I am not dead yet: Oregon Unlawful Trade Practices Act and insurance reform

Kudos to Steve Duin of  The Oregonian for this column on Azusa Suzuki’s struggle to prove that she is entitled to Regence Blue Cross supplemental medicare insurance coverage for medical expenses incurred in a motor vehicle collision.

Apparently Regence decided that Ms. Suzuki was dead and–for that reason–Regence decided it did not need to pay her bills. She worked for years to prove she’s very much alive. It sounds almost comical. But if you watch the linked video or read the article, it’s apparent that outrage is the only response.

The Duin article points up a serious problem in Oregon. Consumers are at the mercy of insurance companies. When they do not pay claims, when they violate Oregon law, and when they do not fairly adjust claims, Oregon consumers are virtually out of luck. The problem is a lack of consumer remedies against insurance companies that misbehave.

Senator Chip Shields is trying to fix that. He has introduced a bill–SB 719–which protect Oregon consumers by making insurance companies meet the bare standards set out in Oregon’s Unlawful Trade Practices Act.

In this session of godawful Salem bills, it’s nice to see the champions of consumers are still fighting for the rest of us.  Appreciation is due–as always–to Sen. Shields. Consumers have few friends in the Oregon legislature. He is one of our best.

Comcast Oregon late fee class action settlement–cable TV

We are starting to get calls and emails about the class action settlement with Comcast.

Here is the link to the settlement information

A few recurring questions:

1. The settlement applies to Oregon Comcast subscribers

2. It is limited to subscribers who paid late fees on Cable TV bills.

3. The link above takes you to a claim form which you must open, print, fill out and mail.

4. The mailing address for claim forms and deadline information for filing the claim are also in the link posted above.

More questions?

Contact us here. I am class counsel and will do my best to answer your questions.

Debt trap: for-profit colleges

One of the best articles I’ve seen recently on for-profit colleges. Please, please, please read this if you or anyone in your family is  thinking about a for-profit school.

From the trenches, we continue to pursue our class action against Le Cordon Bleu Portland (formerly known as Western Culinary Institute) and its parent, Career Education Corp. Consumer fraud class actions are difficult cases.

Best to avoid the damage in the first place by saying no to overpriced for-profit colleges.  Don’t let the slick marketing fool you; you’re often better off at a less-costly community college.

One more thing. To our leaders in Congress, your active oversight can fix this problem. But you need to do more than regulate for the future. A generation of students are effectively underwater for life because of lax regulation. Seems to me that you need to fix this problem.

Thinking about toy safety

Nice post  here on holiday toy safety. It’s a timely reminder for parents and grandparents who might be out shopping for kids’ gifts. There are those who grumble about toy safety initiatives and safety regulations.  The reality is that those who complain haven’t faced the horror of a profoundly injured child.   Nothing compares to that type of tragedy. No family should have to go through anything like it.

That’s meant as kudos for oregonconsumer.org. There aren’t enough independent voices out there protecting consumers.  That’s why I am a supporter.

Smoking gun in toxic injury case against KBR and Halliburton

In today’s Oregonian, Julie Sullivan reports here about a document provided to the soldiers in discovery that is one of those classic smoking guns. In our case, Bixby v. KBR, KBR and Halliburton claim that they didn’t know about the sodium dichromate until late July or August, they claim that they told the Army immediately, they claim that they never used sodium dichromate, and they claim that no one was injured from the exposure.

Against those claims, this pdf document,  Team RIO Mtg Min 02 Oct 2003 MCM00739, tells a very different story. The document is a summary of a meeting in Oct 2003 of members of Team RIO (Restore Iraqi Oil). Representatives from KBR, the Army Corp of Engineers (“USACE”) and Iraq’s Southern Oil Company (“SOC”) were discussing the sodium dichromate contamination of the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Plant.

Qarmat Ali is where our troops provided security to KBR employees as they worked under their secret, no-bid, $7 billion, cost-plus contract to rebuild Iraqi oil production. The document raises a few questions.   No doubt the soldiers’ legal team will be exploring those questions when we get to trial.

Thinking about our veterans today

I’m not a flag waver.  Never have been. Like the vast majority of Americans, I have treated Veterans Day as one of those days in the fall that I might have off from work. No thought to the meaning; no thought to the sacrifices that lie beneath.

That changed in a profound way last year when I agreed to help sick soldiers and vets from the Oregon Army National Guard’s 1/162. These men were poisoned by exposures to sodium dichromate while providing security to KBR and Halliburton employees. They came back hurt and sick.

In working on their legal team, I’ve come to learn about the soldiers and vets and their families.  Their sacrifices are so great. They served for all the right reasons.  And now they are wounded and hurting.

Seems to me that every vet deserves our appreciation today. For those who have come back from service broken and hurt, we the people owe them.  And for those who are broken and hurt because a greedy contractor violated safety rules in pursuit of profits, well, let’s just say that I’m doing my best to make sure your day of reckoning comes.

Thanks vets.

Trade school fraud: Kaplan schools in the news

The New York Times reports here on the Kaplan schools woes.  The Times goes to great lengths to note that its competitor, The Washington Post, owns Kaplan.  I suppose some might see it as a dig and turn of the knife, but it strikes me as appropriate because it helps explain how the owners of the  Post lobby against trade school regulation.

The article focused on the Kaplan criminal justice degree program. I was struck by this quote from a former Kaplan insider:

“In reality *** , graduates would often get the same $8 to $9-an-hour security guard jobs they could have had without Kaplan training.”

It sounds awfully familiar, as it is the same thing we’ve seen repeatedly in our consumer class action against Western Culinary Institute/Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts-Portland.  There is so much more about it that is insidious, including absorbing federal dollars that would otherwise go to student aid.

The for-profits spend a boatload of money on marketing and advertising. That money comes from tuition, and tuition dollars come straight out of the treasury.

It’s a lousy deal.

We’re still pushing forward on the culinary school case. Nice to see that responsible journalists are reporting on abusive trade schools. As for the Washington Post, you have to wonder.

U.S. Supreme Court hearing argument in case that could end consumer protections

Today, the U.S. Supreme hears oral argument in Concepcion v. AT&T Mobility. The issue–preemption under the Federal Arbitration Act–sounds technical and mind-numbingly boring.

While it looks boring, it’s an important case.  Maybe one of the most important in years.

Remember the terms and conditions or subscriber agreement or other agreement you signed or accepted when you signed up for cell service, cable TV, a bank account, a credit card or just about any of the other transactions consumers enter everyday? If you’re like 99.9 percent of all consumers, you don’t remember it all. Chances are you didn’t read the long and technical terms that appear as part of the transaction. You wanted to buy the goods, so you signed.

It’s very likely that the terms included a mandatory arbitration clause. The case focuses on whether that mandatory arbitration can prohibit class actions for consumers.

Some consumer problems involve big businesses engaging in small rip offs. We all know that a $10 rip off simply isn’t worth pursuing when doing so is expensive, timely and risky.  But what if that small rip off of $10 applies to all customers, say a million people? The business pockets $10 million illegally.

When you’re dealing with the nickel and dime consumer rip off, an individual consumer simply can’t obtain relief. One way consumers can fight back is through the consumer class action. The individual can’t bring a $10 case, but a class action allows consumers to chase the $10 million in illegally pocketed money, when a million consumers lose $10 each.

AT&T Mobility and their friends, Comcast and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, want that to change. They want a rule that allows companies to ban class actions and require you to take your case to arbitration as an individual. So that $10 rip off will never be remedied. And AT&T Mobility and its friends will be able to pocket and keep millions by only taking a small amount from each consumer.

The stakes only went up with the changes in Congress last week. If the Supreme Court incorrectly interprets a statute, like the Federal Arbitration Act, Congress can amend the statute to correct the error.  Sadly, consumers lost some of their best friends in Congress in the last election. So we should not count on Congress to bail out consumers if the Supreme Court sides with big business.

One of my favorite movies, The Life of Brian, ends with a great song, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

For now, I’m simply whistling that tune and hoping that things go okay. Guess we’ll deal with the carnage if the Court gives the Chamber of Commerce the victory it so badly wants.

Cheer up, Brian, it’s no bad.

KBR update: Halliburton joined in Bixby v. KBR

Yesterday, we filed an updated complaint in Bixby v. KBR. Here’s a copy Bixby Fourth amended complaint. The new complaint adds Halliburton defendants.

For those interested, here’s what happened. The legal team representing the sick veterans made Freedom of Information Act requests to the U.S. Army. It took a long time to get the requested documents, but we did. Once we reviewed them, we learned that Halliburton had been at the site pumping water at Qarmat Ali.

Additional documents produced at the same time suggest that Halliburton and KBR were actually bringing sodium dichromate to Qarmat Ali and using it for water pumping. That would be a big additional problem for them.

There is much more to the update, but I wanted to post this for those who are interested.

For-profit trade school regulation–an insider speaks out

My friend and colleague, Portland attorney Josh Shulman, flagged this op-ed in today’s New York Times on trade school regulation.  The author teaches at both traditional non-profit colleges and for-profit programs.  It provides a clear explanation of the need for the gainful employment rule. The message isn’t new, but the messenger is uniquely qualified based on his work experience.

Why is the for-profit trade school industry so strongly opposed to these common sense reforms? What exactly is wrong with a rule that conditions taxpayer-funded federal aid on a program that produces valuable job skills without straddling the student with insurmountable debts? We know the horror stories. It’s time to clean up this mess.

Waiting to hear.