Blogging for Justice

Want a Shot of Arbitration With That Latte?

 (Editor's note: the following blog was written by J.G. Preston, press secretary at Consumer Attoryneys of California. It is posted here with his permission)

Families Affected by Asbestos tell Senators to Stand with Them, not with Asbestos Companies

Too often, when members of Congress and their staffs hear anything about asbestos, they’re hearing it from the corporations that manufactured asbestos and exposed workers or veterans to it. These companies and their lobbying powerhouse, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have been championing a bill, the so-called “FACT Act,” that would delay and deny justice to people sickened by asbestos exposure.

100% Organic? Not this Thyme

Many of us make New Year’s resolutions to eat heathier and buy more organic food. It takes a certain amount of willpower (and money) to purchase organic bananas, herbs, or tomatoes that can be often twice as expensive as conventionally grown fruits and veggies. But there’s a sense of a satisfaction that comes with it, knowing that you’re feeding yourself and your family better, healthier food.

The High Price of Playing in the NFL

This NFL season has been wrought with story after story of former NFL players being diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated concussions and traumatic brain injuries. In November, the family of Hall of Fame running back Frank Gifford announced he had the disease.

All I Want For Christmas Is Privacy

This holiday season, the most popular toys on the shelves don’t just talk or roar, or cry or transform. They listen and remember. Everyday affordable children’s toys are now a part of the Internet of Things, availing children and families of the joys of interactive playthings and the dangers of hacking, spying, and theft of personal information.

PA. Justices Void Nursing Home Arbitration Agreement

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in a recent case, found a way to get around some forced arbitration clauses. Forced arbitration clauses can be found within any contract - from cell phones to credit card contracts, to nursing home admission forms. These clauses take away a consumer's right to hold a company accountable in court if they break the law or cheat them.

When Food Companies Put Profits Ahead of Your Safety

Getting dinner ready in my house can be a somewhat complicated business. One of my kids is trying to be a vegan, another wants to eat gluten and lactose-free, another is allergic to strawberries, and I myself am supposed to be watching my calories. So there’s a lot to consider when preparing a family meal, and that’s before we get to everyone’s particular likes and dislikes. The one thing I always took for granted though, was the safety of our food.

Sure, I knew that meats should be cooked to a certain temperature, but otherwise I believed that the food we put on the table was safe to eat. But the more I’ve worked on the issue of food safety, the more I’ve realized that’s not always the case. The food we buy frequently presents danger for our families. Danger that even the most knowledgeable and hygienic of cooks cannot avoid.

Approximately 48 million Americans are sickened by foodborne illnesses every year; 128,000 are hospitalized; and 3,000 die, costing the nation approximately $77 billion.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Even when consumers are made sick by food, the vast majority of cases are never specifically identified - 81 percent of foodborne illnesses remain the product of unknown agents. The vast majority of incidences of what we know colloquially as the stomach flu are actually cases of foodborne illness.

Today AAJ is releasing a new report that shows the scope of this enormous problem, and demonstrates how the civil justice system plays a key roll as consumers’ last line of defense. The civil justice system has proven to be the most effective – and sometimes the only – mechanism for deterring negligent behavior.

The report outlines several instances in which food companies knowingly let Americans eat food contaminated with deadly pathogens. Take, for example, the 2009 peanut scandal, in which executives at the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) knew for at least three years that they had a salmonella problem but put profits ahead of safety and continued to ship their products to unsuspecting consumers. At least ten of those consumers died. The court case would eventually reveal that when employees told PCA President Stewart Parnell of the contamination, he replied “Just ship it,” and in another instance, “turn them loose.” Those products were incorporated into hundreds of products under a wide variety of labels.

The civil justice system has frequently uncovered this kind of pattern of corporations putting profits over safety. This past spring, Blue Bell took its ice cream off grocery shelves for months after three people died from listeria contamination. We now know that Blue Bell was aware that its factories had a listeria problem two years ago in 2013, but did not stop production or issue a recall.

Remarkably, most processed food manufacturing facilities and farms are not regularly visited by federal inspectors. Federal regulators are overwhelmed, and their focus falls on identifying outbreaks after they happen. The civil justice system works to prevent contamination before it happens. During litigation, attorneys frequently use discovery to compel producers, suppliers, buyers, and auditors to disclose inside information, which helps to trace how food was allowed to become contaminated – and to pinpoint the negligent parties. This power stands in stark contrast to that of regulators, who are often restricted to asking the food company for nothing more than a voluntary recall with no admission of negligence.

For food manufacturers, knowing they can be held accountable in court provides significant incentive to improve safety and end dangerous practices. Even the FDA’s highest-ranking food-safety official, Michael Taylor, has described litigation as “a central element of accountability.”

We may not think about the safety of our food regularly, but we are putting an immense trust in the companies that produce what we eat. Too often, they put profits ahead of safety, and we suffer the consequences.

Please learn more by reading our full report!

78,000 Consumers to CFPB: End Forced Arbitration

Yesterday, Republicans in Congress voted to obstruct the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s authority to act on a critical consumer issue – ending forced arbitration.

TV reporter crashes secret conference where corporate lobbyists write state laws

State legislators meeting with their counterparts from other states to discuss policy ideas – that all sounds well and good, right? But what if corporate lobbyists are paying for the whole event, and are inside the private meeting, and are even writing the draft bills that the legislators are discussing?

Congress Acts to End Forced Arbitration

Did you make a call on your cell phone today?  Or buy something using your credit card?  Most Americans engage in these activities every day without realizing that they could be giving up their legal rights – specifically, their right to hold the cell phone company or the bank accountable in court if they cheat customers or violate their privacy.  It may sound crazy, but when you bought that cell phone or opened that credit card, the corporation likely buried a forced arbitration clause in the fine print of the agreement.

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