Wednesday, November 16, 2022
On October 28, 2022, a PFAS consumer fraud class action lawsuit was filed in Washington against REI over alleged PFAS content in various articles of waterproof clothing sold by the company. The REI PFAS consumer fraud lawsuit is but the latest in a growing line of PFAS lawsuits that allege that certain consumer goods contain PFAS, that the products or company’s values were marketed as healthy or environmentally friendly, and that consumers would not have purchased the products if they knew that the products contained PFAS.
As we predicted in early 2021, the increased attention on PFAS content in consumer goods in the scientific community and media presented significant risks to various industries, including the apparel and cosmetics industry, and our prediction was that the developments would lead to a significant number of Lawsuits alleging consumer fraud. Consumer goods industries, insurers, and investment companies interested in the consumer goods vertical with niche interest in cosmetics companies must pay careful attention to the cosmetics lawsuits and the increasing trend of lawsuits targeting the industry.
REI PFAS Consumer Fraud Lawsuit
On October 28, 2022, plaintiffs Jacob Krakauer and Joyce Rockwood filed a lawsuit in the Washington federal court seeking a proposed class action against REI. The lawsuit alleges that REI markets the company and its products as environmentally friendly and sustainable. Further, the lawsuit cites statements made by REI that the company is taking proactive steps with respect to chemical use in its products to argue that such statements were false, misleading or induced consumers to purchase products when the presence of PFAS in the products was not disclosed.
In the Complaint, plaintiffs allege the following counts against REI:
Violation of state consumer protection laws and the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act
Breach of warranty (implied and express)
Fraud (actual and constructive)
Money had and received
Fraudulent omission or concealment
Negligent failure to warn
The plaintiffs seek certification of a nationwide class action lawsuit, with subclasses defined as consumers n Washington and Arizona. In addition, the lawsuit seeks damages, fees, costs, the establishment of medical monitoring, and a jury trial.
Just the Beginning For Consumer Products Companies
With studies underway, legislation pending that targets consumer goods, and increasing media reporting on PFAS in consumer goods and concerns about human health, product manufacturers should be increasingly wary of lawsuits similar to the REI lawsuit being filed against them. There are an increasing number of PFAS consumer fraud cases being filed, with some of the below as representative of recent trends:
As the above is indicative of, several major companies now find themselves embroiled in litigation focused on PFAS false advertising, consumer protection violations, and deceptive statements made in marketing and ESG reports. The lawsuits may well serve as test cases for plaintiffs’ bar to determine whether similar lawsuits will be successful in any (or all) of the fifty states in this country. Companies must consider the possibility of needing to defend lawsuits involving plaintiffs in all fifty states for products that contain PFAS.
It should be noted that these lawsuits would only touch on the marketing, advertising, ESG reporting, and consumer protection type of issues. Separate products lawsuits could follow that take direct aim at obtaining damages for personal injury for plaintiffs from consumer products. In addition, environmental pollution lawsuits could seek damage for diminution of property value, cleanup costs, and PFAS filtration systems if drinking water cleanup is required.
It is of the utmost importance that businesses along the whole supply chain in the consumer products industry evaluate their PFAS risk. Public health and environmental groups urge legislators to regulate PFAS at an ever-increasing pace. Similarly, state level EPA enforcement action is increasing at a several-fold rate every year. Now, the first wave of lawsuits take direct aim at the consumer products industry. Companies that did not manufacture PFAS, but merely utilized PFAS in their manufacturing processes, are therefore becoming targets of costly enforcement actions at rates that continue to multiply year over year. Lawsuits are also filed monthly by citizens or municipalities against companies that are increasingly not PFAS chemical manufacturers.
©2022 CMBG3 Law, LLC. All rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume XII, Number 320