In this podcast, John Maher talks with Rob Mazow and Kevin McCullough from the Law Office of Mazow McCullough. They explain how consumer class action cases work. Then, they talk about the rise in class action cases for data breaches.
John: Hi, I’m John. I’m here today with Rob Mazow and Kevin McCullough of the Law Office of Mazow McCullough. Today, we’re talking about consumer class action cases. Robert and Kevin, welcome.
Rob Mazow: Thanks, John.
Kevin McCullough: Thank you, John.
What Are Consumer Class Action Cases?
John: So Kevin, what are consumer class action cases in general?
Kevin: In general, consumer class action litigation cases are typically cases or issues where a consumer has been wronged or harmed by a large business, and there’s a collective pool of individuals who may have been affected in the same way. And when you have a situation with multiple individuals suffering the same damage or similar damages as a result of a big company doing something wrong, the courts would tend to prefer to handle all of those cases together in a consolidation of those cases versus having them flow through the court system on an individual basis. So in general, class actions involve multiple parties, multiple injured people where their case could be handled by one individual plaintiff or a representative handling the case for those individuals.
Minimum Number of People for Consumer Class Action Cases
John: Is there a minimum number of people that needs to be involved in order for it to be a class action case?
Kevin: There is. And that’s really discretionary, depending upon which court you’re in or which judge is hearing that particular case. The standard or the line if you will that judges typically like to see before they say we can move forward with a class action where there’s enough people involved is 20.
But oftentimes courts are looking for 50 or more individuals as a number. But again, that can be really discretionary based upon the court that you’re in.
Types of Consumer Class Action Cases
John: Okay. And what are some different types of consumer class action cases? And specifically, what are some of the ones that you handle?
Rob: The ones that we handle here at Mazow McCullough have been in the areas of false advertisement, which would be by way of an example, let’s say somebody buys a product that they believe is manufactured overseas. They buy a kosher wine that they believe is made in Israel, and the label of the wine says it’s made in Israel, and then it turns out it’s made in Connecticut.
The person may feel as a consumer that they’ve been wronged. They were under the impression that they’re paying a premium, extra money because this product was produced and imported from Israel, when in fact it was done in Connecticut. They feel wronged for a bunch of different reasons. It could be that they overpaid, it could be that they just felt misled that they’re serving this wine, which they thought was from one place when it turned out to be another. That’s one example.
Another example of a kind of case that we have handled in class actions would be an insurance company. An auto insurance company, which has failed to pay certain monies that they owe to their insurers. For instance, let’s say that an insured has a trial and they get a judgment. The insurance company pays the judgment, but they don’t pay interest on the judgment. Now, the interest itself might be relatively small, but if you multiply that small amount by the thousands of people that haven’t been paid that interest, that would be an example of a class action where one person who was harmed in a small way can represent the damages that occurred to a large amount of people.
Having a class action is an efficient way to bring that case to a court. You tell the court, you say, “This insurance company has harmed these people in a very similar way.” It’s easier to have one consolidation as opposed to 1,000 different small trials, which by the way, somebody would be less likely to bring a small case on their own because it’s not going to be worth somebody’s time and aggravation. Being able to consolidate them into one group makes it much more efficient for the consumer to bring that case.
How Class Action Lawsuits Get Started
John: Right. So how does this come up? Because to go back to your example of the wine produced in Israel, but it was actually Connecticut, does a consumer… Obviously, a consumer finds out that wine was actually produced in Connecticut, they feel wronged. Do they then approach an attorney and say, “Hey, I feel like I’ve been misled by this company and I’d like to sue them,” or something like that? And then how does the attorney then take that and have that all of a sudden become this class action lawsuit where now there’s 50 or more people that are on board and they’re all going against the company?
Kevin: It’s a great question, John, as far as how these cases develop and where they come from and how a client may think or appreciate that there may be a class action and getting to an attorney. And it’s ironic in that Rob and I have been practicing together for over 20 years. We handle personal injury cases, which involves situations going after insurance companies. We’ve gone to trial on cases. We’ve been successful and achieved verdicts. We’ve had insurance companies pay judgements and awards and verdicts, and it was doing that work for our clients that led to us seeing a pattern where insurance companies were routinely not paying the full damage amount from a jury award or verdict.
And it was because of the fact that we would see different judgements and awards and do the calculation and see that the insurance company just wasn’t paying everything that they were supposed to. And that led to Rob and I becoming involved in class actions against insurance companies. We had no idea what that meant when we started those cases until we saw how big of an issue it was and how large of an issue it was, and how much money was involved and why the insurance companies were doing it because it’s lucrative for them.
That led to us handling and doing more class action work, answering questions for clients. Typically, now what we see is a consumer who feels that they’ve overpaid for something, they didn’t get the product that they wanted, or something just doesn’t feel right with the interaction that they had with a big company.
They’ll go on to the internet, they’ll do a different search. Oftentimes that leads to the consumer calling consumer groups to ask questions because once you go on the internet and you start typing things in, you realize there are thousands of people that may have had a similar issue. And typically, if it’s an issue that warrants pursuit, that really is a justified class action to receive damages or get reimbursement for damages for these consumers, it makes its way to an attorney.
Whether that’s through a telephone contact website referral from another attorney. But a lot of consumer advocacy groups do have involvement with other agencies and know which attorneys pursue these cases, pursue these actions. Because it’s not an easy fight when you represent an individual who’s out a small amount of money.
But in the aggregate when there are 5,000 people out of a small amount of money, those particular companies that are doing those actions are making millions of dollars potentially. So obviously, these consumer groups that are involved can track this information easier and be involved, as well as finding attorneys for the potential clients.
How an Individual Can Start a Class-Action Lawsuit
John: So in one case, it was actually you as attorneys being involved, like you said, with the insurance companies, and you actually started to notice the trend and then that made you decide to pursue this. In another case, it might be a group of individuals who come together maybe online and realize that they’re all in this same boat and they all have this beef against a particular company. Maybe they’re going and talking to an advocacy group, like you said, and then that advocacy group is contacting you, the attorney, and pursuing it at that point. Are there other ways that these cases can develop?
Rob: Yeah, we’ve had people who just come in and reach out to us just with a sense that something’s not right.
John: Just an individual person reaches out to you on their own?
Rob: Yes, an individual person. So let’s say it’s a supermarket case where the price that has been advertised is not the price that they end up paying at the cash register. Kevin and I will look into that and could conclude that if it happened to this person, it probably happened to many people. And you can start a class action claim with one person if you have a good faith basis to believe that multiple people have been harmed. Because in this example, the grocery store is going to know how many people paid that price.
John: Purchased that product or paid that price.
Rob: So if we’re able to bring a claim and let the court know that we believe that this has happened to a large amount of people, at some point, the corporation, the defendant will have to let us know how many people are in this class because they’re going to have this information because they keep it in their cash registers and their computers.
John: And then will they have to turn over information to you about which customers purchased this product and what the price was that they paid and things like that?
Rob: In that example, that’s what they would have to do and they would too. Sometimes it can be done by a random sampling because it could be too onerous to go through thousands and thousands, but they could give a 10% survey. And from that we can tell statistically how many people that’s had a problem with this issue.
Class Action Cases About Breach of Privacy
John: Are there any other particular examples of a class action case, consumer class action case that you want to just mention as an example?
Kevin: Yeah. Robert talked about some of the product cases that we’ve handled in the past, whether it’s advertising, where it was manufactured or made or how it was made, and Rob also mentioned some of the insurance cases that we’ve had for class actions. But we do handle an entire array of consumer issues that come up.
A big one that unfortunately is occurring very frequently is the breach of privacy. Medical facilities, we all see it individually with our emails, with the spam that comes in and the emails with us trying to take action. That’s happening every day, many different times and at a much different level against medical facilities. And medical facilities and hospitals and any place that stores personal information, protected health information, they have obligations and requirements to protect that.
But every day people are trying to get in. What we’re seeing is these facilities, these medical facilities that are storing this data, this information, they’re not taking the appropriate steps to secure it. And people are getting letters from different hospitals or medical facilities about how their information has been accessed by someone who didn’t have permission or someone came into the server and took their personal information.
There’s a tremendous amount of these types of cases going on right now because of how active that sort of crime and that activity is that’s going on. So I would say weekly, we get calls from individuals who received a letter from some entity that their personal information or their medical information was wrongfully viewed, obtained, or downloaded in some form.
Rob: Sometimes actually, it’s not just coming from the outside. We’ve had several of these medical breach cases that somebody on the inside was improperly accessing patients’ medical records and selling the information, selling social security numbers on the internet black market.
John: Wow. Yeah.
Rob: And we brought claims and we said, “Look, you’re not even internally protecting this stuff from within, from your own employees, so you need to put a better gate up.”
John: Right. All right. Well, that’s really great information, Rob and Kevin, thanks for speaking with me today.
Rob: Thanks, John.
Kevin: Thank you, John.
For More Details, Go to HelpingInjured.com
John: And for more information, you can visit the website at helpinginjured.com or call 978-744-8000.