CJAC: Civil Justice Association of California

Brad Pitt Takes On The $9 Billion Shakedown Against Chevron

Posted on 05/06/2015 @ 10:00 AM

Beating out George Clooney, Brad Pitt recently won film rights to a book covering the $9 billion shakedown of Chevron in Ecuador, a story they believe big enough to be made into a movie.

"Law of the Jungle," a 2014 book by Paul Barrett, tells a story about the world's biggest corporate shakedown: “the multibillion, fraud-ridden, bribe-laden, media-driven tale of a left-wing lawyer's effort to use Ecuador's corrupt justice system” to wring billions out of the oil company, reports Investor’s Business Daily.

The case was based on claims that Chevron was responsible for rain forest pollution in Ecuador's Amazonian rain forest and sought $18 billion.

A cottage industry devoted to maligning Chevron cropped up and for 22 years, they fought back. Last year, the oil company finally won after U.S. Judge Lewis Kaplan denounced the whole operation as "fraudulent" and ordered that no judgment against Chevron be enforced.

To read the Investor’s Business Daily story, here.

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Small victory in ADA lawsuit reform

Posted on 04/27/2015 @ 10:00 AM

Assembly Bill 54 (Olsen) is one of several current bills addressing a wave of frivolous ADA access lawsuits hitting counties across the state, with about 60 businesses in Stanislaus and Merced counties alone. Recent amendments taken on the bill in the Assembly Judiciary Committee watered it down, but Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen called it a “first step in the right direction.”

AB 54, as originally written, would have given companies two months to fix ADA violations. Such “right to cure” language, with varying amounts of time, is also found in Assemblyman Adam Gray’s AB 52 and in Senator Cathleen Galgiani’s Senate Bill 67, two other pieces of legislation currently working their way through the legislative process.

Disability activists argued aggressively against Olsen’s right to cure language. The language was deleted in favor of a provision giving companies a $250 tax credit toward the cost of hiring a state-certified inspector to survey conditions at a business and suggest changes.

Although frustrated, Olsen noted that the committee vote is the first movement toward reform in years. AB 54 is scheduled for an Assembly Revenue and Taxation hearing in May.

To read the Modesto Bee story, click here.

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The Perils of Overwarning

Posted on 04/23/2015 @ 10:00 AM

By: Kim Stone, CJAC President

We have become a community of warners.

My car carries a warning sticker that the vehicle may contain chemicals known by the State of California to cause cancer or reproductive harm. The parking lot where I park each morning at work has the same warning signage, as does the coffee shop nearest to my office. That’s three Proposition 65 warning signs and I haven’t even started my work day.

Actually, I encountered several other warnings before the day even began. The new dishwasher comes with a host of warnings, which I ignored while doing the breakfast dishes. There’s a warning on the electrical plug of the blender, which I ignored while making my son a smoothie. There are warnings in my car’s user manual, which maybe I reviewed right after we bought it (or maybe not, I can’t remember.)

Who do we have to thank for all these warning labels? The lawyers, of course! Proposition 65 warning labels have been a gravy train for a dozen or so California lawyers and so-called non-profits. In 2013, 22 plaintiffs and interest groups filed all of the Proposition 65 lawsuits in California, resulting in a total settlement payment amount of over $17 million dollars, of which over $12 million dollars or 73% went to the lawyers for attorney’s fees and costs!! 2013 wasn’t an unusual year. The same thing happened in 2012, when 17 plaintiffs’ lawyers or organizations received settlements worth over $20 million, taking over $14 million, or 71%, in attorney’s fees and costs. All so that we can have even more Proposition 65 warning signs.

Some of the crazier warning signs I have seen include a warning on a baby stroller that advise: “Remove child before folding.” A warning label on a children’s scooter advises: “This product moves when used.” There are toilet brushes that advise, “Do not use for personal hygiene,” in case you were tempted to brush your teeth with it; and a household iron that warns people to take the clothes off their body before ironing them. (For more funny warning labels, check out the Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch Wacky Warning Labels contests.)

While we can chuckle at the stupidity of the people who did the things that led to a lawyer advising someone not to iron the shirt while wearing it, overwarnings have serious and actual costs.

All of us pay more for products as a result of frivolous lawsuits. Some company had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars defending each of those frivolous lawsuits and then had to put up that sign or add that label to the package. And I can’t help but wonder what those idiotic signs are doing to our collective common sense – or lack thereof.

Additionally, when we see too many meaningless warning signs, we learn to ignore all warning signs, even the rare one that might make sense.

I’ve been thinking about the problem of overwarning labels recently, because of a bill in the Sacramento legislature to require warning labels on sugar-sweetened beverages. This bill would require a warning label on sodas and juice drinks that warns: Drinking beverages with added sugar can contribute to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay. And, you guessed it - the businesses that don’t put that warning up will get hit with a lawsuit and attorney’s fees, much like the Proposition 65 scheme.

The city of San Francisco is taking things a step further, considering a warning ordinance with substantial administrative penalties for violations.

Sure, sodas aren’t health food, but most people realize they are not. If we continue down this path of overwarning, even fewer people will heed the signs.

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Class-Action Lawyer May Be Tech's Least Friended Man

Posted on 04/06/2015 @ 02:00 PM

The New York Times recently reported that since the early 2000’s, Jay Edelson, principal of Edelson PC, a Chicago-based class-action law firm, claims to have won over $1 billion in settlements against tech firms over privacy violations. Those sued by Edelson include tech giants such as Amazon, Apple, and Google.

Edelson’s critics condemn his firm for creating a niche industry applying old laws to new technologies, costing tech businesses millions of dollars each year.

Edelson recently filed a suit against Facebook contending that the social media site has “secretly amassed the world’s largest privately held database of consumer biometrics data.” In the suit, Edelson claims that Facebook violates an Illinois law called the Biometric Information Privacy Act by storing images of its users’ faces without their permission.

A Facebook spokeswoman, in an email to the Times, said, “[t]his lawsuit is without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously.” She noted that the face-tagging feature could be turned off at which point the data to suggest tags to other people is deleted.

Another example, the Times reports, is Edelson’s suit against Spokeo, a fee-based site that collects data on people from online and offline sources. Spokeo, on its website says it’s a “search engine that organizes White Pages listings, Public Records and Social Network Information to help you safely find & learn about people.”

Edelson sued under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, another old law meant to keep credit reporting agencies from providing inaccurate information that could make it harder for consumers to borrow money or get a job.

The United States Supreme Court for the Ninth Circuit ruled there was indeed standing to sue for damages. Spokeo has since appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court.

If the case goes forward, Spokeo could face billions of dollars in damages. John Nadolenco, partner with Mayer Brown in Los Angeles who is defending Spokeo, told the Times, the damages would be “annihilating.”

To read the full story, click here.

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ATRA Launches New Asbestos Litigation Website

Posted on 03/09/2015 @ 02:00 PM

The American Tort Reform Association announced the launch of a new website to serve as a clearing house for information about asbestos litigation: www.asbestoslitigationwatch.org. It is also designed to serve as something of a counterweight to the asbestos law firm websites that recruit clients.

Since 1986, ATRA has been working to bring greater fairness, predictability and efficiency to America's civil justice system. This website will focus directly on asbestos claim procedures and rooting out misrepresentation in the system.

The current asbestos litigation system is out of control, notes the website, and the “process is treating injured persons unequally and taking compensation away from legitimate future claimants.” The website includes infographs regarding the state of the current system, along with news and other resources.

If you have any questions or need additional information, please contact Darren McKinney, Director of Communications, ATRA, at dmckinney@atra.org.

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