2020 in Review: The Cases and Causes that Changed Us

By: Beth Fegan

What year-end recap can do justice to what we have all been through? The challenges of a world-wide pandemic, calls for social justice, and a politically fraught election all conspired to make 2020 a remarkable year.

At the same time, our firm was also busy embracing a new legal landscape that depended on virtual communication, discovery and depositions. In the midst of filing ten major pieces of litigation, launching four investigations and marshalling existing cases through the legal system, we also added three attorneys to our growing team. Join us as we reflect on this historic year spent advocating for our clients to create meaningful, lasting change.


Destigmatizing Survivor Stories of Sexual Abuse and Harassment in College Athletics

In March, three former student-athletes came forward to share stories of abuse against the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), the NCAA Board of Governors, and John Rembao, the former track and cross-country coach at the University of Arizona, University of Texas-Austin and other NCAA universities.

Though the lawsuit seeks specific resolutions for NCAA student-athletes who endured sexual abuse at the hands of their coaches, it also speaks to the national epidemic of sexual abuse that is so often protected and hidden by regulatory bodies. In this case, the suit claims the NCAA facilitated the cycle of abuse by choosing not to impose significant sanctions that would incentivize schools to report abuse and deter perpetrators.

Further, the suit alleges that the NCAA put student-athletes in harm’s way by failing to prohibit sexual abuse, sexual harassment, or sexual contact between coaches and student-athletes, and by permitting coaches accused of sexual abuse, like Rembao, to move unfettered between NCAA schools.

The suit focuses on the survivors’ goal to ensure the safety of future student athletes, which is why we built into the lawsuit a stipulation for significant and meaningful reforms to NCAA policy, including outside oversight, to ensure adherence to the highest and strictest standards of behavior by all athletics department personnel.

You can hear the stories of our plaintiffs here.


Exposing Racial Discrimination Perpetuated by the NCAA


In December, we filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of a group of Black student-athletes at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) against the NCAA, alleging the organization’s Academic Performance Program (APP) is intentionally discriminatory toward and punishes Black student-athletes at HBCUs.

The complaint alleges that the NCAA knew when it adopted the APP, a program designed to improve student-athlete academic performance, that it would in fact undermine HBCUs’ efforts to meet their mission to serve a historically underserved Black community, including Black student-athletes.

Beth and plaintiff Troyce Manassa joined NPR’s Tom Goldman to discuss the case:

“While only six and a half percent of Division 1 schools are HBCUs,” said Beth Fegan, “Seventy-two percent of the teams that’ve been banned from post-season competition are HBCUs. So, in effect, 114 of 159 teams are HBCU teams that’ve been banned.”

Read more about our case here.


Pursuing Consumer Safety for Hyundai and Kia Owners and Lessees

In 2020, we heard car owners who reported horrifying accounts of their vehicles erupting in flames, including stories of entire homes being burned to a crisp, neighboring properties catching fire, and individuals narrowly escaping their burning homes.

In August, we filed a nationwide class-action lawsuit on behalf of Hyundai and Kia vehicle owners and lessees, claiming the automobile manufacturers sold hundreds of thousands of vehicles with the potentially deadly defect that can cause spontaneous engine compartment fires, resulting in damage to cars and homes and threatening the lives of many.

The cars’ defect revolves around the anti-lock brake system (ABS) modules or the hydraulic electronic control unit (HECU), sophisticated technological and mechanical safety features located under the hood. According to the lawsuit, the ABS modules and HECUs remain charged with an electrical current even when the car not running. This, coupled with a defect that allows moisture to enter the electrified components, creates the risk of fires erupting.

Hyundai and Kia acknowledge that the ABS module and HECU defects put the cars at risk of catching fire even after the vehicles remain parked for days at a time.

The lawsuit alleges that Hyundai and Kia were aware of the dangerous defect in their vehicles years before they warned the public. In fact, nearly a decade before Hyundai acknowledged the risk, owners reported to federal regulators that they woke up in the middle of the night to their garages on fire, which resulted in the total loss of their belongings.

For more information on the model types involved in this case, please visit our case page.


Responding to Natural Disasters and Pursuing Justice for Dam Breach Victims

In May, after devastating dam breaches decimated the land and property of Michigan residents and businesses in the Edenville dam area, we filed a classaction suit on their behalf against the dam operators and three Michigan state agencies for what is described as a cataclysmic set of decisions that led to the breach of the Sanford and Secord dams and the collapse of the Edenville dam.

The suit claims dam owner Boyce Hydro, along with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes Energy and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, failed to operate, fix, or repair the dams in accordance with the established standard of care, resulting in catastrophic injury and damage to residents and their properties.

Noted in published accounts, the dams’ breach began on May 18, 2020 as flood water rose after recent rainfall, forcing thousands of people to evacuate. The lawsuit alleges that the operators and state departments are at fault for the dams’ failure, having ignored warnings from federal regulators and neglected blatant, high-risk issues.

According to the complaint, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) repeatedly warned the operators of the dangers of the 95-year-old Edenville Dam, including the risk of catastrophic erosion.

In 2018, the Edenville Dam operator’s license was even revoked for failure to address safety issues, putting the dams under the oversight of the state departments.

Learn more about the impact of his case here.


Achieving Results for our Clients and Looking Ahead to 2021

We are grateful to have an amazing and talented team at FeganScott. In 2020, we added three new attorneys and celebrated the recognition of Jessica Meeder, who was named as one of the Top 100 Civil Plaintiff Lawyers in Washington, D.C. by National Trial Lawyers, and Melissa Clark in our New York office, who was recognized in 2021 Crain’s New York Business: Notable Women in Law.

As we move into a new year, we’re excited to continue collaborating with clients on issues that matter. For those curious about other cases and investigations we’ll continue in 2021, please check out our investigations or current case pages.