Florida among top states for filing of class actions against food and beverage companies

NBC News investigative journalist Jeff Rossen   Twitter.com/JeffRossen

In 2015, the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) released a report showing Florida with one of the worst “lawsuit climates” (ranked 42nd of 50 states) in the country.

This week, ILR released additional troubling data for the Sunshine State -- showing the state as an increasing forum for plaintiffs’ attorneys to file “food and beverage” lawsuits.

In fact, Florida is among the four states in which three-quarters of all federal food and beverage class actions in the entire country are filed. The state hosted 12 percent of all such suits, surpassed only by California (36 percent) and New York (22 percent). Illinois was home to 7 percent of these cases.

The ILR released the report on the same day NBC’s “Today” Show reporter Jeff Rossen featured a segment on “slack-fill” lawsuits over the amount of extra space in candy packages at movie theaters.

“NBC’s Today show segment on so-called slack fill lawsuits against candy makers misses the point: These cases are about lawyers making money, not consumers,” said Lisa A. Rickard, president of ILR.

Rickard pointed to the findings of her organization’s report, which found that, in certified class actions, “about half of the settlement money often goes to the lawyers who bring the case for their fees and costs, and to pay the cost of claims administration.”

“While plaintiffs’ lawyers receive millions in fees, consumers are usually eligible to seek a nominal cash payment, product vouchers, or products in the mail,” according to the report.

Rickard said this shows the need for a legislative fix from Congress, pointing to the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act, sponsored by House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).

Goodlatte has said his bill “will keep baseless class action suits away from innocent parties, while still keeping the doors to justice open for parties with real and legitimate claims, and maximizing their recoveries.”

Rickard agreed, saying, “Class action lawsuits should pay consumers first, not the lawyers.”

Meanwhile, “slack fill lawsuits” like the ones reported on by Rossen are just one of the growing types of lawsuits being filed against food and beverage companies.

The most frequent types of suits were against companies who advertised their products as “natural”, as well as a growing number of suits targeting products labeled with “nothing artificial” or “preservative free.”

According to the report, food and beverage class actions have been rising sharply in recent years. Whereas there were only twenty suits filed in 2008, that number jumped to more than 425 active cases in federal courts in 2015 and 2016.

Additionally, about 120 new food class actions were filed in or removed to federal court in 2015, and there were more than 170 new food class actions filed in or removed to federal court in 2016.

“If the feeding frenzy on food marketing class actions continues,” concluded Rickard, “Consumers will pay the price – including higher costs for candy at the movies.”

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NBC News U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) U.S. Representative Bob Goodlatte (VA-6)

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