Business Monday: Aspen schools to sue Juul in mass-action litigation
Count the Aspen School District among the dozens across the country that are suing Juul Labs Inc. and other e-cigarette manufacturers.
The board of education, at its Oct. 5 meeting, gave Superintendent David Baugh permission to allow the district to join other public schools as part of what is called a “mass action” against Juul, the San Francisco maker of vaporizers that include nicotine and other tobacco agents.
“I was startled and saddened to learn that Colorado is near the end of the list for funding for public schools, but we’re at the front for the use of Juul products, and ski towns especially are hard hit,” Baugh told the board.
A Sept. 30 article in the The Skier Scribbler, Aspen High’s school newspaper, focused on how vaping has become a problem at the local schools. The story, “Underage vaping in Aspen takes a hit,” noted the frustrations administrators face with cracking down on campus use.
“AHS also put in place a new phone policy for the 2019-2020 school year to prevent vaping during class,” the article said. “The school is starting to take students’ phones away if they are seen using them in the hall during class and students are now required to turn their phones in at the beginning of class, all based off the theory that students are texting each other to meet up in the bathroom during class to vape.”
San Diego-based Frantz Law Group is taking the case on a contingency basis, meaning ASD doesn’t have to pay a retainer or other fees associated with the litigation.
“It’s basically no risk to the district to join this litigation,” Baugh said, “and there could be some benefits to fund some remediation downstream.”
Frantz Law only receives compensation if the district prevails in the suit and is awarded financial damages, a portion of which the firm would receive.
“In this litigation we will be seeking not only past monetary damages your District has suffered but also obtain from the defendants the appropriate compensation to deal with this vaping epidemic on your campus in the future,” reads a primer on the mass action that Frantz Law Group provided to school districts including Aspen. “The focus of these future damages will be about deterrence, support and education.”
The firm said future damages awarded to school districts could be used to install vape detectors in school bathrooms.
“Based on proposals from experts, a complete installation of a vape detector system will cost around $5,000/bathroom,” the firm said. “Thus, we will be obtaining for your district the appropriate compensation in order for your district to install vape detectors systems in all of your bathrooms.”
Future damages also could be used to hire additional staff to “provide further supervision of students to make sure that vaping is not occurring on campus. In addition, due to the nicotine addiction that is a result of the students use of these vaping devices, there will also be a need for more counselors,” the firm said. “These counselors will be able to provide support for the social and emotional issues that come with nicotine addiction. As such, we will be seeking compensation from the Defendants to pay for these additional staff that we believe your district may need to hire to support the students of your district.”
Additional damages would be used to fund education programs “for students and parents on the harms of vaping. Due to the defendants’ fraudulent and misleading advertising to students, it is apparent that students are not aware of the harms of these products,” the firm said. “These educational programs will help with the goal of deterring future use of the product and hopefully provide support for these students to stop using the product entirely.”
Just over one third, or 35%, of Juul Labs is owned by Altria Group, which used to be Phillip Morris Cos.
Education Week reported last week that by its calculations, nearly 100 school districts in the United States are suing Juul.
In the article, a professor of law and the director of the Network for Public Health Law, Eastern Region, at the University of Maryland’s law school, notes that Juul and other e-cig makers will argue they should not be held responsible for the harm brought on to school-aged students from vaping.
“They are going to say they have abided by all the federal laws and state laws that have existed, and have complied in the regulatory scheme and can’t be liable for this tertiary impact,” Kathleen Hoke said. “That’s the strongest argument for Juul, and it’s a good one.”