Lawsuit Against QFC Allowed To Continue

Lawsuit Against QFC Allowed To Continue
SEATTLE - A local Mad Cow lawsuit could change how your personal information is used if you have a grocery store savings card.

A new King County Superior Court ruling says Jill Crowson of Clyde Hill can go forward with her lawsuit against QFC over the store's failure to notify her personally about potentially tainted meat she bought in December.

Crowson maintains QFC was negligent about warning consumers, especially in light of the QFC Advantage Card which tracks not only her purchases but her name, address and phone number.

QFC wanted the case thrown out, but a judge just ruled Crowson can take QFC to court.

While it specifically names QFC, this lawsuit could affect every retailer that offers special savings cards.

The cards also track your purchases -- information stores pledge to keep private and only to use for specific marketing.

Crowson used a QFC Advantage Card when she purchased beef last December. It turns out it was potentially Mad Cow-tainted ground beef.

Because of that card, Crowson says QFC was negligent, in not warning her as soon as the store knew.

She wants money for medical monitoring and emotional distress.

Crowson doesn't want to do any more interviews, but her attorney told KOMO 4 News the outcome of this lawsuit could force not only QFC, but all retailers who use these cards to tap into your purchase information for reasons other than making a sale

"I think it's the first of it's kind," said attorney Steve Berman, adding the case could be precedent-setting.

Berman likens loyalty card data bases to the information car manufacturers use to alert you about safety recalls.

"This is no different," he said. "Now that the retailers like this have armed themselves with the same information as car manufacturers have for their own benefit, when it's not to their benefit and they have the tools to notify people, they should."

It's an argument no one predicted in the debate over what happens to your purchase information. Early on, consumer privacy advocates warned of the potential for loyalty card data to be shared with outside companies, or be used as evidence against consumers in injury disputes, insurance disputes and other cases where lifestyle comes into question.

"I think this is a good example," said Steve Fields, a consumer who purposely avoid loyalty cards because of their data tracking capability.

He and his wife Kathy feel businesses don't hesitate to use consumer data for their own economic benefit, but would likely balk at absorbing the cost of tracking data to help consumers in a product recall case.

"I hope the court case decides against them," Fields continues, "and that the database can be a mutually beneficial thing."

QFC still has the option to appeal. A spokesman says they cannot comment on what obviously is an ongoing legal dispute.

Safeway spokeswoman Cherie Meyers told KOMO 4 News, " The best outlet (to reach possibly affected customers) is going to the media first, and use television, radio, and newspapers. No matter how much (information) you have in the database, the best way to immediately reach customers is through the news media."

While allowing Crowson's claim that QFC was liable because of the store's role as a product seller, Judge William Downing granted QFC's motion to dismiss Crowson's two other claims that QFC was liable as a product manufacturer because it ground the potentially tainted meat from its supplier.

The lawsuit involves the store's overall responsibility to consumers, and does not single out the data in loyalty cards, but Crowson's attorney says the cards are a big part, and he eventually wants to make this a class action lawsuit.

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