On December 28, 2022, a PFAS consumer fraud class action lawsuit was filed in New York against Coca-Cola over alleged PFAS content in the Simply Tropical juice products sold by the company. The Coca-Cola 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, 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 these lawsuits.
Coca-Cola PFAS Consumer Fraud Lawsuit
On December 28, 2022, plaintiff Joseph Lurenz filed a lawsuit in New York seeking a proposed class action against Coca-Cola. The lawsuit alleges that Coca-Cola markets the company and its Simply Tropical products as “all natural” and made with “all natural ingredients” in an effort to attract health-conscious consumers to the products. Further, the lawsuit cites the ingredients list for the juice product, which indicates the use of “pure filtered water.” The lawsuit alleges that this statement implies to consumers that extra care was taken by the company to remove or avoid the use of chemicals such as PFAS. However, with testing showing the presence of PFAS in the juice drink, the 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 Coca-Cola:
- Violation of state consumer protection laws and the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act
- Breach of warranty
- Constructive fraud
- Unjust enrichment
The plaintiffs seek certification of a nationwide class action lawsuit, with subclasses defined as consumers in New York. In addition, the lawsuit seeks damages, fees, costs, 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 over human health, product manufacturers should be increasingly wary of lawsuits similar to the Coca-Cola 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:
- Cosmetics industry:
- Brown v. Cover Girl, New York (April 1, 2022)
- Anderson v. Almay, New York (April 1, 2022)
- Rebecca Vega v. L’Oreal, New Jersey (April 8, 2022)
- Spindel v. Burt’s Bees, California (March 25, 2022)
- Hicks and Vargas v. L’Oreal, New York (March 9, 2022)
- Davenport v. L’Oreal, California (February 22, 2022)
- Food packaging industry:
- Richburg v. Conagra Brands, Illinois (May 6, 2022)
- Ruiz v. Conagra Brands, Illinois (May 6, 2022)
- Hamman v. Cava Group, California (April 27, 2022)
- Azman Hussain v. Burger King, California (April 11, 2022)
- Little v. NatureStar, California (April 8, 2022)
- Larry Clark v. McDonald’s, Illinois (March 28, 2022)
- Feminine hygiene products:
- Gemma Rivera v. Knix Wear Inc., California (April 4, 2022)
- Blenis v. Thinx, Inc., Massachusetts (June 18, 2021)
- Destini Canan v. Thinx Inc., California (November 12, 2020)
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.
CMBG3 Law is following judicial, legislative, administrative, and scientific developments relating to PFAS. More information about the services we can provide, including risk assessments, to ensure your business is ready for any intersection with these substances can be found on our PFAS Litigation page.
Our attorneys have been at the forefront of PFAS issues, including giving presentations as to the future waves of litigation stemming from PFAS issues. For more information, please contact the Chair of our PFAS – Toxic Torts Team: John Gardella.