From Climate Change To Juul And Beyond, 2019’s Landmark Legal Moments

2019 has come to a close, but we can’t say goodbye to the decade without looking back on some of the major court cases that defined the year – and what a year it’s been. So many of 2019’s lawsuits were distinctly modern cases, tackling issues bound up in technology, data, and our expanding digital landscape. These 4 legal battles left their mark, and we’ll continue to feel their impact in the year to come.

Dating Dangers

Dating apps have been changing how we date for well over a decade now, but in 2019, things got contentious. With so many sites and apps out there, dating apps are increasingly protective of patents and trade secrets. One practice most avoid talking about, though, is how they handle sex offenders on their platforms, but now they’re in the spotlight. 

In late 2019, ProPublica released a report in conjunction with Buzzfeed describing how sex offenders freely use dating apps, while a September lawsuit against a University of Delaware baseball player highlighted the ways individual predators could leverage the apps to find victims. Expect similar lawsuits, including potential class actions against the service providers, in 2020.

A Mysterious Vape Illness

Vaping – the practice of using electronic cigarettes – has been contentious since its emergence. When the devices first became popular, though, many argued that the products were safer than traditional cigarettes and a good tool for those trying to stop smoking. As it turns out, those safety claims may have been hugely overstated, and at least 42 people have died from lung injuries related to the products this year.

Unsurprisingly, given the spate of deaths and illnesses, vape product companies have come under fire, and Juul is under a particularly harsh spotlight. The brand dominates the market because of heavy advertising to the youth market – and according to Jonathan Rosenfeld, that’s precisely the problem. “As personal injury lawyers, we have a special responsibility to protect vulnerable groups, like minors, when they’ve been injured by corporations,” says Rosenfeld.  That’s why, drawing on precedents set by lawsuits against cigarette companies, lawyers are investigating vaping lawsuits, accusing the companies of false health claims, advertising inappropriately to children, wrongful death, and even fraud and racketeering.

Charges Against Climate Change

When Great Thunberg sailed across the Atlantic to bring attention to climate change, she had everyone’s attention, but she was hardly the only young climate change activist hard at work in 2019. Earlier this year, 21 young people filed a motion with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to temporarily freeze new fossil fuel infrastructure permits. Their goal was to keep the industry tied up until their court case, Juliana v. United States makes its way through the courts. The case was originally filed in 2015, and continues to make its way through the courts. 

In addition to the youth-led suits, a number of other plaintiffs brought climate change-related suits in 2019. The Massachusetts AG filed a motion in October to keep a climate fraud case against Exxon in state court because the suit alleges violations of state consumer protection laws. Various other local entities are also suing Exxon, including Imperial Beach, San Mateo, and Marin counties in California, though Exxon has already scored a dismissal in a climate fraud suit filed in New York.

Attacking Opioid Makers

Finally, no 2019 postmortem would be complete without a look at the litigation surrounding the opioid crisis. Charges hit participants in the crisis at every level, with over 2,000 lawsuits consolidated as the National Prescription Opiate Litigation. So far, Purdue Pharma has filed for structured bankruptcy, while Michigan is testing out whether its drug trafficking laws may allow them to attack pharmacies that helped fuel the opioid crisis. There’s still much more ahead, but 2019 badly wounded the pharmaceutical companies that delivered addiction to communities across the country.

Legal battles don’t come to an end just because the calendar flips over; all of these fights will continue in 2020. These issues didn’t just define 2019, but they frame many of the fights that will land in the courts over the next several years, from health to the environment and beyond.


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