This Is Why Cyber Criminals Want Your Medical Records

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

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

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

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

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

Health Care Records Offer One-Stop Shop for Criminals

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victims Spend Thousands to Resolve Medical Fraud

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Identity Theft Can Create Medical Inaccuracies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Were You Hacked?

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

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

What You Need to Know About Dicamba Drift

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

What is dicamba?

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

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

What is dicamba drift?

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

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

Dicamba drift has led to massive crop damages. More than 200,000 acres in Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee were damaged by dicamba last year. And though it is early in the 2017 growing season, farmers have already filed more than 500 dicamba drift complaints in Arkansas this year.

Why did Arkansas vote to restrict dicamba use?

As dicamba misuse complaints continue to pile up , the Arkansas Agriculture Department’s State Plant board voted on June 23 to adopt an emergency rule severely restricting the use of dicamba.

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

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

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

Kansas, too, is investigating complaints of dicamba damage, and may have to take action to restrict its use.

What is Monsanto’s role in the dicamba drift controversy?

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

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

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

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

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

Monsanto also produces one of the newer dicamba formulations, XtendiMax.

Why are farmers filing dicamba lawsuits?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends of the Earth’s Myriam Douo Talks Monsanto Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Myriam Douo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does this lack of transparency ultimately affect consumers?

Credit: Friends of the Earth Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March Against Monsanto Protests Roundup Worldwide

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

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

A Facebook Page Starts a Worldwide Movement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roundup was Enemy No. 1 at the 2017 March

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We consider Syngenta the twin of Monsanto.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hold Monsanto Accountable

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

Think Twice Before Using These 5 Hair Care Products

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

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

1. Babyganics

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. WEN® by Chaz Dean

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

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

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

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

3. Keratin Hair Products

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

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

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

4. Hair-Smoothing Products with Formaldehyde

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

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

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

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

5. “Natural” Products that Contain Synthetic Ingredients

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

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

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

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

FCC Commissioner May Empower Telemarketers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump Looks to Roll Back Regulations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professional Plaintiffs Tarnish TCPA’s Reputation

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

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

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

“It’s my business. It’s what I do.”

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

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

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

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

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

 — Memo from General Motors to its attorneys

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything the legislators do favors the corporations.

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

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

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

That’s exactly right.

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

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

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

General Motors settles the fastest.

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

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

What advice would you give to someone buying a car?

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

People should start reading what they’re signing.

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

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

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

What advice would you give to consumers in general?

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

We need more people involved in consumer advocacy.

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

GameStop Looks to Level Up Its Site’s Cybersecurity

It could be game over for GameStop shoppers.

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

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

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

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

1.4 Billion Records Breached in 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthem Scares Off Data Breach Plaintiffs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children’s Product Recalls, Injuries Spiked in 2016

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

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

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

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

IKEA and McDonald’s Recalled 29 Million Products Each

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

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

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

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

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

Companies Slow to Issue Recalls

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

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

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

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

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

Resources for Parents

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

Other notable dangerous products listed in the report include:

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

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

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

The following organizations also provide information on child safety hazards:

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

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

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

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

 

Saks, Arby’s Data Breaches Spur State Legislation

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

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

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

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

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

Free Case Review

Saks Breach Allegedly Threatens Tens of Thousands

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neiman Marcus Settles Data Breach Lawsuit for $1.6M

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

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

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

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

New Mexico Finally Passes Data Breach Law

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

H.B. 15 states the following:

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

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

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

Court Documents Allege Monsanto Influenced the EPA

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

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

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

EPA and Monsanto’s “Natural Flow of Information”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Former EPA Scientist Accuses Rowland of Intimidating Staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FIFA Panel Identifies Flaws in EPA’s Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monsanto’s PR Spin May Be Losing Steam

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

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

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

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

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

 

The 10 Best Consumer Protection Tools Online

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

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

1. The NHTSA’s Auto Recall Lookup

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

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

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

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

If all else fails, lawyer up.

2. Consumers’ Checkbook’s Surgeon Ratings

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

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

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

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

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

3. ProPublica’s Dollars for Doctors

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

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

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

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

4. The CFPB’s Know Before You Owe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Click below for page 2.)

Fairness in Class Action Act Threatens Civil Justice

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

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

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

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

amanda werner
Amanda Werner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FCC Blocks Privacy Laws While Americans Ask For More

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

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

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

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

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

Putting “Corporate Interest Before Consumers”

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

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

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

Verizon Fined $1.35 Million for Supercookies

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

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

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

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

Majority of Americans Want More Control Over Their Privacy

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

According to a PEW study published in September 2016:

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

Tips for Maintaining Online Privacy

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

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

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

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

Why the EPA Can’t Manage to Ban Known Carcinogens

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

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

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

Chemicals Are Considered Safe Until Proven Guilty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chemical Industry Relies on “Scientists for Hire”

TSCA-Reform-Infographic
Credit: Center for Environmental Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whistleblower Reveals EPA Reviews Have Ties to Industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Click below for page 2.)

John Yanchunis Is Lead Counsel in Yahoo Data Breach Case

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

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

Read the Order

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

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

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

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

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

Yanchunis Heads Five-Person Executive Committee

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

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

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

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

Lawsuit Seeks Tighter Security, Hundreds of Millions in Damages

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It will be extensive,” he said.

Experience with High-Profile Breaches Proved Crucial

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

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

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

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

To Protect Profits, Monsanto Campaigns to Reform Science

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

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

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

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

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

Glyphosate Labeled a “Probable Carcinogen”

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

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

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

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

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

The American Chemistry Council Campaigns Against IARC

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

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

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

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

Monsanto’s Tactics Are “Reminiscent of Big Tobacco”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The EPA May Be Monsanto’s Next Target

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

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

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

Ovarian Cancer Patients Seek Another Talc Victory

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

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

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

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

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

Swann v. Johnson & Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

View Our J&J Infographic

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

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

New Study Bolsters Talc-Cancer Link

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florida Strikes Down Student Debt Relief Scams

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

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

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

Triple Digit Fees for Free Services

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

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

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

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

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

Some Companies Take Customers’ Money and Run

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

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

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

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

Companies Pose as the U.S. Department of Education

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

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

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

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

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

Florida Puts Three Debt Companies Out of Business

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

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

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

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

What to Look Out For

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

We used to, anyway.

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

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

Read the Complaint

The products cited in the complaint are the following:

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

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

Complaint Alleges False and Deceptive Advertising

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

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

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

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

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

Labels, Slogans Emphasize Healing Powers of Keratin

Keratin2_Blog_720x405

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

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

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

The expert confirmed that the products do not contain keratin.

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

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

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

Hold the Beauty Industry Accountable

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

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

Johnson & Johnson Pays for Baby Bedtime Products

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

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

View Our J&J Infographic

J&J Tests Their Bedtime Routine, Not Products

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claims Violate FTC’s Advertising Standards

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

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

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

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

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

Greater Federal Oversight is Just What J& J Needs

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

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

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

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

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

Lawsuits Slam JCPenney, Macy’s for Duping Consumers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hold Retailers Accountable

Brick-and-Mortar Stores Desperate for Deals

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon Begins Phasing Out List Prices

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

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

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

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

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

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

Batteries Powering Holiday Gifts May Present Hidden Dangers

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

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

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

Li-ion Power is King of The Battery Jungle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do Lithium-ion Batteries Pose Any Other Dangers?

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

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

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

Lithium-ion Safety Precautions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

In Light of Blasts, Senator Demands E-Cig Recalls

(Photo credit: Corey Sipkin)

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

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

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

“Huff, Puff, Explode”

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

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

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

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

E-Cigs Spark Lawsuits in New Jersey

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

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

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

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

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

ClassAction.com Seeks Justice for Vape Victims

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

Read the Complaint

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