What Are Pennsylvania Employee Data Privacy Lawsuits?

For more than two decades, digital security experts have been trying to protect your information from would-be hackers — who might be working to steal it from as far away as a Russian office overseas or as close to home as a sixteen-year-old working from his mother’s basement. And it hasn’t gotten easier to protect this information, which is why you’ve heard about data breach after data breach from huge companies with familiar names.

Employers have always collected personal information. They need your name, number, address, and social security number just to run business smoothly — and make sure you’re paid promptly. 

And that’s why hackers have increasingly targeted them. A few years ago, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that every employer had the duty to protect each employee’s information. Failing to implement adequate security could land them in hot water legally, especially when identities are stolen or negligent behavior on the part of big corporations leads to an individual’s financial loss.

There was an important class-action case known as Dittman v. UPMC. Barbara Dittman and her attorneys sued the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and UPMC McKeesport alongside a number of other plaintiffs on whose behalf they fought after their private information was stolen. All 62,000 employees who worked for UPMC experienced this theft.

Dittman and her attorneys argued that UMPC did not take the appropriate precautions to protect the data, such as setting up strong firewalls or establishing authentication protocols for accessing the private information store on the company’s servers.

This was the case that made it clear that Pennsylvania workers had the right to hold onto their private information, and that it was up to employers to protect it. But a few years later, that information is still under constant attack, and courts are struggling to hold companies liable for these damages as hackers get better at stealing. And that means more lawsuits are inevitable in the future.

Pennsylvania Senators Fight To Remove Child Sex Abuse Statute Of Limitations

A statute of limitations is a legal mechanism put into place to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits or prosecutorial overreach by limiting the amount of time a plaintiff or prosecutor has to build a case either in criminal court or in civil court. Notably, the statute of limitations for civil litigation cases involving victims who were children when subjected to sexual abuse is limited to a short timeframe. 

Oftentimes, there isn’t enough time for a victim to process the long-term trauma of the abuse, accept that it happened, speak out about what happened, and try to build a lawsuit based on what happened. It’s too much.

President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R-Benner Township) said, “I’ve gotten to the point where enough is enough. These poor individuals have suffered the most heinous crime you can imagine.”

Here and now, Corman acknowledged that the law needs to change, and that he would support House Bill 951, which would open up the statute of limitations to allow adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse to process lawsuits against their abusers and anyone else who helped facilitate the commission of these crimes.

For example, survivors were previously barred from suing the employers of the abuser — but that changed in light of a sex abuse scandal that came to light when victims came forward to implicate priests. Now, survivors can also sue the Catholic church for fostering an environment in which abuse is more likely.

Corman said, “If there’s enough vagueness [in the bill] at least to be argued, I’m prepared to let all the lawyers have their day, the judges to have their day, and most importantly victims of these terrible crimes to have their day.”

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said, “Today’s vote brings these brave survivors the closest they have been to having their day in court. Now it’s time to deliver justice and closure for those who spoke up, relived their trauma, and bolstered the system for future victims.”

Originally, the plan to open the statute of limitations would have been put forth to the voters — but the bureaucracy failed to deliver in time for the primary election last year. That’s why many legislators have changed their mind to prefer the new law over the constitutional amendment.

Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Lisa Baker (R-Dallas) said, “But, if you believe as strongly as I do that abuse victims have been denied a fair remedy for far too long, then we are obligated to attempt every avenue to deliver a just result.”

In order for HB 951 to become law, the state Senate will have to pass it when legislators reconvene on April 27. How fast will it receive a vote — and how many Senators will support the bill’s passage? That’s what we’re waiting to find out.

Pennsylvania Challenges To 2020 Election Finally Over

Most people probably didn’t even realize that the weird lawsuits contending the 2020 election results were still ongoing, but alas — until recently, they were. The United States Supreme Court finally shut down the last Pennsylvania lawsuit after a Republican congressional candidate’s appeal fell flat. The lawsuit challenged the state’s mail-ballot deadlines, like many other failed legal challenges had already done.

The ruling doesn’t change the outcome of the election — or even the outcome of where Pennsylvania state’s electors were to be assigned — and so the Supreme Court ruled that the case should be dismissed as moot. That means Pennsylvania can finally finish the very big job of counting 10,000 mail-in votes that didn’t arrive until after Election Day. 

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court had previously extended the deadline for mail-in ballots until three days after Election Day. Republicans have routinely argued that counting should end on Election Day, even though that’s never how it’s actually worked. The rules don’t change just because we didn’t have a result like we usually do. And of course mail-in ballots generally favor Democrats — especially since then-president Trump told his supporters to vote in person and not by mail — and so of course Republicans would want to challenge the results.

One of the most obvious outcomes of the outright dismissal is that future legal challenges related to election results can be litigated without biased precedent affecting the verdict. 

Right now, hundreds of legislative changes are in the queue to restrict how and when people are allowed to vote. These changes sometimes make voting more secure, but primarily they seem to restrict the ability of people of color to cast a vote.

Pennsylvania Department of State spokesperson Wanda Murren said, “We are pleased that yet another court ruling has affirmed the accuracy and integrity of Pennsylvania’s November 2020 election. Pennsylvanians can be proud of the work done in every county election office to ensure that every voter’s ballot was cast and counted fairly.”

The COVID-19 Wrongful Death Lawsuits Have Begun

The Biden administration has a growing problem on its hands: essential workers and their families are beginning to sue in a tide of personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits. Many essential workers are aggravated that their health — and sometimes even their lives — were put on the line just so they could make less than the millions of people who lost their jobs due to coronavirus were making on unemployment.

A United States appeals court will now decide if wrongful death lawsuits belong in state or federal court.

According to Reuters, the Biden administration argued to the appeals court — alongside 19 states — that the government had nothing to do with Tyson Foods Inc’s decisions to keep its plants open during the pandemic. Therefore, the wrongful death cases should be heard in state court.

The U.S. Department of Justice and many left-leaning attorneys agree: the appeals court should uphold the previous ruling that said the suits belonged in federal court based on the function Tyson provides.

DOJ lawyers wrote, “Although the pandemic brought the importance of these functions into the public consciousness, federal officials’ acknowledgement of their importance and support for their continuance did not serve to federalize these fundamentally private actions.”

The relevant law states that state-law claims can be bounced to a federal court only when defendants were receiving specific direction from federal officials. A brief from the federal government seems to suggest that Tyson only kept its plants open at their direction.

Cases like these are already notoriously difficult to prove. The plaintiffs allege that the deceased caught coronavirus at work, but how do they prove it beyond any doubt? A previous COVID-19 wrongful death lawsuit in Texas shows us the arguments that are likely to be made.

In the Texas lawsuit Tyson Foods representatives said that allowing the case to move forward would “open the floodgates to potentially thousands of speculative claims.”

Tyson said in a motion to dismiss: “That Mr. Chavez is one of the many thousands of Americans who have died of complications related to COVID-19 is a tragedy. But the complaint brought by his estate fails to adequately plead a plausible claim against Tyson.”

It continued, “To establish causation, Plaintiffs must plead — and ultimately prove — that Mr. Chavez [an employee at Tyson Foods’ Center plant in Shelby County, Texas, who died on April 17] contracted COVID-19 from his work rather than elsewhere, and then, that he contracted COVID-19 due to Tyson’s alleged negligence rather than some other cause.”

And therein lies the rub. The plaintiffs need to make the judge believe that there is little cause to doubt the truth that they or their deceased loved ones came down with the disease because they caught coronavirus while working. Even authorities have had difficulty tracing the spread of the virus from one person to the next. How are we supposed to do it in court? Sadly, it isn’t enough to prove that an employer simply didn’t take the necessary precautions to protect employees — although that’s a start.

Legal Challenge Alleges That Pennsylvania’s Pollution Plan Is Outdated

A new lawsuit is taking aim at the recent EPA approval of a Pennsylvania plan it says is outdated. The Environmental Protection Agency was subject to significant cutbacks during the Trump administration — the head of the EPA notably didn’t even believe in man-made climate change, which made him a strange choice to help fight it — and those cutbacks haven’t yet been completely rectified by the Biden administration.

The lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and says that Pennsylvania’s plan for dealing with pollution is outdated at best.

Senior Attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity Robert Ukeiley said, “Rubber-stamping weak and outdated measures that fail to control pollution from the methane gas industry is not how we’re going to transition to a clean energy economy. The EPA needs to ensure it’s requiring the best, most modern technology to control pollution from fossil fuels so the cost of dirty energy pollution is internalized and the economic playing field for clean energy is leveled.”

According to the EPA, Pennsylvania state is subject to increased ozone pollution, a type of smog associated with asthma, death, increased life span, and significant ecological and environmental damage. The pollution isn’t contained just to the state, though, and contributes to smog in other states downwind. 

The lawsuit said that Pennsylvania’s current standards have led to consistent violations of national standards.

Pollution affects minority populations disproportionately, turning the lawsuit into a race issue as well. 

Residential areas prone to increased smog see more ER visits, more school absences, more prescribed medications, and a higher incidence of death. The lawsuit also contends that the increased pollution has worsened the symptoms of COVID-19, making the pandemic hit Pennsylvania harder than it had to. 

Patients with underlying conditions like asthma are also more prone to serious complications from COVID-19, a disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Pennsylvania Residents Fear IRS Audit After Unemployment Errors

In the summer of 2020, Annette Ravinsky received two checks totalling almost $10,000 — which was a surprise, since she hadn’t requested any state or federal aid due to coronavirus-related financial worries. Thankfully, Ravinsky knew she didn’t qualify and didn’t cash the checks. After all, she hadn’t worked in nearly three decades. She called the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry to report potential fraud.

And she returned the checks. The department noted that the case was closed and to expect no further troubles. Ravinsky also asked an attorney how to proceed. She thought the entire process went smoothly, even if it was somewhat of an inconvenience.

But that wasn’t the end of her problems. She and 50,000 others reported unemployment or social security benefit fraud to the IRS. None of these people were made aware that Pennsylvania state authorities would still report the returned fraudulent checks as income to the Internal Revenue Service.

Ravinsky said of the ordeal, “I am very, very, very angry right now because I did not ask for any of this. The state had a responsibility to verify. Now, I am left holding the bag.”

And it gets even worse, because some people did apply for benefits — but couldn’t access the funds due to glitches in Pennsylvania websites. Just like those who reported tax fraud, these people still owe taxes on that money. And they have no way of paying.

Attorney Sharon Dietrich with Community Legal Services in Philadelphia said, “It is sort of like the cherry on top of the whole [Pandemic Unemployment Assistance] crisis. You don’t get the money plus you get screwed with the IRS.”

Many of the victims of these combined glitches and fraud are retired senior citizens, Ravinsky included. Nancy Sweetland is an 82-year-old who filed for financial assistance in April last year. The debit card she received from Pennsylvania State was requisitioned through United States Bank, but arrived defective due to one of the aforementioned glitches. She could not move money around using the card, nor could she use it to make purchases.

Phone lines over at the Labor and Industry department were constantly flooded with calls, and Sweetland failed to get through to anymore. Her messages were unanswered. According to the tax formed she received in the mail earlier this year, the account for the debit card was subject to $18,000 worth of benefits — and she would be taxed on all of them. 

Sweetland said, “Any email address that I ran across I sent [an email] to and I never got a response. I am just kind of at my wits’ end.”

Other state residents have received tax statements that show payments in excess of what they actually received. 

Audit investigation supervisor Susan Mease emailed a reply to Sandy Kolenda after Kolenda noted one such problem: “So you did receive [the checks], not sure if you have them and just never cashed them.”

Kolenda said, “I was crying. What do you do? I am one person up against the Department of Labor and Industry. It is incredibly frustrating and scary.”

Pennsylvania Constitution Fast-Track Amendment Planned In Response To Child Abuse

A statute of limitations is a “cap” placed on certain times of criminal or civil litigation. Have a personal injury or medical malpractice claim? Then you only have a few years to file a lawsuit due to the short statute of limitations. By comparison, there is no statute of limitations on criminal liability for the commission of a murder. Many Pennsylvania residents and legislators are looking to amend the state constitution to provide more time to victims of child sexual abuse to come forward.

This is because victims often suffer abuse when they are children, which makes coming forward to make a claim before the statute of limitations runs out even more unlikely.

Representative Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) said that he hopes a bipartisan resolution to amend the state constitution will pass with significant numbers. “We’ll be able to pass a standalone quickly and get this on the May ballot as originally intended,” he said.

Rozzi has reason to feel so strongly about the passage of this amendment: he was allegedly raped by a priest when he was only thirteen years old. 

Jenn Kocher, a spokesman for GOP-majority Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, said, “As always, we look forward to reviewing any plan the House is able to pass over to the Senate and that includes an emergency constitutional amendment.”

Pennsylvania state law gives many victims a significant window in which to file charges or a lawsuit, but not necessarily within the timeframe of adulthood — which is when most victims choose to step forward. The law closes that window at ages 18, 20, or 30. 

The amendment would give them a two-year reprieve.

Pennsylvania lawyer Ben Andreozzi said, “Those victims are literally at the mercy of the Pennsylvania Legislature.”

An emergency amendment wouldn’t even be possible if it weren’t for voters, who approved its during a vote in 1967.

Lawsuits Planned In Pennsylvania Amidst Social Security Scams And Benefits Interruptions

COVID-19 has devastated many hard-working Americans. Some have been laid off. Some have lost businesses. Others have lost loved one. But the long-term toll is probably greater than most realize. Because so many people are out of work, the average person will have to pay into Social Security for longer to receive a larger benefit. Coupled with the rise of scams, and you can understand why officials are so concerned.

Last year, Pennsylvania State Attorney General Josh Shapiro issued a statement: “This Consumer Protection Week, my Office is warning consumers that scam artists are out in full force, employing new tactics to achieve their same nefarious goals. I urge Pennsylvanians to be vigilant of this scam and, if you believe that you have been victimized, please contact my Office immediately. We are here to protect you, and we are working hard to put an end to these scams.”

Notably, the number of con artists are on the rise since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic — in part because they feed upon the financially exigent. Those who are already facing financial ruin are far more likely to fall prey to the scams.

A glitch in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program has left many Pennsylvania residents confused and angry — especially after a series of glitches caused many to be paid accidentally. Some of these overpayments ran in the thousands of dollars. When officials realized what had happened, many weekly payments were reduced. This made it harder for residents who had already spent the first round.

Janice Roundtree said, “I’m really glad there was a moratorium on the utilities because I don’t know how we would have survived if they hadn’t done that. We would have had to be in some shelter or something.”

A subsequent Keystone Crossroads Investigation said that the website for such assistance had glitched out, leading to billions of dollars in overpaying — but more importantly, the system was unable to cope with the traffic increase, which led those subjected to the glitch without any way to receive new information. 

Community Legal Services litigation direction Sharon Dietrich said, “It was kind of shocking as PUA rolled out how many problems were connected to GSI.” Dietrich’s office also said that the program’s operation was led in an “unconstitutional and illegal manner,” especially after benefits were cut off without any first notifying affected residents.

Social Security is a federal benefit, which means where you live won’t have any real impact on your ability to receive that benefit (as long as you’ve paid into the pool like everyone else by working and paying taxes each year). For example, there wouldn’t be any difference in how you would apply to receive your Los Angeles Social Security benefit or your Philadelphia Social Security benefit. They work the same way. But each state has its own system to provide COVID-19 benefits to its systems in addition to federal aid, which means each system is subject to succeed or fail — on its own.

Now, a round of litigation is expected due to Pennsylvania’s failed response.

Supreme Court Once Again Asked To Block Election Results; Says “No”

The Supreme Court did not have much to say after an earlier request once again asked the highest power in the United States to block election results in Pennsylvania — in fact, they provided only a one-sentence answer in response. Reportedly, none of the justices dissented. That includes each of the three justices appointed by Donald Trump, who will soon be on his way out of office of the presidency.

This has prompted the president’s critics to lambast him for continuing to not accept the results of a fair and lawful election, suggesting that he’s even been laughed out of the Supreme Court with dozens of frivolous lawsuits. In the runup to the election, Trump’s team lost upwards of 50 challenges to the election results and the way votes were tabulated. 

Philadelphia federal appellate Judge Stephanos Bibas wrote during his rebuke of one such challenge: “Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy. Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here…Voters, not lawyers, choose the president. Ballots, not briefs, decide elections.”

The presumption is that Trump knows he lost the election — but refuses to admit it because there are still legal avenues that could produce results. But the courts aren’t having any of it. 

A similar response from the Arizona Supreme Court said Trump’s supporters failed “to present any evidence of ‘misconduct,’ ‘illegal votes’ or that the Biden electors ‘did not in fact receive the highest number of votes for office,’ let alone establish any degree of fraud of a sufficient error rate that would undermine the certainty of the election results.”

A Texas lawsuit was similarly called crazy. Stephen I. Vladeck at the University of Texas tweeted: “It looks like we have a new leader in the ‘craziest lawsuit filed to purportedly challenge the election’ category.”

How Should Pennsylvania Legislators Approach Driverless Vehicle Laws?

Full autonomy sounds like a pipe dream, but if car manufacturers are telling us the truth then driverless vehicles are not so far from being made a reality. Tesla’s Elon Musk has already provided us with the first glimpses of this reality — even though lawmakers have struggled to play catch up when adopting new rules and regulations to govern these new technologically advanced vehicles and their drivers.

How Pennsylvania legislators might continue to approach writing laws for driverless vehicles is still up in the air, but we can look to car accidents Socal for a decent idea of what they might do. Several questions might come to mind: Who is liable for personal injury or property damages — the driver, dealer, manufacturer, or mechanic? Do you even send a vehicle like this to a mechanic? 

You might not realize it, but these questions have been asked and answered around the world already — even if our own legislators aren’t ready to pull the trigger with similar laws. Another thing you might not realize is that our own home state of Pennsylvania is a major hub for the autonomous vehicle industry!

Founder of Pittsburgh Robotics Network Jackie Erickson said, “You can’t just take a vehicle and have it navigate safely on public roads overnight. It takes a very long time. We’ve been working on this problem in Pittsburgh for 30 years.”

Carnegie Mellon University professor of electrical and computer engineering Raj Rajkumar said, “Driving is the most complex activity we engage in.”

Rajkumar said that he believed Pittsburgh is “the birthplace of AV technology.”

Pittsburgh has been working on this technology for longer than everyone else because the city is deeply integrated with developing space-related technology — and that means autonomous rovers and the like, especially when considering ground-based vehicles. But companies still researching these technologies are growing faster due to new cash investments from even bigger companies who require the expertise. 

Startups like Aurora, Argo AI, and Uber ATG are all growing at an exponential rate.

Aurora Vice President Gerardo Interiano noted that ATG will soon be joining his own company: “We went from having 600 employees to now 1600 employees.”

Pittsburgh Regional Alliance Vice President Kyle Chintalapalli said, “We anticipated consolidation as being inevitable. What we were encouraged by is that it wasn’t just a buy-out, [it was] more an investment in Aurora’s growth…It speaks to the strength of the robust ecosystem here.”

But there are other factors slowing down growth. AV testing laws in Pennsylvania still require a human operator — which makes sense because the state is subject to very diverse weather patterns unlike locations outside Los Angeles or Las Vegas.

PennDOT Office of Transformational Technology Director Mark Kopko said, “Even if something goes wrong, you still have the trained operator who has the caliber to take control. It’s something the industry is behind.”

Even Tesla’s new automated systems require a human operator, even though Elon Musk has said the technology is nearly ready to take over completely. But even when the technology is ready, the laws aren’t.