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Archive for the ‘Consumer Protection’ Category

Today, Public Citizen joined with other consumer advocacy groups in a letter to the debt commission (PDF) condemning a dangerous proposal by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, Co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, to use “comprehensive medical malpractice liability reform to cap non-economic and punitive damages and make other changes in tort law” as a way to reduce the national debt and urging the body to remove it from its final report.

Patients’ legal rights continue to be a scapegoat in the public debate on solutions to the country’s skyrocketing health care costs.  However, the proof is in the pudding. When Public Citizen examined Texas’ experience with strict liability limits (PDF) since their adoption in 2003, we found that injured patients in Texas lost their access to the courts but the restrictions did not translate into health or cost benefits. Instead, the opposite has occurred. In Texas: the uninsured rate has increased, remaining the highest in the country; health insurance cost has more than doubled; spending increases for diagnostic testing (measured by per-patient Medicare reimbursements) have far exceeded the national average; and the cost of diagnostic testing in Texas (measured by per-patient Medicare reimbursements) has grown 50 percent faster than the national average.

Clearly, tort reform will not cut the fat.

To blame high costs on medical malpractice litigation is to ignore the facts. In 2008, the cost of medical malpractice liability fell to less than 0.6 percent of the $2.1 trillion in total nation health care costs as measured in 2006. In fact, there are nearly 10 times as many injuries caused by medical negligence (PDF) as there are malpractice claims. (more…)

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The U.S. Supreme Court, which hasn’t had the best year when it comes to looking out for the rights of average citizens, heard arguments this morning in another case that has huge implications for everyone reading this post. The case, AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, puts the rights of consumers to band together in class-action lawsuits at risk. If the court rules in favor of AT&T, corporations could put clauses in their consumer contracts prohibiting class-actions. David Lazarus wrote about the potential fallout in a recent L.A. Times column:

Consumer advocates say that without the threat of class-action lawsuits, many businesses would be free to engage in unfair or deceptive practices. Few people would litigate on their own to resolve a case involving, say, a hundred bucks.

“The marketplace is fairer for consumers and workers because there’s a deterrent out there,” said Deepak Gupta, an attorney for the advocacy group Public Citizen who will argue on consumers’ behalf before the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

“Companies are afraid of class actions,” he said. “This helps keep them honest.”

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Next Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in AT&T v. Concepcion, a significant case that will decide whether corporations can use the fine print of their contracts to ban consumers and employees from participating in class actions. Public Citizen’s Deepak Gupta is lead counsel for the respondents in the case.

David Lazarus of the Los Angeles Times discussed the case in a column today. The Huffington Post saw fit to highlight Lazarus’ article, posting it as its lead central story for a time on its web site. The story has garnered over 4,000 comments from readers, mostly critical of business’ effort to take away ordinary citizens’ legal rights.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund points out on its web site that the outcome of AT&T v. Concepcion could have severe implications on civil rights litigation. Class action lawsuits, such as Brown v. Board of Education, made “significant progress toward the Constitutional aspiration of a “more perfect Union,”” the NAACPLDF says on it web site.

Consumer Action, a national nonprofit organization that provides consumer advocacy and education, released a statement today on the case. “Class actions are a critical tool for consumers to pursue justice against giant corporations like AT&T,” says National Priorities Director Linda Sherry.

Both the NAACPLDF and Consumer Action submitted amicus briefs in favor of the consumers in Concepcion.

Christine Hines is the consumer and civil justice counsel for Public Citizen.

Cross-posted from FairArbitrationNow.org

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Look, if you thought making the world a better place was going to be easy, you got a rude wake-up call Wednesday morning. Now, you can either whine or you can roll up your sleeves and join the fight. Michael Kieshnick, president of CREDO Mobile, has some suggestions in HuffPo on what you can do to help push back against the Tea Party and its handpicked members of Congress. Here are his top three  suggestions:

1. Commit to Taking Down FOX News. So long as FOX News has any credibility within the Beltway, it will be a pipeline for malicious material that will poison our political culture. Join our friends at Color of Change.

2.Tell the Senate to pass the DISCLOSE Act during the lame duck session. We were able to defeat the Texas Oil Initiative, Prop 23 in California, in part because we knew who the enemy was — having disclosure of corporate contributions brings the enemy out in the open for us to take on and fight. The DISCLOSE Act passed the House and came within a single vote of passing the Senate. One vote. You can join this fight by taking action with Public Citizen at http://citizen.org/disclose-act-action.

3. Keep fighting to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. This issue will get resolved during the lame duck session. Take action here.

To see the rest of his top 10 list, click here. And we would add another to this list: Join Public Citizen and help us fight corporate power in Congress, in the courts and in the executive branch.  Join Public Citizen for as little as $20 a year.

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If you don’t know anything about AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, you should. The case, which will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 9, has frightening implications for consumers.

Basically, the court will decide whether companies can deny consumers and employees the right to band together through class actions to fight fraud, discrimination and other illegal practices. AT&T argues that the courts must enforce the fine print of its contracts that ban class actions. Public Citizen attorney Deepak Gupta will argue before the court on behalf of consumers, claiming that the contracts are unconscionable and unenforceable.

When a large number of consumers have claims for small amounts, it is not feasible to pursue the claims without a class action. Concepcion is exactly that kind of case. The Concepcions allege that AT&T illegally charged them $30.11. Multiplied by the number of AT&T’s California customers alone, the allegations implicate ill-gotten gains in the millions of dollars. But if consumers can litigate the claims only one by one, no one will do so, and AT&T will keep the proceeds of its illegal activity.

In the video above, Public Citizen President Robert Weissman and Gupta give a telephone press briefing on the case.

If AT&T wins, not only will it be difficult for AT&T’s customers to hold that company accountable for its actions, but also for people with civil rights, labor, consumer and other kinds of claims that stem from corporate wrongdoing. Dozens of organizations, including leading civil rights and consumer groups, have filed briefs asking the court not to allow corporations to ban class actions. The briefs and other information about the case are available at the Consumer Law & Policy Blog.

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Is the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals going to take another look at Vernor v. Autodesk, the case in which software maker Autodesk says consumers don’t have the right to resell their software on secondary markets, such as eBay or even yard sales? Last month, a Ninth Circuit panel ruled against the consumer, Timothy Vernor.

Public Citizen, which represents Vernor, had argued that Vernor was protected by a century-old precedent that says consumers have the right to transfer or dispose of copyrighted products they have bought. However, the court ruled that Vernor had infringed on the company’s copyright and violated the terms of Autodesk’s “license agreement” with the original owner – the fine print that software users see upon installation and must click “accept” to gain access to the product.

If the court’s ruling stands, consumers face the risk of being slapped with a copyright infringement lawsuit whenever they sell used software or video games at a garage sale, donate these items to a library or even loan them to friends. If book and music publishers were to use the same sort of licensing agreements, the same risk would extend to books and music CDs.

Public Citizen asked the full Ninth Circuit to rehear the case, and on Oct. 20, the court asked Autodesk to respond to Public Citizen’s request. The move signals the Ninth Circuit’s interest in reconsidering Vernor.

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The Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court is now on record saying he doesn’t read the fine print.

Much of that fine print is there just to take away consumer rights. If Supreme Court justices don’t even read it, one hopes they will limit the damage that corporations can do with it.

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