Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

November 2008 Archives

Holiday Travel Tips

The holidays are here, and for many people that means taking to the roads, the rails, and the airways to be with family and friends. Wondering what you can bring on board a plane, and what you should put in your checked luggage? Interested in booking a hotel to avoid staying with the in-laws? Want to learn more about travel insurance? FindLaw's Holiday Travel Tips offer practical and legal information for travelers, including hints for resolving problems when you're traveling:

Air Travel: Carry-On Items and Luggage - Guidelines for specific carry-on items, tips on transporting special items, and using luggage locks.

SimpliFLY Your Carry-Ons - Air travel tips from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

TSA's 'SimpliFLY' Video - The art of packing smarter to get through security faster.

How to Resolve Disputes on the Road - Learn the most effective way to deal with problems that might crop up during your travels.

Hotels and Other Accommodations FAQ - Answers to frequently asked questions about dealing with hotels when trouble arises.

Travel Insurance: The Benefits and Limitations - Learn about the different types of travel insurance and what they cover.

Travel Agents FAQ - Answers to frequently asked questions about working with a travel agent.

More Information for Travelers - From the Transportation Security Administration:

Window Blinds Recalled Over Infant Strangulation Risk

Over 677,000 IKEA and Green Mountain Vista window blinds are being recalled nationwide, because their cords may pose a strangulation risk to young children. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that at least one infant death and one serious injury have been linked to the recalled blinds. The agency is issuing detailed information on the IKEA and Green Mountain Vista window blind recalls, as well as important tips for parents and caregivers on protecting infants and young children from injuries caused by window coverings.

About 670,000 IRIS and ALVINE Roman Blinds sold in IKEA Home Furnishings stores are being recalled because "strangulations can occur when a child places his/her neck in an exposed inner cord on the backside of the roman blinds," CPSC announced on Thursday. CPSC reports that, in April, a 1-year-old girl was accidentally strangled after becoming entangled in the inner cord of an IKEA Roman blind (see the CPSC News Release for detailed information about affected IKEA products). In addition, about 7,300 insulated black-out roller shades and insulated Roman shades manufactured by Green Mountain Vista, Inc. are being recalled, because those shades "have a continuous looped bead chain that when not attached to the wall or floor, hangs loosely by the blind, posing a fatal strangulation hazard to children," according to a CPSC News Release also issued Thursday (see the CPSC News Release for detailed information about affected Green Mountain Vista, Inc. products).

CA High Court to Review Prop. 8

The California Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to hear a legal challenge to California's Proposition 8 gay marriage ban, a ballot measure approved by state voters on November 4th. The state's top court also issued an order Wednesday that will keep the ban in place at least until any ruling is issued.

The court's deliberation and decision on Proposition 8 could rest on whether the gay marriage ban is a mere "amendment" to the state's constitution, or rises to the level of a constitutional "revision" (see "The Law and Prop. 8" from the L.A. Times for more information on legal issues raised by the measure). Placed on the California ballot largely in response to a May 2008 California Supreme Court decision that found the state's ban on gay marriage unconstitutional -- and which opened the door to the thousands of same-sex marriage marriages that have since taken place in the state -- Proposition 8 changes the state constitution to limit the legal definition of marriage to a union between a man and a woman.

The Los Angeles Times reports that "The court may hold a hearing on the lawsuits as early as March, a timetable that scholars said was swift considering the complexity and importance of the legal issues." According to Reuters, the case "pits two fundamental concepts of U.S. democracy against one another, with gay marriage advocates saying the proposition would open the doors to systematic repression of minorities and opponents saying courts must recognize the will of the people under separation of powers doctrine."

Lean Cuisine Entrees Recalled, May Contain Plastic

Almost 890,000 pounds of frozen "Lean Cuisine" chicken entrees are being recalled because they may contain small pieces of small plastic, manufacturer Nestle USA and federal health officials announced Tuesday.

The recall applies to the following Lean Cuisine products, distributed to retailers nationwide: 9.5-ounce packages of "Lean Cuisine Pesto Chicken with Bow-Tie Pasta," 10.5-ounce packages of "Lean Cuisine Chicken Mediterranean," and 12.5-ounce packages of "Lean Cuisine Chicken Tuscan." The recall was announced Tuesday by manufacturer Nestle Prepared Foods Company in Springville, Utah. For specific information on the "Lean Cuisine" recall -- including production codes and "Use By" dates for the affected frozen entrees -- see Tuesday's News Release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

According to the FSIS, plastic pieces in the Lean Cuisine entrees were discovered "after the company received consumer complaints and a report of one injury." ABC News reports that "blue plastic has been found in three specific Lean Cuisine dinners -- Cafe Classics Pesto Chicken with Bow Tie Pasta, Spa Cuisine Chicken Mediterranean and Dinnertime Selects Chicken Tuscan," and that Nestle has "traced the blue plastic to a single lot of raw ingredients shipped to a Lean Cuisine facility."

Study Links Birth Defects, Fertility Techniques

Babies conceived using assisted reproduction technology methods like in vitro fertilization are two to four times more susceptible to certain birth defects, compared with infants born through natural conception, according to a study published Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The study "Assisted Reproductive Technology and Major Structural Birth Defects" found that use of assisted reproduction technology (ART) "was associated with twice the risk of some types of heart defects, more than twice the risk of cleft lip with or without cleft palate and over four times the risk of certain gastrointestinal defects compared with babies conceived without fertility treatments," according to a CDC Press Release issued Monday. The study, which looked at data from 281 assisted reproduction births and over 14,000 natural births, was published in the medical journal Human Reproduction.

The use of assisted reproduction technology by prospective parents in the U.S. has been on the rise in recent years. Reuters reports that "Many infertile couples turn to in vitro fertilization and about 50,000 such infants are born each year in the United States -- a number that has roughly doubled over the past decade."

Nebraska Lawmakers Re-Examine Child "Safe Haven" Law

Lawmakers in Nebraska are looking at ways to revise the state's controversial "safe-haven" law, under which parents can drop their children at local hospitals without facing prosecution for child abandonment. Some parents -- coming to the state from as far away as Florida -- appear to be using the law's "no questions asked" protections in unintended ways.

Members of the Nebraska Legislature met on Friday for a special session to discuss revisions to LB 157, the so-called "safe-haven" law which "allows parents to surrender their children at hospitals without fear of prosecution for abandonment," according to the Nebraska Legislature. The problem is that the law as currently written contains no age limitation for dropped-off children, and some parents have dropped off kids as old as 17. As the Washington Post reports, "When Nebraska legislators passed a bill creating a safe haven to help overwhelmed parents and guardians, they were thinking of babies and toddlers who had been abandoned by young mothers. Instead, 35 children -- typically adolescents -- have been dropped at the hospital door, most recently a 5-year-old boy on Thursday night."

The Lincoln (NE) JournalStar reports that Speaker Mike Flood "introduced a bill Friday in a special session that would limit the age of children covered by Nebraska's safe haven law to 72 hours," but that "there appears to be little agreement on whether that is the right age."

FDA Halts Import of Chinese Milk Products

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an import alert halting shipments of all milk products from China, a measure aimed at improving food safety and preventing melamine-contaminated products from entering the U.S. marketplace.

Under special procedures announced in Wednesday's import alert, all shippers of milk products from China will be required to present proof (i.e. lab test results) showing that the products do not containe melamine, before their shipments will be allowed to enter the U.S. According to the FDA alert, Chinese government sources "indicate contamination of milk components, especially dried milk powder, which are used in the manufacture of a variety of finished foods...dispersed throughout the Chinese food supply chain."

The Washington Post reports that melamine "is used to make plastic and fertilizer but has been added to human and animal food to boost protein readings," and that "the types of products likely to be waylaid are cookies, candies, and other goods made with milk or milk powder."

Toy Safety Tips for the Holiday Shopping Season

With Christmas and Hanukah just around the corner, the holiday shopping season is almost upon us, ready or not. Before you hit the malls or the internet to make the little ones on your holiday shopping list happy, check out the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's toy safety tips for parents and gift buyers.

CPSC identifies the top five toy hazards as: scooters and other riding toys; small balls and other toys with small parts; balloons; magnets; and chargers and adapters. According to a CPSC News Release, the agency received reports of 18 toy-related deaths in 2007, and over 170,000 children under 15 required emergency room treatment for toy-related injuries in 2007. Most of the deaths were caused by airway obstruction from small toys, while the majority of toy-related injuries were lacerations and abrasions.

CPSC advises gift-givers to "be especially vigilant to prevent the sale or purchase of hazardous products that have been recalled, banned or do not meet current safety standards," and to "make sure their gifts do not include any of the recalled toys or children's products on CPSC's web site."

Federal Government Announces Homeowner Help

Mortgage lending giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will work with struggling homeowners to modify the terms of overly-burdensome home loans, in an attempt to stem the foreclosure tide and help stabilize the nation's economy, the Federal Housing Finance Agency announced Tuesday.

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and other participating lenders and mortgage servicers will "fast-track certain loan modifications" to make monthly payments more affordable for "hundreds of thousands of homeowners who have fallen at least 90 days behind in their payments," according to the Chicago Tribune. Reuters reports that "Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac own or insure roughly half of U.S. home loans," and "borrowers eligible for the new program could see their mortgage rates cut, life of their loans extended or their principal reduced in an effort to ease their debt burden." Tuesday's action by the federal government came on the same day that U.S. lender Citigroup announced a new mortgage assistance and foreclosure prevention program for its borrowers.

Citi Launches Foreclosure Prevention Program for Homeowners

Citigroup Inc., one of the largest lenders in the U.S., has announced a new plan that aims to help as many as 500,000 homeowners remain current on their mortgages, avoid foreclosure, and stay in their homes.

Under Citigroup's Homeowner Assistance Program, over the next six months the lender will offer assistance to 500,000 Citi mortgage holders who "are not currently behind on their mortgage payments, but ... may require help to remain current on their mortgages," triggering the modification of up to $20 billion in mortgage balances, according to a Citi New Release. The company also announced plans to extend its "foreclosure moratorium" program, which suspends the foreclosure process for certain qualified borrowers.

According to CNNMoney.com, Monday's announcement from Citigroup comes on the heels of similar mortgage relief programs offered to struggling homeowners this year by Bank of America, IndyMac Bank, and JPMorgan Chase. Reuters reports that "lenders are acting as Washington faces pressure to do more to help borrowers, after committing hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money to help support or bail out financial companies."

Prop. 8 and the Future of Same-Sex Marriage in CA

Last Tuesday, Californians went to the polls and approved a change to the state's constitution that would limit the legal definition of marriage to a union between a man and a woman, effectively banning same-sex marriage in the state. Over the weekend, protests over passage of Proposition 8 attracted demonstrators on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate. Many legal experts predict that the issue may once again be resolved -- perhaps only temporariliy -- in the courts.

The New York Times reports that weekend demonstrations on Prop 8 drew thousands throughout California, in cities like Lake Forest, Los Angeles, Oakland, Pasadena, Sacramento, San Diego, and San Francisco. According to the Los Angeles Times, the legal validity of same-sex marriage in California could hinge on a future California Supreme Court decision on whether Proposition 8's ban on gay marriage is a mere "amendment" to the state's constitution, or rises to the level of a constitutional "revision." CNN.com reports that state votes effectively banning same-sex marriage in Arizona, California, and Florida were somewhat paradoxical on an election day that saw Barack Obama elevated to the Office of the President.

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