Suing for Incorrect Credit Reporting?

Credit reporting agencies have been under a lot of attention recently thanks for Equifax’s data breach but not all of that attention benefits consumers. Representative Loudermilk from Georgia has introduced a new bill in Congress that moves to limit the Fairness in Credit Reporting Act that gives consumers a path forward when credit agencies don’t use sufficient procedures to ensure accuracy.

There are lots of other reporting agencies that employers, landlords, financial institutions that use credit reporting agencies to run background checks before making decisions. When your future is left up to a report from a third-party, you’d hope it would be right. But for many, credit reports can be very inaccurate.

One in five consumers credit reports have errors, according to a 2012 FTC study. And the repercussions can be widespread for those individuals, especially when the mistakes in background checks are related to things that send a red flag to employers, landlords and banks.

Current laws give consumers an ability to sue reporting agencies when results are inaccurate and the agency didn’t take appropriate steps to ensure accuracy. Congress previously decided that consumers whose information is incorrect should be given compensation of up to $1,000 or have the option to sue for actual damages caused by incorrect reporting, often in the form of a class action. This can mean big payouts for consumers who were denied jobs or mortgages because of inaccurate reports. If many consumers decide to pursue a class action together, the class action could easily recover a multi-million dollar compensation for the participants harmed by a credit reporting agency.

But if Rep. Loudermilk has his way, consumers will be forced to give up rights to seek compensation with a severe cap on class action compensation at $500,000. In other words, in cases where the actual damage caused racks up in the millions, all of the participants will split a maximum of half a million to help them rebuild after being harmed by a inaccurate credit report. The proposed bill essentially makes it impossible for consumers to take consumer reporting agencies to court when they’ve hurt consumers.

Public Justice highlighted one such case that would have been impossible thank to the new bill that paid consumers $18 million after a reporting agency incorrectly reported they were criminals. Instead, under the proposed bill, all of the affected consumers would have only been paid $500,000 in total, regardless of how badly the inaccurate reports affected their lives.

If you’ve been victim to incorrect credit reporting information that cost you a job, approval for a loan, or an apartment, our attorneys would like to speak with you about your experience. Pushing back against bills like these that harm consumer protections is part of the process—but bringing these cases to court is also another way to help consumers protect their rights. Call today to speak with one of our experience consumer protection attorneys.

Arkansas Trial Scheduled for Sygenta Corn Case

A trial date has been set for January 22, 2018 for the Arkansas bellwether trial against Syngenta. This trial comes years after working towards holding Syngenta accountable for contaminating Arkansas’ farmers crops. Emerson Firm, PLLC’s client, Mr. Kenny Falwell, serves as the bellwether trial plaintiff representing Arkansas farmers who have been affected by Syngenta’s genetically modified corn. Mr. Falwell is one of a number of bellwether trial plaintiffs representing farmers in multiple trials across the United States.

There has been a lot of action surrounding the Syngenta class action cases this summer. On June 26th, Syngenta was ordered to pay $217.7 million to a group of Kansas farmers after a Kansas jury issued a verdict after less than a day of deliberations that Syngenta caused five years of depressed corn prices. Not only does this give the Arkansas Syngenta case momentum, it has caused a series of cascading effects.

Just a few days later on July 6th, trial dates were set for the Arkansas and Missouri class cases, the Illinois and Nebraska class case trial, the Iowa and South Dakota class case trial, and the Ohio class trial. However, these are not the only trials Syngenta is facing.

Another individual farmer’s trial was originally set for April in Nebraska but ended in a mistrial when the judge couldn’t find enough jurors. A second trial was scheduled for July 10th but Syngenta settled out of court before the trial for an undisclosed amount with the plaintiff, announced the same day as the other trials were set. This Nebraska case was not a class case, but rather an individual farmer’s case. The Minnesota cases go to trial in August, 2017.

Emerson Firm, PLLC’s client faces the first trial in the class action bellwether cases consolidated by United States District Judge John W. Lungstrum in Kansas City, KS. A bellwether case serves as an indicator for other cases in a large multidistrict litigations. To learn more about the Syngenta Corn Class Action, contact Emerson Firm, PLLC at (501) 286-4622.

Defective Products Could Harm Countless People If H.R 985 Becomes Law

Defective and unsafe products cause thousands of injuries and deaths every year in the United States yet legislators are trying to make it easier for companies to avoid having to take responsibility for the harm their products cause. H.R. 985, an anti-class action bill on its way to the Senate after being approved in the House, would allow companies to keep their unsafe and defective products on the market even if they’re known to cause injuries or even death.

One of the goals of class action lawsuits is to remove defective and unsafe products from the marketplace, preventing further harm to others who could be injured or killed in the future. In 2010, over 38 million Americans sought medical attention after injuries related to consumer products, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Nearly 13 in every 100 people are injured and nearly 12 in every 100,000 people are killed in accidents related to consumer products. Preventing even a small part of these injuries by removing defective and unsafe products is significant, helping countless Americans avoid injury or death from products known to be harmful.

To some it might seem that defective and unsafe products lawsuits are frivolous at first, but understanding the effects of leaving these products on the market proves the importance of class action lawsuits. One recent case is a prime example of the kinds of lawsuits H.R. 985 is trying to stop.

One police officer discovered that his firearm would fire unexpectedly when dropped even with the safety on after his gun fell from his holster while chasing a suspect. No amount of training or gun safety precautions could have prevented the gun from firing and potentially killing an officer or bystanders. Extensive testing reveal that these guns were defective and often fired upon impact, even with the safety on.

One million other Americans and police officers had purchased the same gun model that may have had this same problem. A class action lawsuit helped remove these guns from the marketplace by replacing the pistols at the manufacturer’s cost and alerted purchasers of the defect, helping to prevent injuries or deaths caused by the unsafe guns.

But because no one was injured in the accident, H.R. 985 would prevent any class action lawsuit. Instead, H.R. 985 would require that someone was injured or killed by the defective gun for a lawsuit to take place and would only address that individual’s injuries without any obligation to remove the guns from the market or alert owners of the defects. Not only would these gun owners not know about the defect, the manufacturer would be able to sell more of theses defective products.

If H.R. 985 becomes a law any action to recall or alert owners of a defect will only be taken voluntarily by a manufacturer. A question central to consider about H.R. 985 is whether or not Americans can rely on manufacturers to do the right thing that would be detrimental to their profits. It should come as no shock that companies that produce defective and unsafe products aren’t jumping to do the right thing when it’s their fault.

Calling your Senator to tell them to vote NO on H.R. 985 is an important step in protecting your rights and helping prevent harm from defective products to all Americans. Call your Senator immediately before this bill goes to a vote and tell them you want your family to be protected from defective and unsafe products.

Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Not Linked to Rising Healthcare Costs

Healthcare is a hot topic in the political climate right now and there’s a lot of actions being taken in the United States House of Representatives that reflect changing views on the costs of healthcare and the role medical malpractice lawsuits have. Unfortunately for the American public, lawmakers are under the impression that lawsuits only serve to make healthcare more expensive.

A comprehensive new study shows, however, that medical malpractice lawsuits are not linked to soaring healthcare costs. In 2015, medical malpractice payouts were at an all-time low. Only one-tenth of one percent of all healthcare costs (0.1%) of healthcare costs come from medical malpractice lawsuits.

Detractors who say that the costs of medical liability insurance can also be assured that insurance for healthcare providers is also at a historic low, reaching levels lower than 2003 numbers with only 0.3% of healthcare costs being attributed to medical providers liability insurance.

As well, for how many individuals who suffer from medical malpractice annually, very few of them go on to sue doctors. Looking just at those who were killed by medical malpractice and avoidable errors, 44,000 to 400,000 people are killed a year from these kinds of mistakes. By contrast, an average of fewer than 13,000 malpractice payments a year have been made on behalf of doctors over the past quarter century, according to the study.

In other words, medical malpractice is insignificant to the overall costs of healthcare—and using health care costs as an argument against being able to hold doctors accountable for their mistakes is nothing more than empty rhetoric.

Current Legislation Aims to Take Advantage of Incorrect Perceptions

This isn’t stopping lawmakers, however, as conservative leaders are pushing for H.R. 1215, a bill that caps non-economic damages at $250,000, such as payments for severe pain and suffering someone might experience after a botched operation, regardless of many factors normally included in a lawsuit. The resolution is called “Protecting Access to Care Act” and is using the idea that medical malpractice is increasing the costs of medical care as the basis to strip Americans of their rights and give medical providers, manufacturers and companies the upper hand.

This bill will soon be voted on by the House but there are three other bills that have passed on to the Senate on their way to become law, including, H.R. 725, the “Innocent Party Protection Act”, H.R. 720, the “Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act”, H.R. 985, the “Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act”. H.R. 906, the “Furthering Asbestos Claims Transparency Act,” was rolled together into H.R. 985.

The names of these bills are intentionally misleading, using names to make it seem like these legislators have their constituents’ needs at heart. In reality, it’s the deep pockets of medical companies and doctors that are the motivating factor. As well, these laws have unclear but intended consequences that very much go against what many of these legislators have been sent to Washington to represent—smaller federal government and more local and state control.

Paul Bland, executive director of Public Justice, and Public Justice staff attorney Leah Nicholls together wrote an article in The Hill underlining some of the consequences of these bills, noting that these bills would “would override and violate at least 18 state constitutions” as well as “override those states’ carefully crafted suite of laws” in states that already have laws to accomplish the policy goals of these bills.

Beyond treading on states’ rights, these bills take away individual freedoms and rights, especially in an age when deregulation is a popular topic. As more protections are removed from individual rights, class actions serve to keep those with more power in check. And yet, legislators who spout campaign slogans about preserving rights for individuals are pushing these bills.

One of the foundations of our country is the right to hold others accountable when we’ve been done wrong. These bills serve to break down individual and local rights in favor of corporate rights.

We urge you to call your representative in the House to tell them to vote NO on H.R. 1215 and your Senator to vote NO on H.R. 725, 720 and 985.

Is this really Fairness in Class Actions?

At Emerson Firm, PLLC, we believe that many consumer rights are upheld through class actions. Throughout our extensive class action practice, spanning 36 years of fighting corporations for the average consumer, we’ve learned the essentials to protecting the rights of the people come, in part, from the collective power of class actions. Without access to class actions, the average person can’t hold corporations accountable when they steal money or take advantage of people in other ways.

A new bill in the US Congress, HR 985, aims to diminish the rights of average Americans in favor of corporations and those with deep pockets. Sponsored by Rep. Goodlatte, this bill will do substantial harm to consumers. There are 5 main reasons why HR 985 hurts Americans:

HR 985 is rushed and extreme

The bill was sent through the House Judiciary Committee in less than a week, which is an extraordinary breakneck speed to push through a bill. Most bills take months, if not years, to get out of a Committee and be sent to the floor for a vote.

American Association for Justice CEO Linda Lipsen, wrote in a letter to Rep. Goodlatte, “Shockingly, this committee has not held a single hearing to consider the consequences of this ill-conceived, overly-broad legislation. Supporting a bill that rigs the legal system against your constituents is offensive; doing so without even bothering to hold a public hearing and debate the merits is reprehensible.”

HR 985 may eliminates class actions altogether, not just make them more difficult

The bill makes creating a class action nearly impossible by requiring that that class members have the same type and scope of injury as the named representative.

One class action in the spotlight right now involving wage discrimination at Sterling, the parent company of Kay Jewelers and Jared jewelry stores, is an example of a class action that would be nearly impossible under this new bill. Not every woman experienced the same type of sexual harassment and wage discrimination in the class action. Class actions are intended to help a large group of people hold a company accountable. Individuals on their own wouldn’t be able to do that.

HR 985 seeks to make that a reality by making class actions even harder to create. Thomas M. Susman of the American Bar Association says, “This requirement places a nearly insurmountable burden for people who have suffered personal injury or economic loss at the hands of large institutions with vast resources, effectively barring them from bringing class actions.”

HR 985 violates Attorney Client Contracts

The bill also tries to limit the people an attorney can represent in a class action under the guise of conflict of interest. However, all the bill aims to do is prevent attorneys from representing clients if they’ve previously represented them before as well as family members and employees.

HR 985 targets the underdog

Don’t for a second think that HR 985 imposes these same rules on corporations that class actions are intended to hold accountable. This bill is entirely one-sided and places all the burden on class actions with the intention of making it even harder to fight corporations with deep pockets.

HR 985 changes the rules right now

Class actions often take years of litigation to hold corporations accountable and with the bill’s new rules, current class actions will be affected, throwing out years of work spent fighting for consumer rights. “The bill will undermine the enforcement of this nation’s civil rights laws and upend decades of settled class action law,” says Jocelyn D. Larkin, Executive Director of the Impact Fund. It’ll put many cases back at square one that are necessary to hold corporations accountable and protect consumers.

Emerson Firm, PLLC isn’t the only law firm fighting for consumer rights and we join countless other non-profits and advocacy organizations who fight for the underdog every day.

Legislators Eye Consumer Protection Laws in 2017

There has been a rising interest in reducing the protections afforded by laws, both at the state level in Arkansas as well as at the national level with new legislation working its way through Congress. Two proposed bills directly aim to limit consumer protections by impacting how consumers can hold companies accountable when they’ve caused harm.

Arkansas’ SRJ8 is a supposed tort reform bill that aims to limit the amount Arkansans would be able to receive in a lawsuit. This potentially affects cases related to civil actions, including medical malpractice, accident and injuries, premises liability and product liability, and essentially puts a price on the lives of Arkansans and takes away the right to a jury trial in tort cases.

The Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association recently spoke out about this bill to encourage Arkansans to speak with their representatives, outlining the bill’s goals:

SJR8 is extremely dangerous for Arkansans because it takes away our 7th Amendment right to fight back by:

  1. Putting a price tag on life
  2. Preventing juries from holding harmful entities accountable for causing harm
  3. Giving lobbyists and politicians control of our courts
  4. Taking away our right to hire the legal representation we need to protect ourselves from corporate interests and insurance companies

SRJ8 would directly limit the ability of lawyers to fight for consumer and individual rights.

On the national level, there are new bills reaching the floor that will make it nearly impossible for consumers to recover finances lost in Ponzi schemes. Representative Bob Goodlatte sponsored a bill that recently passed through the House Judiciary Committee titled the “Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act.” Opposed by hundreds of civil rights groups and other advocates for justice, the bill will do tremendous harm in limiting consumer protections.

In an article examining the bill, Paul Bland of Public Justice wrote an explanation of what the bill aims to do:

Goodlatte’s bill was drafted by corporate lobbyists to eliminate the vast majority of class action lawsuits. It would roll back protections for defrauded investors, cheated consumers, people whose privacy has been violated, small businesses harmed by price fixing, workers cheated by wage theft, and pretty much anyone harmed in any way by corporations that break the law.

Regardless of whether these bills become laws both in Arkansas and nationally, it’s clear that consumer protections are under fire in our current political climate.