Archive for November, 2008

Extendicare Update: Wisconsin suit not the first

November 30, 2008

I found this article today that talks about how Extendicare was also sued in Washington and Minnesota in the last few months on similar complaints. See my previous posting here.

Why isn’t there a federal agency that addresses these issues?  If there is, why don’t I know about it?  I think its a failure of our system that we rely so heavily on class action lawsuits to provide a remedy to what are severe regulatory issues.  If Extendicare has failed to meet basic safety standards in multiple states, why aren’t there ways the government can take them over or force them to meet the basic standards of care the elderly deserve? 

FYI: “Extendicare is one of the largest nursing home operators in the United Staets and Canada, with as many as 226 homes in North America and over 30,000 beds.”

Sunday Special: Researching defective products

November 30, 2008

I have featured a few product liability lawsuits.  These are good sources for dark side of a company’s product information but its not easy to find them.   While many courts provide access to their electronic court dockets there are hundreds of them to search and many don’t allow you to search easily by company name.  The SEC filings could be useful but they often mask the true nature of the suits or don’t mention them at all.  For example, earlier I featured a lawsuit against Hewlett Packard involving a faulty video card but if you look at the SEC filings none of those kinds of suits are listed.

This is where the Consumer Product Safety Commission comes in.  Frequently, products are subject to warnings or recalls before major litigation occurs and you can find out about a company’s less successful product offerings.  In the case of Hewlett Packard, you can use the cumbersome search feature (HERE) to look for the products with major safety and health issues.  The most recent HP recalls have all involved products that have caught fire.

Note that the lawsuit involving the video card has no precedent at the commission.  This is because the commission doesn’t recall faulty products unless they cause a health and safety problem.  So if you buy a lemon and you want justice, you’ll have to go to court.  Best to find others in a like position and a class action attorney ready to take the case.  Otherwise, your damages won’t get you into superior court.

Duke lacrosse incident ends up in suit against insurer

November 30, 2008

Seems National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh didn’t want to cover damages resulting from litigation involving the Duke lacross team.   This not an unusual or particularly interesting lawsuit but it does provide insight into the National Union as a company and the kind of products it provides to what kind of clients.

Insurance companies are particularly opaque entities when it comes to determining what they do for whom.  Many aren’t public companies or like National Union they are subsidiaries of much larger companies, in this case, joy of joys, AIG.  How did I figure that out?  Not from the complaint which in this case doesn’t provide us much  except for the fact that its principal place of business is New York State which provides good public information about insurance companies.  In this case, it tells us that National Union is a subsidary of AIG.  It also give a laundry list of they types of insurance National Union provides, everything from accident and health to glass insurance (not sure what that means, insuring windows?).  But it doesn’t give us any notion that it would insure Duke University against claims like this one.  Here we must rely on the complaint to learn that.  Specifically, we are told that National Union sold Duke two non-for-profit Individual and Organization Policies.  This is the kind of competitive intelligence, that is very difficult to come by except anecdotally or through complaints.

Complaint courtesy Courthousenews

New York Insurance Company Search

Hmmm…hot tech or paying job? You decide….

November 29, 2008

Survey by Accenture shows that, “more than half (56 percent of the mid-Millennials and two-thirds (67 percent of the older Millennials still in college claim that whether or not an employer has state-of-the-art equipment will ben an important factor when choosing where to work.”

That’s nice but trust me, if your company is on dial-up but they pay you every couple weeks?  You might not want to complain too much.

Chrysler sued for discrimination

November 29, 2008

This lawsuit is interesting for a couple reasons.  The first, is what it reveals about the complex relationships between the various Chrysler entities and their dealers.  There is Chrysler Motors, Chrysler Financial and Chrysler Realty and they all were involved with this particular dealership; agreeing to sell them cars, assist with financing and possibly acquiring the real property of the dealership.  The lawsuit claims that Chrysler attempted to drive out of business the only African American dealership in New York state.  This activity also resulted in credit lines between Chrysler and the dealership to freeze.  We have seen that happen with Dennis Hecker too who is white so its not so clear if the withdrawal of credit is a discriminatory act or borne out of economic and financial necessity.

From a competitive intelligence perpective, this complaint is useful for what it reveals about how the auto industry works and it would be interesting to read other complaints involving other auto-makers and their dealership to learn if these are industry practices.  Its important to note that not all complaints are as factually forthcoming.

Complaint courtesy Courthousenews

BofA sued for late fee policy

November 28, 2008

So a man goes into a Bank of America branch on the day payment is due and makes a payment which is accepted by the bank.  Guess what?  His next statement claims he didn’t pay his minimum payment in a timely manner, charges him a $39 late fee and rescinds his promotional interest rate.  Other customers have similar difficulty paying their monthly payment without incurring late fees whether through the website or by phone.

I heard a Fresh Air show awhile back about how banks monkey around with late fee dates and the like so they can aggressively charge customers these late fees.  When a customer calls and waits to talk with a customer service representative, these fees will typically be waived.  The credit card expert on Fresh Air explained that the banks know they don’t have a leg to stand on with these practices but they also know that if they make customers wait on the phone for more than twenty minutes its likely the customer will hang up and pay the fee.  These practices are calculated into the cost of doing business and it turns out (no surprise) that the banks make hefty profit margins by cheating and frustrating customers.

Complaint courtesy Courthousenews

Friday Freebie: best sites for business templates

November 28, 2008

Thanks to Small Business Trends: http://www.smallbiztrends.com for posting this list of best sites to find business and marketing templates.  Recently I spend an hour hunting around for some of this.  Hopefully, this will save you that time!

Best sites

Kmart sued for overselling its Airborne-like product

November 28, 2008

The class action complaint filed in Illinois state court states that Kmart promotes this product, “Germ Defense” to be compared to Airborne.  The specific claims are that it protects users from airborne germs, that it boosts the immune system, has an “effervesent” health formula and decreases the likelihood of getting sick.  The complaint simply states that none of these claims are true.

A couple of thoughts: first, does Airborne really do any of these things?  Is the issue that this product isn’t comparable to Airborne or that it makes unsupportable claims?  The other thing is a question about branding; do consumer trust the Kmart brand?  Is this lawsuit damaging to the brand?

Complaint courtesy Courthousenews

Trade Association Thursday: EatTurkey.com!

November 27, 2008

Okay, its real name is the National Turkey Federation but that’s not its website (officially, anyway) which is www.eatturkey.com.

Time for the turkey day report card:

Overview: It defines itself as an advocacy group for all segments of the turkey industry.

1.  Allow associate memberships? Yes, but it appears limited “preferred suppliers.”  Not sure if you are an accounting firm that wants to service this industry, if you could join.  “C+”

2.  Public membership directory?  Sort of.  They provide a list of processors and other organizations.  Its a selective list but a start.  Access to complete membership requires membership.  “C+”

3.  National conference?  Yes but can’t find out about it without being a member “D”

4.  Subchapters or regional associations? Doesn’t appear so but maybe only learn about that as a member. “D”

5.  Industry reports, information, news?  They have extensive consumer resources and also good industry news and information about the turkey industry as well.  “B+”

6.  Glossary of industry terms? Nope.  “F”

7.  What sense does it give you of the industry and people in it?

Okay, if you dig beneath the consumer overlay you find a section on “Industry news” which gives a good sense of their legislative, economic and association priorities however its not super-easy to find.  “B-”

Overall: There is some good industry information on the National Turkey Federation website BUT it takes some digging.  They definitely want to focus on consumers and hide the industry nitty-gritty behind a membership wall.  “C+”

Public Resource.org

November 27, 2008

Here is a site ( http://public.resource.org/ ) that has a great mission and has already collect an impressive amount of state and local administrative codes.  I think its resources should be much greater. 

While Lexis and Westlaw play a role; providing quick and efficient access to public information for professionals who can and should pay for that access, its seems to me that the public should, when necessary have access to the same information.  Not with the same bells  and the whistles perhaps; not the ability to see annotations or download multiple cases or perform sophisticated research.  That’s fair.  But if they  are sued or feel the need to sue, they should be able to lookup case law, statutory law, administrative law, court records and filings.  To that end, I think Los Angeles County Superior Court’s effort to monetize its court filings is wrong.  Even Pacer should provisions for free public access and charge attorneys a fee.   Okay, that my Thanksgiving rant for the day!


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