Consumer class actions are an important part of the American legal landscape as they help to provide a legal remedy to a large group of people who likely would have been unable to file individual lawsuits. What sets consumer class actions apart from other types of lawsuits and class actions is the scale of the damages involved. Typically, in consumer class actions, individual class member injuries are too small to warrant the expense of a single lawsuit on behalf of one plaintiff; however, when examined through the lens of an entire class of individuals with similar injuries against the same defendant, the aggregate damages sought becomes a powerful tool in changing practices of not just a specific company, but of an entire industry.
Some of the most common types of consumer class actions are consumer fraud, deceptive and unfair trade practices, unfair debt collection practices, violation of consumer protection and privacy laws, including the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) and data breach lawsuits. TCPA lawsuits, along with data breach suits, are the most common litigations filed in the consumer class action area. The TCPA prohibits autodialed solicitations to cell phone number without permission. The TCPA also prohibits making two or more solicitation calls in a 12-month period to telephone numbers registered on the national “Do Not Call” registry for more than 30 days.
In the last three months alone there have been several multimillion-dollar settlements in TCPA class actions:
- On March 20, 2019, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company agreed to a $5 million settlement to end claims that the company violated the TCPA. The suit was originally filed in September 2016, by named plaintiffs Diane Rice-Redding, Ricky Coleman and Ken Johansen in Georgia federal court. In the complaint, the plaintiffs alleged that defendant Nationwide violated the TCPA by 1) initiating phone calls using an automatic telephone dialing system and/or an artificial pre-recorded voice to call cellular and residential telephones without prior express consent and 2) by placing phone calls to persons registered on the National Do Not Call registry. Additionally, the plaintiffs argued that Nationwide hired a lead generator marketing company to make telemarketing calls. Per the settlement agreement, filed on March 3, 2019, Nationwide will deposit $5,000,000 into a settlement fund. The opt-in deadline has been scheduled for July 21, 2019 and per the terms of the settlement, if more than 250 people opt out of the settlement, the settlement agreement will be terminated. The final court approval hearing is currently scheduled for August 1, 2019.
- On April 12, 2019, Allstate Insurance Company agreed to settle claims alleging it violated the TCPA for a staggering $10.5 million. The suit was originally filed in October 2015 by named plaintiff Abante Rooter and Plumbing Inc. Plaintiff argued that Allstate agent Oh Insurance Agency made marketing calls to 53,700 cell phone numbers between April 2013 and February 2017.
- On May 8, 2019, animal health insurance company Pet Health Inc. agreed to pay $5.5 million to end punitive class claims that the company violated the TCPA by placing prerecorded calls to cell phone numbers without the prior express consent of class members. The class is made up of approximately 731,173 affected class members who received artificial or prerecorded calls from October 16, 2013 through November 30, 2016. Individual class members will receive awards ranging from $46 to $92 and named plaintiff Christopher Legg is slated to receive an incentive award of $20,000.
- On May 23, 2019, Home Depot and Atlantic Water and Air agreed to a combined $4,350,000 settlement to end claims that Atlantic Water and Air, acting on behalf of Home Depot, made telemarketing prerecorded calls and/or utilized an automatic telephone dialer without obtaining “prior express written consent” to make telemarketing calls. Class members will receive awards of up to $5,000 with named plaintiffs receiving an incentive award of around $7,500. The class is made up of anyone who received telephone calls from or on behalf of Home Depot/Atlantic Water and Air from October 16, 2013 to June 1, 2015. Additionally, attorneys’ fees will likely be around $1,522,500 plus reimbursement of class counsels’ costs and expenses for about $50,000—class counsels’ request for 35% of the settlement amount is within the market rate for TCPA cases.
- On May 28, 2019, popular fast food chain Checker’s Drive-In Restaurant agreed to a $3.5 million to end nationwide class claims that it violated the TCPA by continuing to send spam promotional text messages to consumers even after they revoked consent for texts. The class is made up of individuals who attempted to stop receiving Checkers promotional text messages by using Checkers’ own opt-out instructions. The Checkers promotional texts in question instructs recipients to reply to messages with a list of words including “stop,” “cancel,” “unsubscribe,” “end,” “quit,” “opt out”,or “remove” to end texts. The class is made up of consumers who replied in order to opt out of text messages between January 28, 2019 and May 2019.