Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

March 2008 Archives

Study: Popular Cholesterol Meds Provide Little Benefit

The popular cholesterol medications Vytorin and Zetia offer few health benefits to patients and do little to treat heart disease -- such as thickening of the arteries -- according to a study published Sunday in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). A NEJM editorial (also published Sunday) recommends that, until definitive proof of the health benefits of these drugs becomes available, "it seems prudent to encourage patients whose LDL cholesterol levels remain elevated despite treatment with an optimal dose of a statin to redouble their efforts at dietary control and regular exercise." The Associated Press reports that Vytorin and Zetia have accounted for more than $5 billion in sales, and that Congress has inititiated a pair of investigations into why the drugs' manufacturers waited almost two years to release results of the study.

Florida Lawmakers Apologize for Slavery

The Florida Senate and state House of Representatives have passed a joint resolution expressing "profound regret" for the state's history of slavery and denial of fair treatment to African-Americans. The Senate Concurrent Resolution declares that "even though the laws permitting such injustices have been repealed, it is important that the Legislature express profound regret for the shameful chapter in this state's history and, in so doing, promote healing and reconciliation among all Floridians." The New York Times reports that Wednesday's resolution by the Florida legislature resembles official declarations from state lawmakers in North Carolina, Alabama, Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey.

FBI Warns on "House Stealing" Scams

A new "house stealing" scam -- combining the crimes of identity theft and mortgage fraud -- is victimizing homeowners, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warns. In a typical "house stealing" scam, a con artist: 1) chooses a house, whether a year-round residence or vacation home, 2) steals the homeowner's identity by obtaining their personal information and creating fake identification documents, and 3) obtains property transfer forms and transfers the house deed into their name by forging signatures and using the fake ID documents. The FBI is advising homeowners to carefully inspect any mail from a mortgage company other than their own, and to periodically check all information pertaining to their house through the local county deeds office.

Air Passenger Rights Law Overturned

A federal appeals court has overturned New York's Airline Passenger Rights Act, holding that any such measure governing air carriers must come from the federal government. The New York state law requires airlines to provide passengers with fresh air, water, and adequate waste removal services whenever a plane's takeoff is delayed more than three hours, and passengers have already boarded the aircraft. In Tuesday's decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit declared that while the goals of the New York law were "laudable," only the federal government has the power to enact such legislation. According to the Associated Press, New York's Air Passenger Rights Act was passed after a number of JetBlue flights were grounded for up to 10 hours on the tarmac at New York's JFK in February 2007, leaving passengers without food or water, and causing lavatory toilets to overflow.

FindLaw's Expanded Real Estate Center

FindLaw for the Public's Real Estate Center has been expanded and re-designed, with more information and resources for homeowners, tenants, landlords, home buyers, and home sellers. The Real Estate Center now includes 12 new sections, incorporating more than 75 new content pieces:

In addition to the 12 new sections identified above, the following Real Estate Center content sections have been expanded to include more than 50 new articles, FAQ, and more:

"No Child" Law Relaxed for Some States

Requirements under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Law will be relaxed for certain states, allowing them to differentiate between schools with chronic underperformance problems and those that are only lagging slightly, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced this week. The Department of Education states that the new "differentiated accountability" model "will allow states to target resources and interventions to those schools most in need of intensive interventions and significant reform." The New York Times reports that many states inflate their high school graduation rates when reporting to the federal government under NCLB, masking the fact that nationwide each year, only around 70 percent of students who begin high school will graduate in four years. The NCLB law, enacted in 2002, was designed to bring all students in the U.S. to math and reading proficiency by 2014.

FAA Orders Safety Review for All Airlines

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has ordered federal aviation inspectors to ensure that all commercial airlines operating in the U.S. are in compliance with FAA safety standards and regulations. Calling the inspection order "unprecedented," Reuters reports that "the FAA wants a snapshot of compliance with an array of safety directives issued over the years that required inspections or other maintenance work" -- especially as to inspection of older Boeing 737 jets. The order comes shortly after the FAA levied a $10.2M fine against Southwest Airlines for safety inspection lapses. Southwest later grounded more than 40 of its planes until it could guarantee compliance with federal safety guidelines.

Reebok Pays $1M Fine for Toxic Lead in Jewelry

Reebok has agreed to pay a $1M fine to the federal government in connection with the 2006 recall of charm bracelets that contained toxic levels of lead, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced today. The bracelets were imported by the athletic shoe and apparel manufacturer and given away with the purchase of certain styles of kids' footwear from May 2004 through March 2006. The fine is the largest ever for a Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) violation, according to a CPSC Press Release. In March 2006, Reebok and the CPSC announced the recall of 300,000 of the heart-shaped charm bracelets -- which were manufactured in China -- after a 4 year-old Minnesota boy swallowed one of the bracelet pendants and later died with toxic levels of lead in his blood.

Top Court Considers D.C. Handgun Ban

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in a challenge to a District of Columbia ban on handgun ownership, a case that may impact gun ownership rights nationwide. (Read a transcript of oral arguments [PDF file]). The specific question before the Court in Heller v. District of Columbia is whether the Second Amendment forbids the District of Columbia from banning private possession of handguns while allowing possession of rifles and shotguns. The Los Angeles Times reports that the case has drawn national attention "because the Court may decide for the first time whether gun rights are truly protected by the Constitution, like the right to free speech and the right to freely practice one's religion." A Washington Post article finds that there is little in the public record to predict how the nine U.S. Supreme Court Justices will vote on proper interpretation of the Second Amendment. The Court is expected to issue a decision on the case by the end of June.

FDA Panel: Limit Anemia Drug Prescriptions

Drugs used to treat anemia carry health risks and should only be prescribed to patients with certain types of incurable cancer, a panel of scientists has advised the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The panel's findings apply to popular anemia medications like Aranesp and Procrit. These drugs, called erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs), are used in treatment of chemotherapy-associated anemia. According to the Los Angeles Times, Thursday's hearing on the safety and use of ESAs "focused on a growing theory that the drugs might in some instances do more harm than good." In February, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association article linked ESAs to an increased risk of death and blood clots in cancer patients.

EPA Strengthens Smog Limits

The U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced tougher limits for permissible amounts of ozone in the air, in line with the agency's mandate under the Clean Air Act. The new limits allow ozone exposure at 75 parts per billion (ppb), down from the 84 ppb limit put in place more than 10 years ago. The Washington Post reports that the new limits are higher than those that EPA advisers had recommended for pollution-forming ozone.

Record $250M Payment in Asbestos Case

W.R. Grace & Co. has agreed to pay $250 million to the federal government for investigation and cleanup of asbestos contamination from a vermiculite mining facility in Montana. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) calls the amount the largest in the history of the federal "Superfund" environmental cleanup program (formally known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, or CERCLA). The settlement agreement states that vermiculite ore from the Zonolite mine in Lincoln County, Montana contained "amphibole" asbestos, and that vermiculite and asbestos particles have been found in a number of locations in and around the town of Libby, in the northeastern part of the state. According to the Baltimore Sun, more than 1,200 mine workers and local residents became ill or died from asbestos exposure, developing conditions including asbestosis and mesothelioma. Hundreds of other health cases are being monitored. Grace owned and operated the Zonolite mine from 1963 to 1990. A federal criminal action against Grace is ongoing, in which the company and a number of its executives are accused of obstructing government investigation of contamination at the site.

Getting Your Economic Stimulus Rebate

Over 130 million households are eligible to receive rebates under the federal government's "economic stimulus" program, with checks set to be mailed out in May. But in order to receive payment under the stimulus program, you must file a 2007 federal income tax return -- even if you are usually exempt from filing -- and have a 2007 taxable income of at least $3,000. The Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) Stimulus Payment FAQ answers a number of questions about the economic stimulus payments, with information on eligibility, payment amounts, and tax filing requirements. The IRS is advising the "millions of retirees, disabled veterans and low-wage workers who usually are exempt from filing a tax return" to file this year to ensure that they will receive a stimulus payment.

  • Economic Stimulus Payments Information Center (IRS)
  • Stimulus Payment FAQ (IRS)
  • Filing Your Federal Taxes(FindLaw)
  • Tax Help and Resources (FindLaw)
  • Senate Votes for Tougher Product Safety

    The U.S. Senate has voted to toughen product safety laws and increase the regulatory power of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), in the wake of a number of high-profile cases in which defective and tainted products reached stores and consumers nationwide. HR 4040, titled "To establish consumer product safety standards and other safety requirements for children's products and to reauthorize and modernize the Consumer Product Safety Commission," would increase CPSC budget and staff and create a publicly-accessible information base of consumer product complaints. The bill would also enable state attorneys general to take steps to guarantee product safety, independent from measures taken by the federal government. The New York Times reports that the bill "now heads to a conference committee to be reconciled with a more modest measure endorsed by the White House and major manufacturers that was unanimously passed in December by the House."

    Job Discrimination Claims Up 9% in 2007

    Job discrimination claims filed against private employers in the U.S. in 2007 rose 9 percent over filings in 2006, the largest year-to-year increase since 1993, according to a Press Release from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC states that the jump in filings -- which show double digit percentage increases in most types of discrimination, including race, sex, age, and disability -- may be due to greater employee awareness of the law, shifting economic conditions, and increased work force diversity. The Associated Press reports that between October 1, 2006 and September 30, 2007, 82,792 job discrimination complaints were filed with the EEOC, the agency that enforces most federal employment discrimination laws. In most job discrimination cases, an employee must file a charge with EEOC -- usually within 180 days from the date of the alleged violation -- before a private lawsuit may be filed in court.

    National Consumer Protection Week

    National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW) is March 2 - 8, 2008, highlighting consumer protection and consumer education efforts around the country. The theme for this year's NCPW is "Financial Literacy: A Sound Investment," encouraging consumers to master the financial facts of life and build a firm financial foundation. FindLaw for the Public's National Consumer Protection Week page offers resources on National Consumer Protection Week, tips on managing your finances, and information on protecting your rights as a consumer.

    $23.3M Settlement in Airborne False Ad Suit

    The makers of Airborne, an herbal supplement that was marketed as useful in preventing and curing common colds, have settled a false advertising class action lawsuit for $23.3 million, and are offering to refund money to consumers who purchased the product. According to a Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) Press Release on the settlement, the only clinical trial over Airborne's effectiveness "was actually conducted without any doctors or scientists." The CSPI is advising consumers seeking refunds for purchase of Airborne to first get a claim form by calling 1-888-952-9080 or visiting www.AirborneHealthSettlement.com.

    Same-Sex Marriage Cases Before California High Court

    The California Supreme Court today will consider challenges to the state's marriage statutes brought by same-sex couples. The court will hear three hours of oral argument from parties in four lawsuits, all of which challenge the constitutionality of California's marriage statutes and their definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that a ruling on "the most momentous case the court has heard in decades" is expected within 90 days. Public affair cable network California Channel will carry a live broadcast of oral arguments, and the official California Courts website will feature an archived broadcast of the hearing after March 4.

    Study Ranks Companies on ID Theft

    A new study has ranked the vulnerability of 25 major U.S. companies -- including banks, retailers, and phone companies -- to customer identity theft incidents, based on complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The Berkeley Center for Law and Technology paper "Measuring Identity Theft at Top Banks (Version 1.0)", which author Chris Hoofnagle calls a "first attempt to meaningfully compare institutions on their performance in avoiding identity theft," measured incidents reported by to the FTC by consumers over three randomly-chosen months in 2006 (a total of 88,560 complaints). Analysis showed that Bank of America, the largest financial institution in the U.S., followed by telecommunications companies AT&T and Sprint/Nextel. The New York Times has excerpted a chart from the study, showing the top 25 institutions based on monthly frequency of identity theft complaints.