What’s The Big Deal About Big Class Actions?

Class actions allow groups of people to come together in one lawsuit against a common defendant and assert common legal claims.  Class actions are a method of addressing the same legal problem across a group of people rather than doing so through many individual lawsuits.  Class actions are available for personal injury or wrongful death, defective products, employment and labor, consumer fraud, business practices and contract law, or insurance law cases, among many other possibilities.

It seems like some lobbying group is always complaining about class actions.  Trying to reduce the situations when a class action can be brought.  Trying to shuttle all class actions to federal court where they can suffer a slow death.  Trying to get people to agree to contracts that foreclose their right to participate in a class action.  Trying to eliminate the class action vehicle period.

So, given the uproar over class actions, they must be easy moneymaking machines that any lawyer can file and instantly become a multimillionaire, right?  Just find a named plaintiff, slap the words “class action” in the lawsuit caption, file the thing, and have plenty of buckets available to catch the gold coins when they start raining from the sky.  Well, let’s have a reality check for a moment.

The truth is that there’s an entire section of the rules of procedure and an entire body of case law on the books that governs class actions.  Any lawsuit that becomes a class action usually does so after passing through a series of judicial checks and balances to ensure that a class action is truly appropriate.  And, under Iowa law, any district court order certifying a lawsuit as a class action is automatically reviewed by the Iowa Supreme Court.  Even the settlement of a class action, which is when the big bucks are usually made, is strictly monitored by the courts for compliance with the procedural rules and case law I mentioned.  Thus, class actions are not the license to print money that some organizations would have you believe them to be.

What’s often omitted from the discussion is the benefits provided by class actions, such as:  class action lawsuits create strength in numbers; class action lawsuits allow people to be included in the lawsuit who otherwise would not have been able to bring an individual lawsuit;even if they wouldn’t have been able to afford an individual lawsuit; class actions are cost effective for plaintiffs and defendants because both benefit from not having to deal with dozens, hundreds, or thousands of the same claim over and over again; class action lawsuits increase the courts’ efficiency for the same reasons that class actions are cost effective; and class action lawsuits are the great equalizer between the masses and huge corporations with limitless bank accounts to use defending themselves, especially for small claims that otherwise have no chance on an individual basis.

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Federal Law Requires Pay For Most Interns

In the for-profit private employment market, interns are usually considered employees who must be paid regular minimum wage and, if earned, regular overtime wages under federal wage and hour law.  But occasionally people may serve as interns without compensation.  The United States Department of Labor considers all of the facts and circumstances of an internship program in deciding whether the program’s participants must be paid as regular workers.

Several factors are evaluated to determine whether interns should be paid:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

If all of the factors listed above are met, an employment relationship does not exist under federal law and the intern need not be paid regular or overtime wages.  This is a difficult test to meet and few internships will lawfully be unpaid internships.

As noted, one of the factors is whether the employer benefits from the intern’s labor.  Interns who assist with the employer’s operations or actually engage in productive work for the employer should be paid.  That’s especially true when employers use interns as substitutes for regular workers or to increase existing labor forces during certain time period.  Interns will be viewed as compensable employees if they’re doing work that the employer would have otherwise hired additional employees to perform.

The Department of Labor also analyzes whether the internship is of an unlimited duration.  Internships that do not have a set ending point are a red flag.  Another warning sign for the DOL is employers who use internships as a casting call for future employees.  Interns on a trial run with an employer, when there’s a chance that the intern may later be hired on a permanent basis, are normally considered paid employees.

The Dangers Of Texting And Driving

Which illegal driver would you rather meet on a dark roadway?  A drunk driver or someone sending a text message?  Drunk drivers are the worst, right?  Nope.  Texting and driving, because of the distractions it causes the driver, including taking eyes off the road and removing hands from the steering wheel, has a far greater potential to cause a motorcycle or car accident resulting in personal injury or death.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has compiled some eye-opening statistics from various sources.   Forbes contends that texting and driving kills eleven teens every day, leads to 330,000 injuries per year, and is six times more dangerous than drunk driving.

The Federal Communications Commission also tracks information regarding distracted driving, including text messaging.  The FCC reports that the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted.  Further, eleven percent of drivers aged 18 to 20 who were involved in an automobile accident and survived admitted they were sending or receiving texts when they crashed.  Car and Driver magazine has even road-tested reaction times for braking when driving 70 mph under certain driver conditions.  Car and Driver found that the slowest reaction time was caused by texting.

Iowa law prohibits cellphone use for teen drivers with intermediate or restricted licenses.  Iowa law is secondary enforced for adults, but primary enforced for teen drivers, meaning law enforcement can stop teen drivers solely for texting while driving, while adults cannot be stopped solely for texting and may be ticketed for texting only after being stopped for another offense (secondary enforcement).

Country Life Recalls Target-Mins Iron Supplement Bottles Due to Lack of Child-Resistant Packaging

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has announced a voluntary recall of the following consumer product because the product could cause personal injuries or death due to product liability. Consumers should stop using recalled products immediately unless otherwise instructed.

Name of product:

Target-Mins™ Iron Supplement Bottles

Hazard:

The packaging is not child-resistant as required by the Poison Prevention Packaging Act. The supplement tablets inside the bottle contain iron, which can cause serious injury or death to young children if multiple tablets are ingested at once.

Consumer Contact:

Country Life at (800) 645-5768, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, by email at salesadmin@countrylifevitamins.com or visit the firm’s website at www.countrylifevitamins.com and click on the “Contact Us” icon, then “Product Questions” for more information.

Description

This recall involves Country Life Target-Mins 25 mg iron supplements bottles. The bottle is brown with a black top and has a white label with a yellow banner at the top and a green banner at the bottom. The words “IRON,” “Country Life” and “90 tablets” are printed on the label. Bar code 015794024927 and Lot Number 13A866B are printed on the far left side of the front label.

Remedy

Consumers should immediately place recalled bottles out of the reach of children and return them to the place of purchase for a full refund or a replacement bottle.

Sold at

New Seasons, Sprouts Farmers Market, Vitamin Cottage, Whole Foods Market and other natural food stores nationwide from January 2013 to May 2013 for about $10.

Manufacturer

Country Life LLC, of Hauppauge, New York

Source:  http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Recalls/2013/Country-Life-Recalls-Target-Mins-Iron-Supplement-Bottles/

Philips Recalls Metal Halide Lamps Due to Fire, Laceration Hazards

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has announced a voluntary recall of the following consumer product because the product could cause personal injuries or death due to product liability. Consumers should stop using recalled products immediately unless otherwise instructed. It is illegal to resell or attempt to resell a recalled consumer product.

 

Name of product:

Metal Halide Lamps

 

Hazard:

The internal wiring can arc causing the lamp to catch fire or the glass to shatter. This poses fire and laceration hazards.

 

Consumer Contact:

Philips Lighting Company at (800) 372-3331, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday, at e-mail qualityadvisory2013@philips.com, or online at www.philips.com/recall for more information.

 

Description

The recalled items are egg-shaped, clear glass, 150-watt industrial metal halide lamps. They are about five inches long and have a medium base. Recalled lamps were manufactured between November 2012 and March 2013. “Philips,” “150W” “ALTO M142/0,” “Hg,” “USA 3A-1” and “MHC150/U/MP/4K” are stamped on the lamp. Each lamp comes in a protective cardboard sleeve. The Philips logo appears at the top of the protective sleeve on all sides. “MasterColor,” “Ceramic Metal Halide ED-17 Protected,” “Hg – Lamp Contains Mercury” are on the side of the sleeve. “MHC150/U/MP/4K ALTO” and Universal Product Code (UPC) “46677 37724” are on a label on the side of the sleeve.

Incidents/Injuries

Philips has received one report of a failure that damaged a lamp. The company has received no reports of injury or property damage.

Remedy

Consumers should immediately stop using the lamps and contact Philips for a full refund or a replacement. Philips will issue a refund as a credit to all distributors with recalled lamps in their inventories and will replace recalled lamps that have been installed at no cost to the consumer.

Sold at

Professional electrical wholesale supply distributors for use by industrial and commercial property owners from November 2012 to April 2013 for about $20.

Manufacturer

Philips Lighting Company, of Bath, N.Y.

Source:  http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Recalls/2013/Philips-Recalls-Metal-Halide-Lamps/

Remedies In Construction Defect Cases

There are two main components to a construction defect case.  First, you have to prove that the builder or contractor is liable.  Second, you have to prove your damages.  The second component, damages, is often overlooked as an area that needs attention in construction defect cases.  Proving liability against the builder or contractor is great, but doesn’t do much good if you haven’t properly prepared your damages case.

Damages in defective construction cases may include diminution in value, cost of construction or completion as required under the contract, or loss of rentals.  As a general rule, the cost of correcting the defects or completing the omissions is the proper measure. Costs are limited, however, by the concept of economic waste. If the defects can be corrected only at a cost grossly disproportionate to the result or benefit obtained by the owner, or if correcting the defect would involve unreasonable destruction of the builder’s work, the proper measure of damage is the reduced value of the building.  The diminution in value is the difference between the value of the building if the contract had been fully performed and the value of the performance actually received.

In addition to these principles, you also have a duty to “mitigate” (try to reduce) your construction defect damages.  You can’t necessarily allow a construction defect to fester, thus creating even more problems, and then expect the builder/contractor to pay for everything.  Iowa law requires you to take steps to minimize any further damages beyond the initial defective construction.  So, for example, if a roofing contractor does a bad job and leaves you with a leaky roof, you need to get that roof fixed and not allow it to cause damage to the interior of your house because there’s a possibility that the roofing contractor won’t be liable for that extra damage.