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melons-65652_1920-300x225On October 6, 2020, Meijer announced a recall of whole cantaloupe and cut cantaloupe fruit trays and bowls sold between September 26, 3030, and October 5, 2020. The recall was necessary because Michigan inspectors detected salmonella, a type of bacteria that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections, in the produce. The recall affects Meijer stores in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin according to the company’s press release. Neumann Law Group is aware that at least one potential instance of illness is being investigated; however, there could be many more potential injuries

Salmonella is one of the most common food borne illnesses in the United States. The infection is very serious—approximately 22% of cases require hospitalization. Salmonella is responsible for about 30% of all food borne illness related deaths each year.

Anyone who contracts food borne illness from consuming the recalled cantaloupe may have a legal claim and be entitled to financial compensation. There are several legal standards imposed on grocery stores to ensure consumer safety. Grocery stores are strictly liable when they sell produce that causes harm (Product Liability). Moreover, they have a duty to use reasonable care to ensure the safety of the food they are selling (Negligence). Finally, the law implies a promise that the food they sell is fit for consumption (Warranty).

0001-232x300On May 3, 2020, Harbor Freight Tools, a discount tool and equipment retailer headquartered in Calabasas, California, issued a recall of over 1.2 million jack stands. Jack stands are a device placed under a vehicle—or other large piece of equipment— to keep it in an elevated position after it is lifted using a jack. The recall warned that the ‘pawl,’ a circular saw blade shaped piece of metal that is part of the assembly which ratchets the jack into place, was flawed, causing inconsistency in the engagement of the ratchet teeth. The ratchet teeth could disengage, dropping the load to the ground. This potential is an obvious and serious danger to anyone working under or around the vehicle. The recall affected the ‘Pittsburgh Automotive 3 Ton Heavy Duty Steel Jack Stands’, sold throughout Harbor Freight Tools’ 1,000 retail stores as well as its robust mail-order and e-commerce business.

After the initial recall, Harbor Freight Tools began to systematically test all of its jack stand products, as all of the Pittsburg Automotive jack stand product had been manufactured by the same company, Jiaxing Golden Roc Tools Co., Ltd. Seven days later, the company issued an additional recall of 454,000 Pittsburgh Automotive 6 Ton Heavy Duty Steel Jack Stands, for the same reason. Harbor Freight Tools laid blame at the feet of the manufacturer, alleging that aging of production tooling was the cause of the flaw. To minimize the damage to the retailer’s brand image, the company sent replacement jacks customers that purchased the defective product.

Astoundingly, on July 7, 2020, Harbor Freight Tools had to issue a third recall, this time because it “identified a welding defect” in the jack stands sent to replace the previously recalled product. ” Although the company recalled all 454,000 replacement jack stands, it claimed the defect was only present in a “small number” of the units. Harbor Freight Tool’s CEO and founder, Eric Schmidt, said the company was “disappointed and embarrassed’ about the entire situation.

Courthouse-300x200In May of 2020, speculation began that the multi-district litigation (MDL) regarding the German chemical giant, Bayer, and its weed killing product, Roundup, was close to settling. Hundreds of thousands of claims have been made claiming the product causes serious long-term health conditions, most notably, leukemia, B-cell lymphoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma or multiple myeloma.

In late June, that speculation seemed to be well supported, as Bayer disclosed its intent to settle tens of thousands of cases for a sum of $10 billion, while continuing to sell the product with new warning label. As a result, the Judge presiding over the matter, the Honorable Vince Chhabria, paused the massive litigation until November, allowing the parties to work out the particulars of the complex agreement.

Now, last Thursday, August 27th, Bayer announced that the majority of the settlements it had previously declared resolved, were in-fact in jeopardy of falling apart. Where Bayer had told the court that 75% of the 125,000 Roundup claims were resolved, only 32,000 cases were actually resolved—12,000 of which were in state courts, rather than the federal MDL over which Judge Chhabria presides.

Soldier-200x300On July 28, 2020, a Florida federal court ruling breached the central defense against claims certain military earplugs were defective, damaging the ear and causing hearing loss. The lawsuits claim the earplugs were improperly designed, and did not completely block loud noises common to the military, such as gunfire and or the operation of heavy machinery or vehicles. Neumann Law Group has previously written about the earplug litigation, and you can read that article here.

The defendant, 3M, attempted to invoke the ‘government contractor defense,” a doctrine that would relieve it of any liability even if it were proven to have produced and sold a defective product to the military. The Supreme Court articulated the government contractor defense in Boyle v. United Technologies Corporation, 487 US 500 (1988), which involved a wrongful death complaint made against a company that produced military helicopters—the plaintiff alleged the escape system in the helicopter was poorly designed, causing the death of a pilot.

The jury in Boyle found that the manufacturer was in fact negligent when it designed the helicopter, but the Supreme Court would eventually uphold an appellate reversal of the verdict. It outlined the strong federal interest in military equipment and concluded those interests outweighed any state law claims, but only when the federal government gave reasonably precise specifications for the equipment, the equipment conformed to the specifications, and the supplier warned the federal government of the danger involved in using the equipment to the best of its knowledge.

lady-justice-statue-wallpapers-1024x768-1-300x225Neumann Law Group believes in justice, not only for our clients and the communities we serve, but for anyone, anywhere. On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was brutally murdered by a police officer while a crowd of bystanders begged him to stop. Three fellow officers stood by idly, while a frightened human being narrated his own death. When the video of Officer Derek Chauvin sadistically choking Mr. Floyd to death went viral, America stood witness to an act of depravity—an act so horrendous that even the willfully ignorant could no longer deny the reality of police brutality.
The gruesome scene must be viewed in context. It is easy to see Officer Chauvin as a barbarian, devoid of human compassion and fueled by hatred and racism. Except for those in the fringe holding extremist ideals, every American has denounced Mr. Floyd’s murder. But we cannot pat ourselves on the back for finding the racist and locking him up. We must act, as the videographer bravely did, or we’ll be no better than Chauvin’s fellow officers.
The nation’s problem is not Officer Derek Chauvin; racism runs far deeper than a few bad cops. While the American majority has accumulated wealth, luxury, and security over the centuries, the institutions and policies fostering that growth often did so at the expense of black Americans. Racism was once overt, as enshrined in our constitution. Then came the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments which were our first steps of absolution, beginning the process of ending our great evil of slavery. The Civil Rights Acts of 1964 took aim at Jim Crow and segregation. However, neither of these steps eradicated hatred. Our sordid history of systemic racism stained the very fabric of our nation. A stubborn, pernicious, and deadly illness.

DamIn the immediate aftermath of one of the worst disasters in Michigan’s history, evidence has emerged that the Edenville Dam failure could have been avoided. Long before the catastrophic event, both regulators and the dam’s owners knew the 96-year-old structure did not meet federal or state capacity standards, which are imposed to ensure dams can withstand major flooding. In fact, state regulators were actively investigating the dam’s capacity when record rainfall overwhelmed the structure. Flood waters washed out a 900-foot section of the dam’s eastern earthen dike, releasing the waters of Wixom Lake into the Tittabawassee River. The torrential surge flowed downstream to Sanford Lake, where it overwhelmed the Sanford Dam, inundating large swaths of Midland and Saginaw counties. Over 10,000 people were evacuated before the flood waters crested.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission identified the dam’s susceptibility to failure as early as 1993, urging the owner to increase spillway capacity. When the dam’s current owner, Boyce Hydro Power, LLC, acquired the dam, federal regulators brought the structural failings to its attention. However, in 2018 the federal government turned regulation of the dam over to the State of Michigan. Michigan’s regulatory scheme is far less stringent than the federal laws under which the dam formerly operated.

Despite knowledge of the dam’s weaknesses, the State of Michigan actively urged Boyce Hydro to keep Wixom Lake’s water level high, since shoreline residents and those who used the lake for recreation found higher water levels more appealing. Additionally, state regulators took more drastic action to ensure higher water levels in order to preserve habitat for certain freshwater mussels. In the falls of 2019, Boyce Hydro asked state regulators if it could lower the lake level, but the state denied the request, stating that a similar drawdown in 2018 killed a number of the endangered mussels. Boyce proceeded to draw the lake level down despite the state’s refusal. In response, the state filed a lawsuit against the company in April of 2020. Boyce claims it raised the lake level this spring because of pressure from Wixom-Lake-300x200shoreline residents and state regulators.

Leveraging-300x200Tort law principles will ensure businesses and institutions place safety over efficiency and profits while the country begins to restart economic activity. America’s complex relationship with personal injury lawsuits stokes a collective cognitive dissonance, where our most treasured values are locked in conflict. We hold justice, accountability, and sympathy as individual and cultural ideals. When a community member is injured, whether physically, emotionally, or financially, societal norms dictate communal action, surrounding the suffering individual with comfort and support. On the other side of the same coin, society expects individuals responsible for another’s injury acknowledge their fault and expend proportionate resources to repair the damage done. Personal injury lawsuits advance these ideals, forcing compliance with our cultural values under the authority of the state.

At the same time, self-determination and self-reliance are both elemental components of our nation’s social fabric. For better or worse, we often credit an individual’s circumstances as a function of his or her integrity and fortitude. In the immortal words of Joseph P. Kennedy, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Since the 1970s, insurance companies and corporate interests have waged a war on personal injury law through a process labeled as “tort reform.” Although this article is not intended to dive into that complex subject, tort reform met with some success coloring personal injury lawsuits as the vehicle of the sneaky and weak to obtain untold sums of undeserved money.

In the tort reform era, the role personal injury lawsuits play in advancing public interests is sometimes overlooked. From reigning in overzealous pharmaceutical companies from prematurely introducing new, untested drugs, to holding manufacturers to account for profiting from dangerous consumer goods, tort law has saved Americans from countless injuries and deaths. It is critical for our safety that business interests operate under the threat of litigation to reign in risky commercial gambits.

Employees-300x200A few weeks ago, the global economy rolled forward under its own immense inertia. While concerns of an economic downturn were growing, few suspected the preceding years of expansion would end overnight . . . yet here we are. It wasn’t the business cycle; it wasn’t an overheated housing market; it wasn’t irresponsible financial products. The behemoth was struck down where it stood because workers stopped working. Over the last five weeks, over 26 million people in the United States filed for unemployment assistance. In addition to those who lost their jobs, many employees were sent home to work or are temporarily laid off. What sort of protection do these employees have when restrictions are lifted and companies call them back to the workplace?

Lawmakers are debating when and how to reopen the larger economy—some arguing for a rapid reopening designed to minimize the length of time commerce remains stagnant, while others plea for a cautious reopening focused on minimizing infection rates. Although much depends on the way government loosens the current restrictions, tension between employee safety and the desire to resume normal operations is certain to grow.

Employees may feel powerless when their employers ask them to return to work. Can an employer fire employees who are reluctant to perform certain tasks? Should an employee that suffers from a medical condition that increases the danger of the virus be forced to return upon the employer’s demand? What if a worker has been exposed to the virus during the shutdown? Can employees be required to test in order to return to work?

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Neumann Law Group has a proven track record challenging insurance coverage denials. Today, more and more businesses are suffering extensive losses, either directly from the corona virus, or from governmental action shutting down operations to mitigate the public health risk. Many businesses have paid insurance companies premiums for years to ensure protection in the event of a business stoppage by purchasing business interruption and civil authority policies or riders. Now, when small businesses need the most help, insurance companies are not providing much needed assistance.

Nationwide, almost all insurers offering business interruption coverage or civil authority coverage have denied claims related to COVID-19. The two types of policies are interrelated. Business interruption coverage allow companies to hedge against certain losses when the business suffers physical damage or loss that interferes with its ability to operate. Civil interruption coverage generally allows recovery when a civil authority issues an order closing a business or interfering with normal operations.

First and foremost, if you don’t know whether your business has such coverage, call your agent and find out. Most policies require the insured to submit claims promptly, so making a timely claim is critical. The types of injury upon which business have filed claims include lost income due to business closure, lost income due to public knowledge of infections on premises, costs of sanitization and employee testing, and a host of other claims specific to particular businesses.

Corona-Virus-300x169Neumann Law Group is ready to assist small businesses and self-employed individuals prepare for the anticipated second round of funding to the federal Paycheck Protection Program, as well as helping our clients navigate the application process following Congressional action. Although the content of what is being called an “interim stimulus package” remains the subject of considerable debate, nearly all economists and business leaders agree the measure is crucial to mitigate the shocking unemployment crisis facing the United States.

On April 16, 2020, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s website notified businesses that the agency was no longer accepting new applications for the Paycheck Protection Program. The recently passed CARES Act, otherwise referred to as the third stimulus package, earmarked $349 billion dollars for the U.S. Small Business Administration to distribute to small businesses, defined as having less than 500 employees—calculated by the average number of employees over the preceding twelve months.

The Paycheck Protection Program offers businesses a loan up to $10,000,000. The principal amount of each applicant’s loan is calculated at 2.5 times the company’s average monthly payroll costs for the previous one year. The loans are subject to complete forgiveness if used for qualifying expenses, which include:

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