuits, which settled for $13 million and $10 million, respectively.

What Does a Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee Do?

Though the term Lead Counsel seems self-explanatory, a layperson may be less familiar with the role of a steering committee. According to Judge Thrash’s order,

The Steering Committees shall meet and confer as needed regarding the completion of the Plaintiffs’ pretrial and trial activities. The Steering Committees may establish subcommittees to aid in the effective and efficient conduct of this litigation. The Steering Committees shall participate in the determination of any significant matters that arise in the litigation.

In short, the steering committee will help direct this complex litigation by making important decisions and delegating work amongst themselves and the other attorneys. Their job is to ensure that the plaintiffs are well represented and that the case moves forward in a timely and efficient manner.

Though one might expect that the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee for a lawsuit filed on behalf of 145 million people might include dozens of attorneys, there are just seven on the Equifax committee. That makes the honor—and the scope of responsibilities—that much greater.

Equifax Breach Even Worse Than Initially Thought

Last September, Equifax announced that a breach had compromised the names, Social Security numbers, birthdates, addresses, and 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.

But just last Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the breach was even more impactful than it initially appeared to be. In addition to the data above, hackers allegedly gained access to tax ID numbers, email addresses, and “driver’s license information beyond the license numbers.”

The number of affected consumers (145 million) seems to remain unchanged. But the breadth of the breach has grown, meaning those affected are more vulnerable than they even realized.

In the wake of the Equifax breach, many experts suggested that consumers freeze their credit to protect against identity theft. In a recent post for ClassAction.com, attorney Marisa Glassman also advocated monitoring credit reports and filing one’s taxes as soon as possible in order to prevent fraudulent returns.

Equifax learned of the breach in late July 2017 and sat on the news for about five weeks before informing consumers that their data were at risk.

In the meantime, many shareholders sold their stock in the company.

How to Join a Data Breach Class Action Lawsuit

Marisa Glassman is an attorney in Morgan & Morgan’s Complex Litigation Group. Her practice focuses on complex litigation, class actions, and consumer protection—including data breach lawsuits. Ms. Glassman is currently co-liaison counsel for consumer plaintiffs in the Arby’s Restaurant Group, Inc. Data Security Litigation.

Below, she answers questions consumers often have about data breach lawsuits.

How do I join a data breach class action lawsuit?

If your information was compromised in a data breach and a class action lawsuit has already been filed for that breach, typically you don’t need to do anything to join the lawsuit.

You don’t need to do anything to join the lawsuit.

The named plaintiffs who filed the complaint are suing on behalf of themselves and others whose information was also compromised as a result of the data breach. As a class member, you should be automatically included in the lawsuit and do not need to do anything to participate in the case.

What types of damages can I recover in a data breach lawsuit?

Previous data breach class action lawsuit settlements have included relief such as credit monitoring, fraud resolution services, and reimbursement for out-of-pocket losses resulting from the data breach. Typically monetary damages are limited to reimbursing class members for their out-of-pocket losses resulting from the data breach, for example reimbursement for time spent having to resolve the fraudulent use of your identity. But each case is different and damages may vary.

Another component of data breach settlements has been the defendant agreeing to create data security policies to protect your information from future data breaches.

How will I know if there is a data breach lawsuit settlement?

When a data breach class action case resolves, a settlement notice will be used to inform class members of the settlement. The settlement notice will describe the terms of the settlement and the rights of the class members under that settlement. Notices may be mailed, e-mailed, or published in a magazine, newspaper, or online.

In the event of a settlement, how do I recover for my claims?

You must submit your claim to receive your portion of the settlement.

If a class action data breach case has settled, you will need to claim your portion of the settlement. A claim form is a court-required document that all class members must file to participate in a court-approved settlement. Instructions should be included with the notice and claim form on how to complete your claim.

You must submit your claim to receive your portion of the settlement.

What if there are several complaints filed over the same breach?

After a large data breach that affects hundreds of thousands or millions of individuals, such as the Equifax data breach, it is typical that many law firms will file similar complaints. This is because different individuals contact and retain different law firms to pursue the same matter.

Generally, the cases will be consolidated and heard by the court as one lawsuit. The court will determine which law firms will lead the litigation.

Are there different types of data breach lawsuits?

Each data breach case is different. Data breaches may contain different types of compromised information and different circumstances for how the information was compromised.

For example, some data breach cases involve only payment cards data, while other breaches include social security numbers or healthcare related information. Some breaches occur over many months or years, while some last shorter amounts of time. Payment card or computer systems may be breached by cybercriminals, or employers may fall for email phishing scams and send employees’ W-2 information to cybercriminals.

Our attorneys have experience with a wide variety of data breach litigations. If you believe your information was compromised in a data breach, we can investigate your facts to determine whether a class action lawsuit may be appropriate.

How long does a data breach class action take?

Each case is different, but a data breach class action case will typically take 1-3 years.

How can I protect my information after a data breach?

There are several steps you can take to protect your identity from being misused following a data breach:

  • Check and monitor your credit reports. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft.
  • Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
  • You may consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
  • Also, file your taxes as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a scammer can fraudulently file a return in your name. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond immediately to letters from the IRS.
  • You may want to set up a freeze on the websites of all three credit bureaus: Transunion, Equifax, and Experian. But there may be fees associated with doing so. (If you’re married, both you and your spouse should freeze your files, since the companies maintain separate files for every adult that they track.)

Fraudulent misuse of your identity may not happen immediately after a data breach. Criminals may wait months or years to misuse your data, so it’s important to continue to monitor and review your information to identify any potential fraud.

States v. Monsanto: 6 Legal Battles that Shook Big Ag

Monsanto is the unofficial king of Big Agriculture. As the world’s largest seed company, their impact on the food we eat and even the quality of the water we drink is unparalleled—especially when their products are unsafe.   

As a Fortune 500 company, it is no surprise that Monsanto has friends in high places. Investigative research like the Poison Papers show cozy relationships between Monsanto and the U.S. EPA—an organization which is supposed to protect the American people over corporate interest.

Where federal regulations have failed to adequately protect the health of consumers and the environment, some states have tried to step in. We take a look at the key legal battles between U.S. states and Monsanto, and show how the corporation has fought regulations every step of the way.

1. Roundup Cancer Warnings 

In July 2017, California listed glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s popular Roundup weed killer, as a probable carcinogen under their Prop 65 law. This classification may eventually require warnings on every Roundup product sold in the state.

California recognized glyphosate as a probable carcinogen after the International Association for Research on Cancer (IARC), a research arm of the World Health Organization, declared it as such. This classification should raise alarms since Roundup is the most applied herbicide ever. Some farmers have even filed lawsuits against Monsanto alleging the herbicide caused their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Monsanto has since attempted to discredit the IARC, arguing that their conclusions were based on faulty research and therefore California’s classification of Roundup is misguided. They point to agencies like the U.S. EPA which have given the chemical a clean bill of health, even though internal documents allege that EPA officials conspired with Monsanto to publish conclusions that favored glyphosate’s safety.

In February 2017, a judge overturned Monsanto’s attempt to block the classification from going into effect. On November 15, Monsanto filed another lawsuit, but this time they enlisted help from agricultural organizations like the National Association of Wheat Growers. Plaintiffs now allege that the state’s actions are equivalent to “unconstitutional forced speech” and violate the First Amendment.

Attorneys General from 11 states have submitted amicus briefs siding with Monsanto, including: Missouri, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin. 

This isn’t the first time other states have ganged up against California’s regulations. In 2016, Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma filed a lawsuit against California over their law regulating the sale of eggs from caged chickens. A federal judge dismissed it, claiming they didn’t have the authority to sue another state.

2. GMO Labeling

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and herbicides go hand in hand. Monsanto, for example, produces Roundup Ready seeds that are genetically modified to be resistant to Roundup, allowing farmers to spray the herbicide in great quantities without killing their crops. 

More than 90% of U.S. citizens favor GMO food labels, but legislation has been lagging, thanks to Big Ag’s political influence. 

According to a New York Times poll, more than 90% of U.S. citizens favor GMO food labels that disclose whether or not ingredients have been genetically modified. But legislation requiring labels has been lagging, thanks in part to Big Ag’s political influence.

When California introduced Prop 37 in 2012, a bill which would require companies to label genetically modified ingredients in food products, Monsanto spent more than $8 million to oppose it. For perspective, the leading donor in support of Prop 37 was the Organic Consumers Fund who donated a little more than $1 million. Not surprisingly, the bill failed to obtain enough votes in its favor.

When similar GMO bills have passed, Monsanto hasn’t been afraid to sue. Vermont passed the first GMO labeling rule of its kind, requiring that all products sold in Vermont grocery stores label GMOs effective July 2016, otherwise food companies would be fined.

Just one month after Vermont’s GMO labeling victory, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), an association that represents Big Food companies like Monsanto, sued the state.The lawsuit was eventually made moot when Obama’s administration passed S. 764, the Roberts-Stabenow GMO bill, the first federal GMO labeling law.

The law has been nicknamed “Deny Americans the Right to Know,” or the DARK Act. Unlike Vermont’s law, the federal law allows companies to print QR codes and phone numbers that consumers must scan or call to learn if the product contains GMOs. These exceptions make the information less accessible, particularly to lower income consumers who may not own smartphones that can scan QR codes. Not surprisingly, the Roberts-Stabenow GMO bill was backed by Monsanto.

3. Milk Hormone Labeling 

It isn’t just food labels that Monsanto has fought states over. They also challenged labels from dairy farmers that advertised that their milk was hormone free.

In the early 1990’s, Monsanto began manufacturing Posilac (rBST), or “recombinant bovine somatotropin,” a growth hormone used to increase milk production in dairy cows. In 2008, they sold it to Eli Lilly, but not before they waged war on dairy labeling throughout the country.

Milk from cows treated with rBST may include higher levels of insulin-like growth factor-1(IFG-1), which can increase the risk of breast and prostate cancers. The growth hormone is banned in the European Union, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.

Monsanto partnered with dairy associations and created fake “grassroots” groups to introduce legislation banning hormone-free dairy labeling.

In 1994, soon after rBST was first available, Vermont tried to mandate labeling of milk from cows treated with rBST. The Grocery Manufacturers Association sued Vermont claiming that the law violated the First Amendment. A federal court sided with GMA, and the law was overturned.

The labeling issue reemerged roughly a decade later when consumers became more concerned about what was in their food. Dairies like the Oakhurst Dairy in Portland, Maine started to label their milk as free from growth hormones. Monsanto hit them with false advertising lawsuits claiming that all milk contains natural hormones. During this time, Monsanto filed complaints with the U.S. FDA and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in an attempt to get a nationwide ban on hormone milk labeling.

When a nationwide ban failed, Monsanto fought at the state level. They partnered with dairy associations and created fake “grassroots” groupslike the Monsanto-backed American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technologyto introduce legislation banning hormone-free dairy labeling at the state level. Monsanto tried this in Kansas, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, but all of these bills failed to pass or were defeated in state courts.   

(Click below for more.)

Think Before You Gift: 10 Dangerous Products

Toy-related injuries increased 40% from 1990 to 2011.

With holiday shopping in full swing, there are some items that shoppers should think twice about before wrapping them for their loved ones.

Toy-related injuries increased 40% from 1990 to 2011. But it isn’t just children who are vulnerable to injuries from their presents. Kitchen gadgets and electronics can also quickly turn a fun-filled holiday into an overnight stay at the emergency room if they malfunction. 

Here are 10 products that may be unsafe to give to your loved ones.

1. Electronics or Toys with Button Cell Batteries

In the flurry of trying out new gadgets and toys, households with infants and toddlers should be mindful of leaving button batteries around. Infants can easily mistake these small batteries for candy and swallow them. Not only does this pose a choking hazard, but ingesting the batteries can also cause severe internal injuries.

Once ingested, the current from these small lithium-ion batteries can set off a chemical reaction, burning and attacking internal organs and tissue. Each year, about 3,500 children swallow button cell batteries. In some extreme cases, these incidents can result in permanent injuries or fatalities.

2. Zen Magnets

Some children ages 9 to 16 have accidentally swallowed Zen Magnets after placing them on their braces.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) ordered Zen Magnets to stop selling their powerful spherical magnets because they posed a choking hazard to children. But two weeks ago, the manufacturer hit back by suing the CPSC. Their products are still available for purchase.

Though they are marketed to adults who use the small magnets to design shapes and figures, some children ages 9 to 16 have accidentally swallowed them after placing them on their braces. The magnets also pose a choking risk for toddlers and infants.

When two are swallowed, the powerful magnets can cause life-threatening digestive tissue injuries when they attract. The CPSC estimates that there are more than 600 cases per year of children sustaining injuries from swallowing two or more zen magnets.

3. Drones

Drones have become more and more popular with every holiday season. Though parents can now buy toy versions of the device, like the Spider-Man Spider-Drone, drones still require some skill to operate in order to avoid collisions.

More advanced drones have obstacle collision avoidance technology, but even then, it doesn’t always work. Drones have malfunctioned and collided with people, knocking them unconscious and lacerating them with their high-speed rotating blades severely enough to require stitches. 

4. Fidget Spinners

Fidget spinners are on this list for two reasons: they can be a fire hazard and they may contain unsafe amounts of lead.

Target recently recalled the Fidget Wild Premium spinners because they contained lead levels ranging from 520 parts per million (ppm) to 33,000 ppm. Children’s toys cannot contain lead levels that exceed 100 ppm, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Even if your fidget spinner meets lead level requirements, it could be susceptible to catching on fire. Bluetooth-enabled fidget spinners have burst in flames while charging, causing the device to melt and burning surrounding surfaces.

5. Hoverboards

Another hot toy (literally) are hoverboards. Like fidget spinners, they can start fires while they are charging or even while they are in use. Hoverboards are powered by lithium-ion batteries, which can easily overheat. The liquid is highly flammable; if the battery short circuits, the electrodes can heat up so quickly that they cause the battery to explode.

In 2016, more than 500,000 hoverboards were recalled for this reason. Despite these recalls and a sense of panic as hoverboards caught fire on planes, on the street, and while charging overnight, the devices on the shelves this holiday season aren’t necessarily safer.

Seven hoverboard models have been recalled just in the past month alone, covering 13,900 hoverboards. And this October, a LayZ Hoverboard caught fire in Pennsylvania, destroying one home and damaging four others.

If you must buy a hoverboard for someone this year, the Consumer Protection Safety Commission warns that they should meet the UL 2272 Safety Standard.

6. Smart Toys

More than 6.5 million children’s accounts were exposed in the VTech electronics data breach.

If you thought the FBI had other things to worry about than your child’s talking doll, think again. This summer, they issued a formal warning that smart toys—like the Furby Connect, the i-Que robot, Cloudpets, and Toy-fi Teddy—may pose a privacy risk if they don’t require bluetooth authentication.

Toys that create personalized experiences for children often store personalized information and user data on easily breached networks, like children’s names, birthdates, and even recorded conversations.

In Germany, parents were ordered to destroy the My Friend Cayla doll since it uses a hidden microphone to record conversations with children. Conversations are also stored on a website that uses an unsecured bluetooth connection which doesn’t require a password to access. The doll is still sold in the U.S., but consumer groups have filed complaints to the Federal Trade Commission claiming that the doll violates the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

While ordering a toy to be destroyed may sound extreme, the VTech electronics data breach proved exactly what can go wrong when these toys aren’t properly secured. In 2015, a hacker breached VTech’s Learning Lodge database, which includes apps, games, e-books, videos, and music for children. More than 6.5 million children’s accounts and 5 million parents were accessed, exposing their names, addresses, photos, messages, and more.

7. Laser Toys

Laser toys use highly-concentrated light which can injure eyes and even cause blindness.

It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that pointing a laser at your eye can be dangerous. But just how bad can it be? More dangerous than staring at the sun.

Laser toys use highly-concentrated light which can injure eyes and even cause blindness, the FDA warns. These injuries aren’t immediately noticeable since they don’t cause pain, but eyesight will gradually decline, sometimes resulting in permanent damage.

Lasers can be found on popular toys like lightsabers, toy guns, and more. The FDA recommends that parents only purchase toys that have an IEC Class I label on them, which indicates they are safe for children’s use.

Though they may look like toys, never buy laser pointers for kids. A study from the National Institute of Standards and Technology revealed that only 26 percent of laser pointers met industry safety standards.

8. Ride-On Toys: Scooters, Children’s Vehicles, etc.

Ride-on toys (like scooters, tricycles, and motor-powered children’s vehicles) were responsible for 43% of hospital admissions for children between 1990 and 2011. These injuries have only become more common since foot-powered scooters were introduced in 1999. Non-motorized scooters were responsible for 39,800 injuries in 2016.

It’s up to parents to ensure their children are wearing helmets and other protective equipment. But sometimes, manufacturers design dangerous products that a helmet is no match for. The Tonka 12V Ride on Dump Truck was recalled last year after one of the trucks burst into flames on its way home from the store. 

9. Toys, Clothing, and Furniture with Flame Retardant Chemicals

Flame retardant chemicals have been linked to cancer, fertility problems, and decreased IQ.

Flame retardant chemicals are found in everything from electronics, furniture, clothing, carpet, toys, and car seats.

These chemicals are meant to prevent consumer goods from going up in flames, but long-term exposure to the chemicals may present health risks that outweigh the benefits. Long-term exposure can interfere with hormones, reproductive systems, and neurological development in children and infants.

The CPSC issued a warning in September to consumers to avoid purchasing products with organohalogens flame retardant chemicals. These chemicals have been linked to cancer, fertility problems, and decreased IQ.

Look for furniture labels that say “contains no added flame retardants,” and avoid purchasing children’s products that say they meet the California TB 117 flammability standard, since they likely have flame retardants.

10. Pressure Cookers

Pressure cookers are a decades-old kitchen favorite, and though they now come equipped with enhanced features, they can still be just as dangerous as before. Pressure cookers are susceptible to exploding unexpectedly, causing their hot contents to spew out.

Some models have been recalled because their airtight seals can unlock without warning. Others have had issues with their pressure release valves not working.

Without the ability to gradually release built up pressure, consumers are forced to remove lids from devices that are on the verge of exploding. When this happens, users can receive second- and third-degree burns which require hospital treatment.

Dicamba Attorneys File Motion to Consolidate Cases

On November 22, 2017, attorney Rene Rocha filed a motion to consolidate nine dicamba lawsuits into a multidistrict litigation (MDL). The motion argued that consolidating the cases would prevent duplicate discovery and ensure a swifter, more efficient resolution.

On February 1, 2018, the motion to consolidate these cases was approved by the panel on multidistrict litigation. These cases will all be tried in the Eastern District of Missouri.

Read the Transfer Order

The cases in question are seven putative class actions and two individual actions filed in five jurisdictions. The Court decided that these cases are similar enough in their claims, so it has consolidated them so these complaints can be considered all at once in the same court, instead of at various times in several jurisdictions across the country.

“Centralizing these cases before one judge is in the best interests of everyone who has been affected,” Mr. Rocha said. “Hopefully it will expedite a just resolution for farmers, landowners, and businessmen throughout the country.”

Dicamba Herbicide Divides Farmers, Rankles States

This past growing season, dicamba became one of the most polarizing issues in agriculture.

The new formulations of dicamba could be just as volatile—and dangerous—as the old ones.

It’s an herbicide that was previously deemed too volatile—or prone to drift onto neighboring farms—for use. Then the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved newer formulations of dicamba that manufacturers say are less volatile than previous versions.

These were sold under the names Xtendimax (made by Monsanto), Engenia (BASF), and Fexapan (DuPont). They proved incredibly popular among soybean and cotton farmers. By planting dicamba-resistant crops and spraying them with dicamba, these farmers could kill weeds without killing their crops.

Then the complaints from neighbors started pouring in.

From the spring all the way through this fall, thousands of complaints flooded agriculture boards in more than 20 states. The hardest-hit were those that produce the most soybeans, like Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, Kansas, and the Dakotas.

Several states—including Missouri, Arkansas, and North Dakota—enacted restrictions on dicamba use. Arkansas went so far as to ban the herbicide outright for the 2018 growing season. (Monsanto has challenged this decision.)

In a brief that accompanied the MDL motion, Mr. Rocha writes:

…there are no peer reviewed trials demonstrating that Xtendimax, Engenia, or Fexapan are appreciably less volatile than older formulations of dicamba, and such claims have not been demonstrated to regulators or independent researchers. In fact, some evidence suggests that there is little difference in the total volatility of Xtendimax, Engenia, or Fexapan, as compared with previously available formulations of dicamba.

In other words, these new formulations of dicamba could be just as volatile—and dangerous—as the old versions.

Lawsuit Alleges Past and Future Crop Losses

Experts estimate that 3.6 million acres of farm may have been damaged by dicamba that volatized and moved offsite, potentially devastating crops that aren’t resistant to it.

“There have been 11 field studies that point to the chemistry’s volatility.”

Brian Warren—owner and operator of Warren Farms—says he has witnessed this devastation firsthand. Mr. Warren is the lead plaintiff in Mr. Rocha’s dicamba lawsuit. He says he observed observed cupping, curling, strapping, discoloration, elongation, wrinkling, stunting, and twisting on his soybean and pumpkin crops—damage he believes occurred as a result of dicamba volatilization.

Mr. Warren says he has suffered crop yield losses this growing season and will suffer future losses as well. His complaint places the blame not at his neighbors’ feet but at the manufacturers’. It alleges that Monsanto, DuPont, and BASF should have known this damage would occur, and that their actions were therefore “willful and malicious.”

Read the Complaint

The manufacturers, meanwhile, say that misuse of their products is to blame for any damage that may have occurred from dicamba’s offsite movement.

But they have received two highly scientific rebuttals from the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. Among the university’s many counterpoints: “There have been 11 field studies conducted by six weed scientists in various parts of the country that point to the chemistry’s volatility.”

Illinois alone had 245 reports of dicamba damage in 2017, impacting an estimated 600,000 acres.

Uber Paid Hackers to Cover Up Data Breach

Uber’s very bad year got even worse with the revelation that the ride-hailing company failed to disclose a data breach for over a year and paid cyber attackers $100,000 to delete the stolen info and keep quiet.

A post on Uber’s blog written by CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and dated November 21 says that, “in late 2016 we became aware that two individuals outside the company had inappropriately accessed user data stored on a third-party cloud-based service that we use.”

Hackers stole the license numbers of 600,000 U.S. drivers and the names, email addresses, and phone number of 57 million Uber riders.

According to Bloomberg, hackers obtained security credentials uploaded to a GitHub repository and used them to steal the data of 57,000,000 Uber drivers and riders. The stolen data included the names and license numbers of around 600,000 U.S. drivers and the names, email addresses, and phone numbers of 57 million Uber users worldwide. Uber paid a $100,000 ransom to the hackers for their cooperation in keeping the incident under wraps.

Uber has reportedly “obtained assurances that the downloaded data had been destroyed” and seen “no evidence of fraud or misuse tied to the incident.” The company will provide drivers whose license numbers were compromised with free credit and identity theft protection.

“None of this should have happened, and I will not make excuses for it,” Khosrowshahi wrote on Uber’s blog. “We are changing the way we do business.”

Fallout and Legal Repercussions

State and federal laws require that companies inform the government and affected persons about breaches of sensitive data—such as driver’s licenses.

Chris Hoofnagle of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology told The Guardian that, “The only way one can have direct liability under security breach notification statutes is to not give notice. Thus, it makes little sense to cover up a breach.”

Uber has fired Joseph Sullivan, its chief security officer, and one of Sullivan’s deputies. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced an investigation into the hack in response to Uber’s disclosure.

The federal government may also get involved. Earlier this year, Uber settled Federal Trade Commission (FTC) allegations that it failed to reasonably secure sensitive consumer data.

If, despite Uber’s assurances to the contrary, riders and drivers are the victims of identity theft or other fraud stemming from the stolen data, they may have limited legal options due to Uber’s arbitration agreement. The agreement states that Uber is not liable for damages, including lost data, resulting from any use of their services. Anyone who uses Uber’s services are bound by the agreement.

Arbitration agreements disallow individual and class action lawsuits and force legal disputes to be handled by a private arbitrator. Arbitration tends to be less generous to plaintiffs than jury trials.

Uber’s Tough Times Continue

While Uber (valued at $68 billion) is the most valuable U.S. startup company, the company has recently endured a string of scandals and is said to be losing money.

Khosrowshahi replaced co-founder Travis Kalanick as CEO after an investor mutiny earlier this year. Kalanick built an aggressive “tech bro” culture that turned Uber into a unicorn, but investors, led by Fidelity Investments, felt his brash leadership put the company at legal risk. They asked for his resignation in a letter titled “Moving Uber Forward.”

The data breach is a setback for Uber, which is trying to repair its reputation as one of America’s most-hated companies.

Uber pledged $5 million to sexual assault and domestic violence prevention following a scandal that involved hundreds of sexual harassment allegations. The company stands accused in a lawsuit of stealing intellectual property from Waymo, Google’s self-driving car division. In March, the New York Times revealed that Uber used software to avoid authorities in cities where it was illegally operating. Drivers have repeatedly sued Uber, claiming they are wrongly classified as independent contractors.

These incidents are just the tip of a scandal iceberg that has made Uber one of America’s most-hated companies. As Uber tries to repair its image under new leadership, the hacking scandal is a significant setback.

ClassAction.com is following the Uber data breach carefully, and we encourage anyone who may have been affected to contact us for a free legal consultation.

LuLaRoe Accused of Operating Illegal Pyramid Scheme

On their website, retailer LuLaRoe promises their fashion consultants “happy endings” and a “substantial income.” But instead, some consultants claim the company operated an illegal pyramid scheme that burdened them with debt.

Five class action lawsuits have been filed since the end of October 2017, all alleging that retailers were lured into selling LuLaRoe merchandise with promises of earning big profits, quickly. But instead, they claim they had to invest thousands of dollars of their own money into merchandise that they ultimately couldn’t sell.

Consultants Required to Invest at Least $5K to Start

LuLaRoe is a multi-level marketing company (MLM) that relies on consultants to sell their apparel (like leggings and dresses) directly to consumers through social media and personal networks.

Just to start selling LuLaRoe merchandise, the company requires an initial investment of anywhere between $4,925 and $9,000. But the personal expenses don’t stop there.

One former LuLaRoe consultant said that she was encouraged to “buy deep” by having 10 sizes of every style. It left her with $7,000 of unsold merchandise which she has spent more than two months trying to get reimbursed for.

Consultants were encouraged to “borrow money, get loans, take out credit cards, and some were even asked to sell their breast milk.”

The company even penalizes consultants who try to use their paychecks on anything but LuLaRoe merchandise. Funds earned are placed on a LuLaRoe debit card that charges a $1.00 fee to transfer funds to a retailer’s bank account, but conveniently charges nothing to pay for more LuLaRoe inventory.

Consultants who couldn’t afford to purchase new inventory were encouraged to “borrow money, get loans, take out credit cards, and some were even asked to sell their breast milk,” a lawsuit alleges. The pressure to buy drove many women into debt. Sadly, at least two dozen LuLaRoe consultants have filed for bankruptcy since 2016.

When consultants leave the business, LuLaRoe is often unresponsive in reimbursing them. They initially advertised a 100% reimbursement policy, but in September, they changed it to a 90% reimbursement policy that no longer covered shipping, claiming that some consultants were “taking advantage of their generosity.”

Lawsuit Alleges Consultant Recruitment Was Part of a Pyramid Scheme

“The end goal for Defendants was never primarily about sales to consumers.”

A lawsuit filed in California alleges that LuLaRoe violates the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) for operating like a pyramid scheme. It asks for $1 billion on behalf of the lead plaintiffs—Aki Berry, Tiffany Scheffer, and Cheryl Hayton—and all other current and former LuLaRoe consultants who worked with the company at some point since 2013. ClassAction.com attorney John Yanchunis is lead counsel for the nationwide class action lawsuit.

“The end goal for Defendants was never primarily about sales to consumers. In fact, as the number of consultants purchasing inventory continued to grow exponentially, the quality of the LuLaRoe products and patterns deteriorated significantly,” the complaint alleges.

LuLaRoe’s business practices were anything but customer-centric. Consultants, the lawsuit alleges, weren’t able to select the patterns they thought their customers would prefer, but were forced to sell whatever the company gave them—even if it was defective. They were required to sell all apparel at a 40% markup to make profit, without the option to offer customers a discounted rate.

Consultants receive bonuses based on how many consultants they recruit and the inventory recruits purchase—not sales.

“In other words, Defendants make profits not from their consultants sales to consumers, but solely from the purchase of inventory by consultants,” plaintiffs allege. “Those consultants with a ‘down line’ are paid bonuses not by the actual number of LuLaRoe items sold, if any, by their ‘down line’ consultants, but by their inventory purchases from LuLaRoe.”

Recruiting got so out of hand, that by February 2017, there were nearly 80,000 LuLaRoe consultants—double the number of retailers just five months prior. LuLaRoe was profiting, but its consultants were struggling to sell in an oversaturated market.

MLMs are the “Epitome of Unfair Business Practice,” Says FTC

LuLaRoe isn’t the first multi-level marketing business (MLM) that has been called out for their deceptive business practices. Vemma Nutrition and Herbalife have paid upwards of $200 million to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for illegal pyramid schemes.

An FTC study on MLMs found that 99% of consultants lose money.

An FTC study on MLMs found that 99% of consultants lose money. It’s virtually impossible to sell part-time and make a profit—despite marketing that often promises otherwise.

The study’s authors were sharp in their critique of the business model, calling it “the epitome of an ‘unfair or deceptive acts or practice’ that the FTC is pledged to protect against,” and claiming that presenting “MLM as a ‘business opportunity’ or ‘income opportunity’ is a misrepresentation.”

Former LuLaRoe consultants are alleging just that in the multiple lawsuits filed against the company, which aim to bring the deceptive practices to a halt.

ClassAction.com Pursuing NorCal Wildfire Lawsuits

ClassAction.com is now investigating 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.

The state’s Public Utilities Commission is now probing what role PG&E may have played in the blaze.

With that goal in mind, ClassAction.com has 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.

ClassAction.com also hosted a free workshop at the DoubleTree Hilton in Sonoma on Friday, October 27, which addressed questions regarding health concerns, insurance claims, and environmental impacts stemming from the wildfires in Napa and Sonoma Counties. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. was the keynote speaker at that event.

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.

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.

We Are Not Afraid to Take On Utility Companies

ClassAction.com and its partner firm Morgan & Morgan have a long, impressive track record of going up against negligent utility companies like PG&E.

We 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.

Morgan & Morgan is the largest consumer protection firm in the country, with more than 300 attorneys, placing a legal powerhouse in the corner of wildfire victims. We have the resources to take on massive companies like PG&E, and we have recovered billions of dollars for our clients.

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 you are able 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.