Robert Wagner is an 82-year-old former movie star (really more of a TV star and don't let that 43-year-old photo fool you), who lately is probably better known to the non-elderly as 1. the guy who argued with Natalie Wood before her body was found off Catalina Island, and 2. star of reverse mortgage commercials. Not that we have anything personally against “RJ” as his adoring former leading ladies lovingly called him at a recent "92nd Street Y" event (in New York City) called, “Pioneer Women of Television.” Doesn’t he know that he’s a spokesperson for an industry that has been ruining the lives of his own age group?
At least that’s according to today’s New York Timesfront-page story about how reverse mortgage loans, “which allow homeowners 62 and older to borrow money against the value of their homes and not pay it back until they move out or die” and “are supposed to help seniors stay in their homes are in many cases pushing them out.” The Times found rampant abuse against the elderly by many in the reverse mortgage industry:
Some lenders are aggressively pitching loans to seniors who cannot afford the fees associated with them, not to mention the property taxes and maintenance. Others are wooing seniors with promises that the loans are free money that can be used to finance long-coveted cruises, without clearly explaining the risks. Some widows are facing eviction after they say they were pressured to keep their name off the deed without being told that they could be left facing foreclosure after their husbands died.
Now, as the vast baby boomer generation heads for retirement and more seniors grapple with dwindling savings, the newly minted Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is working on new rules that could mean better disclosure for consumers and stricter supervision of lenders. More than 775,000 of such loans are outstanding, according to the federal government. …
Mark S. Diamond, a former subprime mortgage broker in Chicago, who has been sued for fraud by the Federal Trade Commission and the Illinois attorney general, faces a federal lawsuit filed in June by seniors who claim that he sold them reverse mortgages and either pocketed their loan amounts or promised to put the proceeds toward home repairs that never materialized. A lawyer for Mr. Diamond did not return calls for comment. Some solicitations reviewed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau present reverse mortgages as “free money” or mistakenly tell seniors that they could never lose their home. One Maryland reverse mortgage lender tells seniors that they can put the proceeds toward a vacation: “Just because you’re retired doesn’t mean you don’t need a vacation every now and then.” Last year, the Massachusetts Commissioner of Banks issued cease-and-desist orders to a handful of reverse mortgage firms for operating without a license. In its advertising, one of those mortgage brokers falsely promised seniors “you won’t lose your home.”
In addition to the Illinois AG, Minnesota AG Lori Swanson, who has been a star on the financial crime and arbitration abuse fronts (see e.g., here) is “working on reforming the reverse mortgage market.”
But that’s not the only problem for seniors these days. It’s not enough that many healthy seniors are losing their homes and sick seniors often must live out their remaining days in nursing homes. Now, wealthy trade associations (like the American Health Care Association – the largest trade association representing the interests of many nursing homes) are targeting them too, hiring insurance consulting firms to issue reports trying to convince lawmakers to strip away the legal rights of families when nursing homes abuse and/or neglect their loved ones. See this response from Consumer Voice to an outrageously misleading report issued earlier this year from Aon Risk Solutions. See more here and here. In an earlier post, we discussed the enormous pitfalls posed by unethical pre-dispute (and pre-treatment) mandatory binding arbitration clauses in nursing home contacts.
No doubt, "RJ" has enough money and people around him to protect him from fraud, abuse and neglect, which jeopardizes the “non-celebrity” elderly. So if we can’t get his attention, how about those 75 million baby boomers who are on the verge of retirement (many of whom are caring for elderly parents as we speak)?
Yesterday, the non-profit Center for Auto Safety filed a petition with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “to investigate its claim that some cruise control cables on about 320,000 Ford Escapes were damaged during a repair for an unrelated recall, making the vehicles susceptible to unintended acceleration,” which “could have “lethal consequences.” Writes the New York Times Wheels blog:
The original recall, which covered about 470,000 Escapes from 2002-4 equipped with the 3-liter V-6 engine, was performed to prevent the accelerator cable from snagging on the accelerator pedal, which could have prevented the engine from returning to idle.
In its petition, however, the safety group argued that in October 2005, Ford sent a technical service bulletin to dealers cautioning mechanics to not damage the adjacent cruise control cable during the course of the recall repair. Any damage could allow the cable to snag on a ridge in the engine cover, causing unintended acceleration, the petition said.
Ford has never formally informed the roughly 320,000 owners who had the repair performed that damage may have been caused to their vehicles’ cruise control, according to Clarence Ditlow, the group’s executive director.
The petition also cites the case of Saige Bloom, a 17-year-old who died in a crash in Payson, Ariz., in January. According to the petition, the Bloom family hired an expert who inspected the engine of the 2002 Escape driven by Ms. Bloom at the time of the accident and found the cable was snagged.
Mr. Ditlow claims Ford should conduct a new recall and the safety agency should pursue a civil fine.
“Ford knew there was a problem. Ford knew the consequences,” he said in a telephone interview.
This “unintended acceleration” problem may sound familiar. Remember that massive Toyota problem (which we covered quite a bit, like here)? Oh, it’s not over. Just a few days ago, Toyota “added Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h crossover vehicles from the 2010 model year to the list of vehicles it has recalled” saying “[i]n these cars the accelerator pedal can get stuck at full throttle when trapped by ‘an unsecured or incompatible driver’s floor mat.’” Still?
And last month, Ditlow said "it's just a matter of time before Chrysler is forced to recall as many as 5 million Jeep SUVs built from 1993 to 2007.” That’s because “[t]he fuel tanks of Jeep Grand Cherokees built after 2004 are located in front of the rear axle” which presents “a risk because the fuel tank is near the back of the vehicles. ‘Just looking at the design, as a safety advocate, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize an unshielded tank, hanging below the rear bumper, is unsafe,’ Ditlow said.” Chrysler disagrees, so we’ll see if NHTSA orders a recall. Right now, it’s conducting an engineering analysis.
But Sean Kane, president of Safety Research and Strategies, is worried. He says that “he is concerned that NHTSA's decision to expand the number of vehicles could lead to a dismissal of the case without a recall. ‘Frequently that is done as a tactic to try and minimize the numbers,’ Kane said. ‘If they spread out the accidents across more vehicles ... then you have low number of incidents and that is a reason that the agency can use’ to not order a recall.”
Mr. Ditlow lamented what he said was the slow pace of the investigation, but said the agency had its hands full. “We want N.H.T.S.A. to move faster, but the only way it would move faster is if it had more resources and authority,” he said. “N.H.T.S.A.’s band of defect investigators is going up against trillion-dollar companies.”
According to testimony yesterday, “Stephen Baldwin threatened to feed personal information about Kevin Costner to The New York Times if they couldn’t resolve their business dispute.” Not a great way to express one's frustration, but far better than shooting a guy in the back. (See clip below.)
Writes the Hollywood Reporter, “Baldwin says his primary motivation wasn't money but rather the impact of the technology itself, and that even though he was involved in bankruptcy proceedings, he would have invested more. ‘I could have asked my big brother,’ he said, referring to fellow actor Alec Baldwin.”
Poor Alec. His name sure get's thrown around a lot these days, especially since it's (coincidently) awfully similar to the tainted organization ALEC, which we cover often at ThePopTort – most recently Monday. See today’s Newark Star Ledgereditorial imploring all corporate ALEC members to dump it like Johnson & Johnson just did.
I’m sure if Lex Luthor thought about it, in his quest for world domination he would have insisted on mandatory binding arbitration to resolve all of his disputes. Only the mind of a power-mad, evil scientist could have come up with a system like this, where consumers and workers are forced to give up their legal rights to sue in court against misbehaving corporations who harm them. (See the Center for Justice & Democracy’s new fact sheet for more background.) In fact, back in the late 1990s, Superman himself did battle against this evil device! (OK, not really Superman, but close.)
You may recall that in May 1995, the actor who famously played Superman, Christopher Reeve, was rendered quadriplegic after falling from a horse in a riding accident. Sadly, he has since passed away. But in 1998, when the Alabama law firm Beasley Allen challenged the state's mandatory binding arbitration rule on constitutional grounds, Christopher Reeve filed an amicus brief in support of Beasley's case. He wrote,
One of the hardest things I have had to do since my disability is to deal with insurance companies. I found them to be callous and to try to set up any roadblocks they can to keep from paying legitimate claims. I am totally against binding, mandatory arbitration in insurance policies.
Unfortunately, the scourge of mandatory binding arbitration continues to this day and while we no longer have the Man of Steel to come to our aid, we do have Amalia D. Kessler, professor of law and legal history at Stanford University. Kessler has a butt-kicking op ed in today’s New York Times called “Stuck in Arbitration," writing:
[A] growing number of consumers and job seekers discover, when something does go wrong, that they have unknowingly agreed to waive their right to file a lawsuit. Instead, they must submit to arbitration.
For some, arbitration proves too costly to pursue. Among those who can afford the fees, many learn they cannot enforce their legal rights because arbitration decisions do not need to be based on the law; arbitrators have their own procedures, and some studies have found that they are systematically biased in favor of the companies that hire them. Lawyers are often unwilling to represent arbitration complainants because of award caps in the agreements. And increasingly, these accords bar class-wide arbitrations. Because arbitration decisions are typically not disclosed and not subject to appeal, consumers and workers are left without recourse and must bear the cost of unfair, deceptive and harmful practices.
What’s more, she writes, “It wasn’t always this way.”
While the [1925 Federal Arbitration Act] was initially envisioned as applying primarily to disputes between commercial equals, since the 1980s, the United States Supreme Court has interpreted it in ways that have facilitated corporate America’s efforts to force consumers and employees into arbitration. This trend has accelerated in the last few years.
But as deployed by corporations against many thousands of individual consumers and employees, it bears a troubling likeness to the 19th-century concept of conciliation as a practice suited only for a subservient underclass.
It is long past time for Congress to intervene. The Arbitration Fairness Act is no panacea, but it’s a start.
Mel Gibson has been embroiled in an unusual number of lawsuits lately. A couple years ago, one astrologist went searching for planetary explanations for this, coming to the conclusion that “challenging planetary systems” were why “Mel Gibson is being sued by everyone” (as she put it).
I’d say bad behavior probably had more to do with it, but it does seem like the planets are now lining up in a less “challenging” manner for Mel, as suit after suit is finally getting resolved.
For example, in August, a threatened civil lawsuit by Gibson’s ex-girlfriend over domestic violence issues was dropped in the context of a larger custody and financial settlement. Then earlier this month, Mel decided to settle a lawsuit brought by a guy named Nader Sherif, “who claim[ed] -- at the behest of Mel -- he invested his life savings in a company called Green Rubber, which developed technology to devulcanize rubber so old tires could be recycled.” TMZ reported that Sharif said, “Mel promised [he] could sell his stock back to the company at any time and get his money back, and he further claimed Mel promised to personally write him a check if the Green Rubber refused.” I guess things didn't work out so well for Green Rubber.
And speaking of Sherif[f]s, remember that little 2006 incident, when Deputy Sheriff James Mee arrested Gibson for a DUI while also enduring anti-Semitic slurs like, “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world”? Mee ended up suing the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for retaliation (actually, that charge was dropped) and a hostile work environment “because he resisted requests to remove the actor's anti-Semitic slurs from an initial arrest report.” Note that,
The Sheriff's Department was criticized for its handling of the incident. The Office of Independent Review, a department watchdog, found that Gibson was given special treatment, including being allowed to leave the station without giving a required palm print and without signing a statement agreeing to appear in court. He was also driven to the tow yard by a sheriff's sergeant.
Well, today Mee settled his case for $50,000. Not that this suit was against Gibson directly but the case could have served as a embarrassing rehash of his incredibly bad behavior. Lucky for Gibson, several rulings by the judge in the case already benefited him, including, “block[ing] attorneys for Deputy James Mee from showing the jury a video of Gibson being booked into jail and a 30-second TV ad he made supporting the Sheriff's Department three years before his arrest.” And Gibson would likely not have been forced to testify, either.
Who knows, maybe the stars really are finally aligning for Mel. We can only hope!
You may have noticed that the civil justice system has been under fairly brutal attack by corporate and professional lobbies for about 35 years now. It’s almost incredible that it still exists at all, given the money behind these assaults. Do you know what the system needs? Celebrity endorsements!
Take Kim Kardashian, for example. She’s already the queen of celebrity endorsements: "Jewelry, shoes, diet products, candles, perfumes. Famous Cupcakes in Los Angeles even created a cupcake flavor for her ("Va-Va-Va-Nilla")." Plus Midori liqueur.
But today, TMZ reports that Kim is threatening to sue In Touch magazine, which alleged that she cheated on her fiancé, Kris Humphries, “with NFL player Bret Lockett ... and she's threatening to sue the mag and Lockett.” This is the same day that Kim launched a new perfume. What's the harm in one more endorsement?
Or, what about Hulk Hogan, who just endorsed a line of Pumice-Based Cleaning Products. Today, he told TMZ that “he plans on filing a lawsuit against the Warrior for "spewing sewage" in a 7-minute video tirade.” Where would Hulk be without the civil justice system? He should give a little back, right?
In May, Naomi Campbell threatened to sue Cadbury (owned by Kraft) “for using her name in ‘racist’ chocolate ads” reported the New York Daily News. Cadbury apologized and pulled the ad, something that only took place after she threatened to sue. Naomi could use some good press, and what better way than endorsing justice?
“Gossip Girl” actress Blake Lively is reportedly threatening to sue over nude photos that her spokeswoman claims are “100 percent fake.” Reuters reports that there are at least five photos circulating the web allegedly showing the 23-year-old snapping nude pics with her iPhone in front of a mirror.
I don’t know if Blake has endorsed anything yet, but the civil justice system would be a great place to start.
So all of you celebrities out there who think the civil justice system will always be there for you, think again. It won’t if the business and professional lobbies have anything to do with it. We’ve covered a lot of you before (here, here, here) and now, it could really use your help. We can't imagine a more important deal.
UPDATE: Hi to all of you Overlawyered "this is not a parody" visitors! You guys over at that blog, you have got to lighten up. Perhaps some more pop culture and humor in your lives would help. Keep visting ThePopTort, and you'll see how it's done. Thanks for visiting!
I can still remember that stink of “formaldehyde” from 9th grade biology class. In some ways, the smell of that stuff was worse than the task of actually dissecting the frogs and pig embryos that swam it in. Yuk. Turns out I had reason not to like formaldehyde very much. It’s a serious carcinogen.
It’s also in hair products. Lately, you may have caught news stories of hair stylists and clients wearing gas masks during the application of the popular celebrityhair straightener called the Brazilian Blowout. (Just check out Nicole Richie's blog!)
California Attorney General (and governor-elect) Jerry Brown has just filed a lawsuit against makers of Brazilian Blowout's Acai Professional Smoothing Solution because the product “’contains high levels of formaldehyde’ that could possibly harm both salon employees and clients, while claiming on its website that the process contains no harsh chemicals including formaldehyde.”
And a class-action suit has also been filed “on behalf of plaintiff Jessica Anderson and others who used the products; the San Diego woman had four Brazilian Blowout treatments costing $150 to $300 apiece. The suit claims the company violated consumer, false-advertising and unfair-competition laws.” Here’s more fromThe Oregonian:
Oregon's workplace safety watchdogs investigated the products this fall after Molly Scrutton, a 31-year-old Pearl District hair stylist, suffered chest pain, a sore throat and the first nosebleed of her life after she began offering Brazilian Blowout treatments. She contacted Oregon Health & Science University's Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology, which worked with OSHA to find out what was in the products.
When initial test results found high formaldehyde, the issue exploded, in part because the World Health Organization classifies the chemical as a carcinogen, linked to cancer of the nasal passages, lungs and blood. Canada's federal health agency pulled Brazilian Blowout from shelves. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate. Oregon's Department of Justice launched its own inquiry; the department is communicating with California on the issue, but hasn't decided what its next move will be, spokesman Tony Green said Thursday.
Last month, Oregon OSHA warned the state's more than 21,000 licensed hairstylists that extensive testing of 105 samples from 54 salons, using various methods, found significant formaldehyde levels. More than one-third of the samples came from bottles of Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution labeled "formaldehyde-free," though formaldehyde content ranged from 6.8 percent to 11.8 percent, averaging more than 8 percent.
Brazilian Blowout asserts that Oregon OSHA failed to use the only method it considers proper for measuring formaldehyde in water-based cosmetic products, a test known as 13C-NMR; when the company conducted its own tests using that method, results showed low formaldehyde levels.
Ya know, celebrities aren’t the only ones who sue newspapers. I know it might seem that way if you follow the news. For example, you might have heard (since it was all over the press yesterday) that David Beckham just suedIn Touch magazine for saying he had “a threesome with call-girl Irma Nici.” Demi Moore just settled a case against an Australian tabloid for publishing a “series of black and white shots of herself, her daughter Rumer Willis, rapper P. Diddy, and actors Cameron Diaz and Orlando Bloom.” (Not that we’re ignoring Paris Hilton’s recently successful suit against Hallmark for using her picture and her catchphrase, "That's Hot!", but let’s get back to newspapers.)
Yesterday, a New York City federal judge refused to dismiss an employment retaliation case against the New York Post, filed by, “Sandra Guzman, a black and Puerto Rican associate editor [who] alleged she was fired September 29, 2009, in retaliation for her complaints over inappropriate conduct, including one senior executive she accused of referring to her as "Cha Cha #1." According to the Huffington Post (which has the actual court ruling):
In her complaint, Guzman leveled several headline-grabbing charges about the Post's working environment. Editor-in-Chief Col Allen was painted as sexist and domineering -- allegedly showing a picture of a "naked man lewdly and openly displaying his penis." Guzman said she was subjected to misogynistic taunts, including being called "Cha Cha #1." With respect to the paper's editorial slants, not especially pertinent to her lawsuit, Guzman said the Post's D.C. bureau chief stated that the publication's goal was to "destroy Barack Obama."
Of course, this raise some thorny First Amendment issues, which the Court addressed this way:
Mindful of the First Amendment protections enjoyed by newspaper organizations, the court notes that plaintiff has sufficiently alleged that she objected not just to the paper's content but to the general work environment at the Post and the way the editorial staff dealt with the publication of the content at issue.
One magnificent thing about our civil justice system is
that, whether you are rich and famous (like actor James Woods, or Michael Jackson’s family here, here) or the poorest and most vulnerable among us, you are allowed to challenge the
largest corporation or government agency and hold them accountable in court for causing
someone’s death.That is, unless
legislatures stop you.
In LA, Michael Jackson's mother and his three children have
now filed a wrongful death case against AEG Live, the promoters organizing the
concerts for which Michael was rehearsing when he died.Read the complaint here.
[P]ut “its desire for massive profits” over his health and
safety.They say AEF
"instructed" Michael to "stop seeing and taking medications from
his current doctor" and rely on Dr. Conrad Murray, whom AEG hired for
$150,000 a month, to be sure that Jackson could "attend rehearsals and
perform." Katharine Jackson claims Murray accepted AEG's terms on May 8,
2009, and 4 days later "made his first order ... of the drug Propofol
(Diprivan) for Michael Jackson," which is believed to have killed the
entertainer 6 weeks later at his home.
Katherine’s skilled attorney Brian J. Panish said in a
statement, "The purpose of this lawsuit is to prove to the world the truth
about what happened to Michael Jackson, once and for all."
Finding out what happened – in addition to providing
justice to families – is exactly what "wrongful death" laws are all about.Yet incredibly, the one group of
families one would think should have the same “wrongful death” rights
as everyone else – the 11 families of workers killed in the Deepwater Horizon
explosion – don’t.
Congress has got to change this archaic federal wrongful
death law - Death on the High Seas Act.Right now, it is helping Transocean (and BP) largely escape
responsibility to these families by severely limiting what companies owe surviving
family members of those killed more than three nautical miles from shore.
Under current law, families are prohibited from recovering
anything but pecuniary loss, such as lost income or wages, for those whoare economically dependent upon the
decedent.For example, one of the
11 workerskilled on the Deepwater
Horizon, 24-year-old Adam Weise, is survived only by his mother, leaving behind
no dependents.Under current law,
his mother could recover no more than his funeral expenses as compensation for
his death.A change in the law
would make available to her and all the families compensation for lost care,
comfort, and companionship, as well as pre-death pain and suffering.DOHSA was last amended by Congress in
2000 to provide these non-pecuniary damages in the event of a plane crash.HR 5503 would eradicate this inconsistency
in the law, so that that all families of those killed on the high seas, whether
on an oil rig or in a plane crash, are treated equally.
We're happy to see the Jackson family pursuing their rights. We hope there's justice at the end of this process. Everyone should have these
rights ... shouldn't they?
All opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors only. Any disputes should be addressed to the authors or commentators. The Pop Tort invites comment to further the debate on issues addressed, but we reserve the right to deny or remove any post or comment.