As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ripple across the globe, greatly affecting the global economy, proposed class actions relating to the pandemic have already commenced in the United States and Canada. BLG is committed to keeping our clients informed and updated on class action developments in these uncertain times. This update summarizes recent class actions relating to COVID-19 and forecasts future potential filings. It is important to note that none of the allegations in the claims set out below have been proven in court:
Misrepresenting hand sanitizer
A consumer claims in California against Target Corporation alleges that Target misrepresented that its store brand hand sanitizer “kills 99.99% of germs”, which was not backed up by any reliable scientific studies. Mardig Taslakian v. Target Corporation, et al, March 20, 2020, CA Central District California, March 20, 2020, CA U.S. Dist. Ct., Central 2:20-CV-02667. This class action echoes recent lawsuits filed against other hand sanitizer manufacturers, such as Germ-X and Purell, which arose pursuant to a letter sent by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to Purell regarding its marketing representations. The FDA notes in its letter that it was not aware of “any adequate and well-controlled studies demonstrating that killing or decreasing the number of bacteria or viruses on the skin by a certain magnitude produces a corresponding clinical reduction in infection or disease caused by such bacteria or virus”. As a result, the lawsuit reads: “Target uses indirect statements to give an unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading impression to the consumer that the Hand Sanitizer can prevent the flu and other viruses.”
Several airlines currently face class actions in the Federal Court (in British Columbia), the Superior Court of Ontario and in the Superior Court of Québec by consumers who entered a contract of carriage with these companies prior to the COVID-19 pandemic declaration and whose flights were cancelled as a result. The claimants claim a full monetary refund (as opposed to credits toward future flights) in connection with their cancelled flights.
Similarly, airline passengers in the United States claim their airline is refusing to honor ticket refund requests for cancelled flights. The plaintiffs allege that the airline is only offering a voucher that expires in a year or the opportunity to rebook on another flight. Plaintiffs seek full refunds and punitive damages. See, e.g. Sweet et al v. Frontier Airlines, May 12, 2020 CO U.S. Dist. Ct. 1:20-CV-01340C; Diaz v. Spirit Airlines Inc., May 08, 2020, FL U.S. Dist. Ct., South 0:20-CV-60933; Boucher v. Spirit Airlines, Inc., April 22, 2020, FL U.S. Dist. Ct., South 0:20-CV-60829.
Suits against airlines in both the U.S. and Canada have escalated in the past weeks.
School trip cancellation
Suits have been launched against EF Institute for Cultural Exchange, Inc. (EF) (and other class trip providers including Education First Class) in California for refusing to provide a full monetary refund for cancelled trips because of COVID-19. Grabovksy v. EF Institute for Cultural Exchange, Inc. et al, March 17, 2020 CA U.S. Dist. Ct., South 3:20-CV-00508 Class Action and Douglas v. Ef Institute For Cultural Exchange Inc., March 11, 2020CA San Diego Super.Ct.37-2020-00013374-CUMC-CTLC. EF’s contract contained a clause, which allowed it to issue travel vouchers instead of cash refunds, excluding certain fees, when tours were cancelled “for public health issues or quarantine or threats of public health issues”. The plaintiffs allege that EF instituted an unfair cancellation policy in their contract, imposing unreasonable limitation on cash refunds, which resulted in students losing some of their investment following the tour cancellations.