Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

December 2010 Archives

Toyota Recall Scandals Lead to $32 Million Fine

Toyota has been hit with the largest civil fine available under federal law. The carmaker will be required to pay a record $32.425 million over its failure to inform federal authorities promptly of the problems that lead to the massive recalls for steering and acceleration issues. The fines where handed down after two Department of Transportation investigations into Toyota's handling of the recalls.

In the Toyota recalls over floor mats and sudden acceleration, the company first recalled its floor mats as early as 2007, reports ABC News. However, it wasn't until 2009, that Toyota announced a broader recall which included nearly 4 million cars. Federal law requires manufacturers to notify federal regulators within five days of the discovery of a safety defect. As a result of this case, Toyota will pay $16.375 million in fines.

As a result of a second investigation, Toyota will pay $16.05 million in fines from allegations they delayed a recall of nearly a million trucks and SUVs over safety problems with steering rods, reports ABC. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation found information indicating Toyota knew of complaints the steering rods were prone to break under stress long before its recall in September, 2005.

Toyota announced a recall in Japan in October of 2004, to replace the steering relay rods in about 33,000 vehicles. At the time, a company representative told NHTSA that a Toyota recall in the U.S. was unnecessary because it had no reports of similar problems in this country and because driving conditions were different in Japan.

During litigation over the crash of a Toyota truck that killed 18-year-old Levi Stewart, it came to light that Toyota turned over 40 previously unknown cases where American owners had complained directly to Toyota about steering rod problems before the Japanese recall even took place. NHTSA learned of these cases only this year, after an ABC investigation.

"Safety is our top priority and we take our responsibility to protect consumers seriously," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "I am pleased that Toyota agreed to pay the maximum possible penalty and I expect Toyota to work cooperatively in the future to ensure consumers' safety."

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Amazon Return Plan Would Allow Returns Before Item Ships

Millions of people bought Christmas gifts online, including at popular retailer Amazon.com. So what about if you want to return an Amazon gift? A new return policy would allow you to return the unwanted item before it even ships.

The Amazon gift return plan would save headaches all around, especially for the Seattle-based retailer. Rather than go through the cumbersome process of packaging and shipping an item just to have it packaged and shipped back, Amazon would be alerted before the process begins and the customer can pick a new present that would arrive at the same time as the unwanted one. Although win-win for most, there is the concern that the real loser is the one that is paying for the present.

"The idea totally misses the idea of gift giving. The point of gift giving is to allow someone else to go through that action of buying something for us. Otherwise, giving a gift just becomes another one of the world's transactions. Gift giving is not just about the loot. It is about the fact that someone thought about you something and took the time to do it," etiquette expert and strong opponent of the Amazon return plan Anna Post told the Washington Post.

The Amazon return plan contains a 12-page patent which hopes to not only allow for early returns but also to streamline the digital gift-giving process as a whole. Not only does the process represent the biggest cost-reduction in e-retailing shipping, but the gift giver does not necessarily need to know that the gift was returned in the first place. Which is much like a giver not knowing that a more conventional gift was returned.

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Do Smartphones Need a “Do Not Track Me” Option?

Privacy was one of the top consumer concerns of 2010, and based on a new investigation by The Wall Street Journalsmartphone tracking looks to be an even bigger concern in 2011.

Smartphones, through their apps, are intentionally leaking mounds of private data. In essence, the data being leaked can go as far as including your geographic location, like a spy watching your every move, GPS-style. The leaked data may also include the unique phone ID as well as information such as gender, age and more.

Naturally this has privacy advocates and consumers very upset. Some are calling for a "Do Not Track Me" option. Mediapost.com reports that The Federal Trade Commission has called for a "Do Not Track Me Mechanism" allowing users of the web to opt out of being tracked. This is similar in concept to the national do not call registry, although obviously it would be far more complex. In addition, the Obama administration is proposing a "Privacy Policy Office" and a "privacy bill of rights."

In light of The Wall Street Journal report, the Mobile Marketing Association has announced that it will develop a new set of privacy guidelines complementing the MMA's existing Global Code of Conduct covering SMS, MMS, email, voice, applications, mobile Internet, content and location-based services.

In the meantime, unless consumers are willing to forgo smartphones completely, there isn't much that individual consumers can do to protect themselves. Nevertheless, it is always advisable to take normal precautions such as using secure connections, strong passwords and being careful about which apps you download.

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Gift Returns: Retailers Tightening Return Policies This Year

Didn't like the socks you got for Christmas? You're not alone. Some 20% of Americans plan on returning at least one gift this holiday season. With so many gift returns, retailers are tightening their return policies. Here are some tips for a hassle free gift return season:

  • Return as you received: Stores don't want damaged goods so if you think you may be returning an item, don't take it for a trial run before deciding. Especially with clothes, it is very easy to tell if an item has been worn so the best approach to an unwanted holiday gift is to keep it as close to the original packaging as possible.
  • Return at a quiet time: With so many holiday shoppers returning gifts, the best approach is to go at a time when the store will not be as busy. Not only will this give you a chance to pick out a different more desirable present, but it will also ensure that you aren't dealing with an overwhelmed employee.
  • Check return policies: Some of the approaches that stores are using to tighten return policies include requiring receipts, creating small return time frames, and only giving the current price of a product when it is returned. Although there is little you can do about some of these rules, calling ahead to check on a return policy and asking for items from stores you know have a liberal policy are good practices. With the increase in online shopping, many retailers include a return label that can be placed on the original box so make sure that you do not throw away any packaging until you are sure that you want to keep it.

The season of giving is also the season of returning. This is a good philosophy to keep in mind when you are giving gifts as well. Think of a receipt as a contract -- you should read the terms of the item and gift return policy before signing it with a swipe of your credit card. Happy Holidays everyone!

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Bodybuilding pills are marketed as a fitness supplement designed to help an athlete achieve optimum results. The FDA is now warning that bodybuilding pills are being spike by supplement makers -- adding dangerous additions into the product without notifying the unassuming consumer. U.S. health authorities have now warned supplement makers that they could be facing criminal consequences for their tainted products.

Unlike drugs supplements, bodybuilding pills other supplements do not have to be proven safe before being sold to the general public. Although regulated by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act and required to adhere to certain standards, many companies are ignoring the standards. The problem with the relaxed regulation is that many of the supplements are spiked with dangerous and sometimes deadly additions.

The FDA concerns are real and serious. "Some contain prescription drugs or analogs never tested in humans and the results can be tragic. We have received reports of serious adverse events and injuries associated with consumer use of these tainted products including stroke, liver, kidney damage, pulmonary failure and death," Business Week quotes principal deputy commissioner at the FDA Dr. Joshua Shapstein.

Whether the product of deceptive labeling or unnamed ingredients, spiked dietary supplements are both a legal and serious health issue. In addition to increased monitoring, the FDA has issued over 300 alerts on tainted products.

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3 Gifts Most Likely to Lead to Lawsuits

Christmas is quickly upon us and after years of gift giving it gets hard to be creative. Although family, friends and co-workers certainly appreciate out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to presents, there are times when one needs to consider potential legal repercussions of a unique Christmas present. With that, we present the gifts most likely to lead to lawsuits.

Take the razor blade soap. Yes, that's oh-so-useful hand soap with a razor blade in the middle. After a certain number of washes, the razor blade is available for use, but hopefully not part of one's hygiene regime. When gifting razor-blade soap you may want to consider the potential tort suit to follow.

A second gift most likely to lead to a lawsuit is the increasingly popular but legally questionable laser pointer. The red dot of the laser may be a fun item to play pranks with but it is also a source of an assault and battery suits. Taking the toy to the next level, playing with the laser pointer has also landed the user in federal prison when pointed at airplanes and helicopters.

A third and final gift liability is one many would think of for a co-worker. The office bed chair is essentially a desk chair that reclines all the way back to double as a bed - just like a swanky airplane seat. Sure everyone needs a mid-afternoon nap, but it could also end in a nightmare: getting fired. At a sizeable price tag of $594, no nap is worth a lost job.

So just remember with all your Christmas creativity, to also keep in mind whether the gift is most likely to lead to a lawsuit. Happy Shopping!

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Keep an eye not just on your own holiday meals this year, but on what your pets are eating as well. The Kroger Co. recently announced that it is voluntarily recalling some of its pet foods from some Kroger retail stores because the products may pose a health risk to pets.

The Kroger pet food recall includes Kroger, Old Yeller and Pet Pride dry dog and cat food and is due to the presence of aflatoxin, reports Yahoo News. Aflatoxin is a naturally occurring chemical by-product that is toxic. It grows from a fungus called Aspergillus Flavus which is found in corn and other crop foods used to produce pet food.

Yahoo reports the stores and states affected by the recall are the following: Kroger stores in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. Other stores in the Kroger food network that are affected by the pet food recall include: Dillons and Gerbes stores (Kansas and Missouri): Baker's stores (Nebraska); Food 4 Less stores (Nebraska, Illinois and Indiana and the Chicago area); and Jay C, Hilander, Owen's, Pay Less and Scott's stores located in Illinois and Indiana.

The foods under recall have a sell by date of Oct. 23-24, 2011. The pet foods included the recall are:

Pet Pride Cat Food - 3.5 # package
Pet Pride Cat Food - 18 # package
Pet Pride Tasty Blend Poultry and Seafood Cat Food - 3.5 # package
Pet Pride Tasty Blend Poultry and Seafood Cat Food - 18 # package
Pet Pride Kitten Formula - 3.5 # package
Old Yeller Chunk Dog Food - 22# and 50# packages
Kroger Value Cat Food - 3 # package
Kroger Value Chunk Dog Food - 15# and 50# packages

According to the FDA, if your pet shows any symptoms of illness such as sluggishness or lethargy combined with a reluctance to eat, yellowish tint to the eyes and/or gums, and severe or bloody diarrhea, you should consult your veterinarian immediately.

Consumers who have purchased any of the foods under the Kroger pet food recall should immediately stop using the food. Questions or assistance with the recall can be referred to Kroger by phone at (800) 632-6900 or on the Kroger Pet Food recall assistance website.

Kroger customers can return unused portions of pet food to Kroger stores where they were purchased the product for full refund.

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'Erin Brockovich' Chemical Discovered in 31 Cities' Tap Water

The movie "Erin Brockovich" chronicled how the Hollywood heroine helped residents of Hinkley, California sue PG&E over the presence of hexavalent chromium in the town's drinking water. Ultimately winning $333 million in damages and an injunction to clean the town's drinking water, Erin Brochovich brought national attention to the toxin and the importance of safe drinking water. Now, hexavalent chromium, a cancer-causing toxin, has been discovered in 31 cities' tap water.

In addition to stomach cancer and leukemia, the Erin Brockovich chemical has been linked to a variety of health conditions. Steel and pulp mill discharge as well as erosion from natural deposits are the biggest sources of hexavalent Chromium in city drinking water. The cities with the highest levels of the toxin: Norman, Okla.; Honolulu, Hawaii; Riverside, Calif.; Madison, Wis.; San Jose, Calif.

The results, which were released by the Environmental Working Group took samples from 35 cities, and apparently only 4 passed the test. Although there is no national limit, exposing the dangers in drinking water may eventually follow down such a path. Last year California proposed a public health goal to limit the presence of hexavalent chromium in drinking water, which would represent the first state limit in the nation.

Consumers that use inexpensive water filters (such as Brita and Purr) are not immune to potential health issues from the toxin. Only bottled water and costly reverse-osmosis flirtation systems are able to shield water drinkers. 

"This chemical has been so widely used by so many industries across the U.S. that this doesn't surprise me. Our municipal water supplies are in danger all over the U.S. This is a chemical that should be regulated ... With levels this high, it's critically important that people begin to think about filtering their water." CBS News quotes senior vice president for the Environmental Working Group, Jane Houlihan. Beyond a personal injury issue, the study represents a health hazard that requires regulation rather than lawsuits to promote the necessary change.

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Toyota Recall: 110K Sienna Minivans for Dangerous Brakes

Toyota is recalling 110,000 Sienna minivans out of concern over potential brake issues. The Toyota recall of the new model is preventative in nature and there have not been any reported accidents or injuries stemming from the brake issue. Toyota plans to notify Sienna owners in January.

The Toyota recall relates to concerns that use of the Sienna parking brake could cause damage to the overall break system. In certain scenarios use of the parking brake could cause damage to the overall break system causing either: a) the break light to stay on at all times; or b) keep the break partially engaged at all times, causing noise and vibration. Both scenarios were reported in late 2009.

The brake issue is particularly troubling for the Sienna, a family car. The brake problem has since been fixed in models made after November. In total, the Sienna recall affects 94,000 U.S. Toyotas, 12,000 in Canada, and 5,000 in Mexico, according to Reuters.

The voluntary recall will hopefully thwart any potential damage the brake issues could cause. Toyota has recalled 6.75 million vehicles this year for a variety of problems in their fleet of cars, including popular models Camry and Prius. Hopefully 2011 will bring fewer recalls for the car giant.

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Mom Sues McDonald's over Happy Meal Toys

Is this the first lawsuit brought about by whining? A suit has been filed in San Francisco superior court over Happy Meals. After laws passed by Santa Clara County and San Francisco, California, placing limits on fast food meals marketed to children, a private citizen has taken matters into her own hands.

Sacramento mother Monet Parham, represented by Center for Science in the Public Interest, has sued McDonald's for false advertising and unfair competition, claiming the restaurant chains' practice of giving away toys with Happy Meals is deceptive to children.

The Happy Meals lawsuit, which seeks class action status, claims in its complaint that McDonald's "exploits very young California children and harms their health by advertising unhealthy Happy Meals with toys directly to them." The suit goes on to say that experts confirm young children who are targeted by this kind of marketing do not have the developmental skills to understand the intent behind an ad or marketing campaign.

Further bolstering their claim that marketing is targeted straight at children, the suit claims “McDonald's knows that by targeting families, it hits one of the most attractive, loyal consumer groups available. It gets into the parents’ wallets via the kids’ minds.”

Monet Parham told the press she wanted to bring the case because she was tired of dealing with the constant requests from her daughters to buy Happy Meals, reports The Los Angeles Times. After constant badgering, "[n]eedless to say, my answer was no," Parham said. "And as usual, pouting ensued and a little bit of a disagreement between us. This doesn't stop with one request. It's truly a litany of requests."

McDonald's has not immediately commented on the Happy Meals lawsuit, but as The Times reports, it has worked in the past several years to bring some more nutritional value to the Happy Meal by substituting apples and a dipping sauce for fries, for example.

Director of Litigation at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Stephen Gardner, says they are not trying to change the food McDonald's serves. "We're not trying to force McDonald's to sell apples and sprouts," Gardner told The Times. "We're just trying to stop McDonald's from marketing to 3-year-olds."

Do we need to protect our children from this kind of directed marketing since they clearly cannot make the kinds decisions which might lead to a lifetime of bad eating habits and even health problems? Or, do we as parents just need to remember to say no, if we are asked for something we know is not good for our kids ... no matter how often we are asked.

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Are your cherished Ugg boots bad for your feet? The answer to that question depends on what you use the sheepskin-lined boots for, and how often. Uggs are undoubtedly in high season now. And especially with their recent Tom Brady endorsement, those sporting Ugg boots need to be aware of their limited utility with walking and extended wear.

What Ugg boots provide in warmth and fashion appeal (for some), they lack in arch support.

Although this may come as no surprise when looking at the flat sole and complete lack of ankle support, it does not stop many people from wearing the boots all day long. Users complain of foot, ankle, back and hip pain as a result of wearing Ugg boots for long periods of time. Although Uggs are not advertised as running or walking shoes, the high price tag for the boots may make some users feel that they should be worn as such. In reality, the ankle support of Uggs is fairly equivalent to that of a slipper and should probably be worn as little as one.

The other, less obvious way Ugg boots could be bad for your feet has to do with their most famous part: the sheepskin lining. Although highly sought after in the winter months to keep feet warm, the lining does not lend itself to sanitary conditions -- especially in hot summer months. Because the fur makes for a hot environment, foot fungus and other infections have been reported.

Whether reports that Ugg boots are bad for feet will translate in a dip in sales or lawsuits seems unlikely. For those shoppers looking to gift Uggs as presents this year, perhaps insoles and anti-fungus spray might not be such a bad idea.

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Just because a pill is labeled "all natural" or "herbal" does not mean it is safe for you. Today's example comes via the FDA warning consumers to immediately stop using Man Up Now supplements.

The pills are quite dangerous. According to the FDA, the supplements contain a variation of the active ingredient used in Viagra which can lower blood pressure to dangerous levels.

Man Up Now is a dietary supplement supposed to enhance sexual performance, according to the FDA. However, the supplement contains the ingredient sulfoaildenafil, a chemical similar to sildenafil, the ingredient that gives Viagra its get up and go. However, just as with Viagra, sulfoaildenafil can interact with other medications such as nitrates, including nitroglycerin, causing a drop in blood pressure. When blood pressure drops suddenly, the brain is deprived of an adequate blood supply that can lead to dizziness or lightheadedness.

According to the FDA warning, Man Up Now is distributed by Synergy Distribution LLC, and sold online and possibly in retail outlets in single, double, and triple blister packs, and in 6, 12 and 30-count capsule bottles. No reports of "adverse events" have yet been made to the FDA.

The administration reports that over the past several years, many of the dietary supplements for sexual enhancement have been deemed potentially harmful because they contain active ingredients found in FDA-approved drugs, or variations of these ingredients. However, unlike the FDA approved drugs, they have not been checked by the Administration for effectiveness, safety, or consistent potency. They also do not come with the appropriate warnings on labels, or from physicians, about appropriate use, drug interactions and warning signs of problems.

Talk to your doctor before you add any pill to your regimen -- even if it's only natural.

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Deep Fried Turkey: How Not to Burn Your House Down

Ah, the good old Deep Friend Turkey. Are you considering deep-frying a Christmas or holiday turkey this year? Did you know that setting your house on fire while attempting to cook deep fry turkey seems to have become something of a national pastime. There were 1,400 such house fires in 2006 alone.

This time of year, crazy turkey fireball incidents pop up like crazy. So let's learn from our previous mistakes, and here's how to avoid burning down your castle in the quest for the perfect poultry.

Deep frying turkey is fast, delicious and potentially hazardous, the Arizona Republic reports. The risks stem from several sources, the level of oil in the fryer, the temperature, the flame and other risks.

Injuries often come from overflowing oil caused by using too small of a pot. Oil spilling is a major risk because most turkey fryers use a propane flame that will ignite oil quickly.

There is also the risk of the fryer tipping over. You are advised to deep fry on a flat surface and stay away from dry grass or wood. You would also be wise to watch your alcohol intake, Mark Faulkner, Phoenix Fire division chief for public affairs, told the Republic. While many like to imbibe while cooking, "Alcohol and frying turkeys don't mix," said Faulkner.

Here are a few deep fried turkey cooking tips from the article:

  • Don't use too big of a bird: 8-10 pounds is best for a deep-fryer.
  • Keep an eye on the fryer at all times and keep children and pets away
  • Test the fryer ahead of time with water to ensure you know the correct oil level with your turkey
  • Heat the oil to 365-375 degrees
  • Use a completely thawed and dried turkey.
  • Do not use a stuffed turkey
  • Gently add the turkey to the fryer
  • Allow about 3 minutes per pound
  • Keep a fire extinguisher nearby and never use water for a grease fire.

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Rolaids, the popular antacid tablet for indigestion may be harming more that it's helping. A Rolaids recall has been initiated by manufacturer Johnson and Johnson after it was discovered that close to 13 million packages may have wood and metal particles in them. Yes, you read that right: wood and metal particles in the tablets.

The source of the items is believed to have come during the manufacturing process at an outside manufacturer and have contaminated the following Rolaids items: Rolaids Extra Strength Softchews, Rolaids Extra Strength Plus Gas Softchews and Rolaids Multi-symptom Plus Gas Softchews.

The recall came after some consumer reported the "unusual texture" of the chews, according to MSNBC. While the particles certainly won't aid in easing indigestion, Johnson and Johnson state the likelihood of adverse health consequences is remote. In addition to recalling Rolaids items on store shelves, McNeil (the Johnson and Johnson company that produces Rolaids) has also suspended production pending a further investigation.

For the Rolaid recall, and similar recall cases, the biggest problem is notifying consumers that may have a "bad" package in their possession. Luckily, the recall was initiated early and hopefully will be resolved on both a consumer and manufacturing level soon.

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FDA Can’t Regulate, Ban Import E-Cigarettes

E-cigarettes are battery-powered tubes that deliver tobacco as a vapor which, their advertisers claim, makes for a healthier and smoke free smoke.

The device has been the center of a suit between the manufacturer, Njoy, and the Federal Drug Administration as to whether the electronic smoking devices are actually a drug or medical device rather than a tobacco product. Classifying e-cigarettes as a drug, as the FDA argued, would make it fall under its regulation and the agency would have the ability to regulate and even ban the product.

But the FDA's argument for regulation has failed, again.

A recent opinion handed down by the Washington, D.C. federal appeals court held electronic cigarettes to be a tobacco product, falling under the regulation of the Tobacco Act. Translation: the FDA cannot regulate or ban the importation of the popular tobacco devices.

One rationale behind the decision was that e-cigarettes are not marketed as an item to help quit smoking, if that were the case then the FDA may gain control. The FDA will still have a role in overseeing the marketing of e-cigarettes, but like all other tobacco products, electronic cigarettes will come under the supervision of federal regulators. The control of electronic cigarettes will be similar to that of regular cigarettes as long as e-cigarettes continue to be marketed as a smoking device.

"This is a huge victory for public health and civil justice. It's time for the FDA officials to come to their senses by reclassifying and promulgating reasonable regulations for tobacco products for e-cigarettes as tobacco products," The New York Times quotes Bill Godshall, founder of SmokeFree Pennsylvania. The FDA is looking into the next steps to gain control over the products they feel are dangerous.

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Top 3 Holiday Toy Shopping Tips

The holidays are not the most wonderful time of the year when it comes to toys and kid injuries.

The same toys that are pleaded for on Christmas lists may not be the safest. Recent data by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission shows that although toy recalls have dropped of late, the number has been made up by an increase in toy injuries. There were only three toy recalls in 2010, but there were an estimated 186,000 toy-related emergency room trips during 2009.

In order to help get that number down and keep toy related injuries to a minimum, CPSC has released the top three tips for toy safety during the holidays and beyond:

  1. Choose age appropriate toys. Toys that are appropriate for one age group may be entirely inappropriate for another. Also keep in mind that size matters when it comes to young children.
  2. Include safety gear whenever shopping for sports-related items and any other ride-on toys
  3. Be aware of your child's surroundings when playing on the toys. There are both indoor and outdoor hazards that children should keep away from, including: streets where cars drive by, bathrooms with dangerous materials and corded window blinds, and any bodies of water.

"Although toys can bring a lot of happiness, they can also be a source of serious outcomes like injuries or even death. Always examine toys carefully to make sure there are no dangers before making the purchase," Jeff Griffin, program associate for Ohio Public Research Group, told The Columbus Dispatch.

While there are important customer protections in place that hopefully help warn of dangers, the ultimate safety guard rests on the parents and caregivers watching the children enjoy their new toys.

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Beep beep beep. It's the sound of a van backing up.

Back up noises and cameras are becoming increasingly common in modern vehicles. The systems have a video screen in the dashboard and a camera near the bumper which allow the driver to see behind them. They also commonly have an audible noise that warns the driver of people or objects behind them.

Now the federal government is considering a proposal to make back-up cameras mandatory starting in 2014.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed the idea, arguing that back-up cameras keep drivers from running over pedestrians that cross behind their vehicles, the Los Angeles Times reports. The cameras can also save drivers money by reducing the occurrence of backing into things like telephone poles, parking meters and other vehicles. On average, 292 people die and over 18,000 are injured annually due to back-over crashes, with children and the elderly being the most common victims, according to the NHTSA.

“There is no more tragic accident than for a parent or caregiver to back out of a garage or driveway and kill or injure an undetected child ... [Back-up cameras] will help drivers see into those blind zones directly behind vehicles to make sure it is safe to back up,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Under the proposed rule, the requirement would be implemented on a rolling basis between now and late 2014. That means you might start seeing an increase in back-up cameras the next time you're car shopping. Specifically, 10% of new vehicles would have to comply by 2012, 40% by 2013 and 100% by 2014. 

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"A man's house is his castle." Lord Edward Coke's was probably speaking about an actual castle back then, but nowadays our homes (while less likely to be palaces) are still often the most valuable asset we own.

So homeowners insurance is a crucial way to protect your home from disaster. Unfortunately, homeowners insurance does not cover everything. With the holidays upon us, it's worth asking: Just which holiday mishaps are not covered by homeowners insurance? Is a 30-pound turkey dropped on a foot covered? How about a snow storm caving in your roof?

Alas, the most wonderful time of the year is also the worst time of the year for calamities and accidents. There are so many things that could go wrong, the holiday mishap possibilities are endless.

Here's a potential holiday mishap that may lead to some tears: A burglar breaks in and makes off with stolen presents from under the tree. Homeowners policies typically carry only $1,000 to $2,500 coverage for theft, a paltry figure that would likely find Santa at a loss to recover and replace stolen presents. How about a Christmas lights lighting the tree, and eventually the house, on fire? These things could quickly turn the night before Christmas into the nightmare before Christmas.

It's not a sexy, exciting gift. But one of the best gifts a homeowner can give this season may be an upgrade in their homeowners insurance policy in order to insure that the unthinkable is covered. Peace of mind, now that is the gift that keeps on giving. Remember that basic home insurance is often required when you buy a house. We're talking more about the type and nature of your coverage. Taking the time to review and possibly change their policy might be the way to avoid the grinch stealing Christmas.

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The rolls of retailers who have announced recalls of Roman shades and roll-up blinds has grown with the addition of Lowe's Home Centers, Inc. The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced on December 1, that Lowes has joined the voluntary recall on these window coverings originally begun in December, 2009. The Loews recall covers all Roman shades and roll-up blinds sold by the company.

Lowes is recalling approximately 6 million Roman shades and about 5 million roll-up blinds due to the strangulation hazard the window coverings pose to young children. Strangulations can occur with the Roman shades if a child places his/her neck between the exposed inner cord and the fabric on the backside of the blind or when a child pulls the cord out and wraps it around his/her neck. For the roll-up blinds, strangulations can occur if the lifting loop slides off the side of the blind and a child's neck becomes entangled on the free-standing loop or if a child places his/her neck between the lifting loop and the roll-up blind material.

The CPSC has received two reports of near strangulation of young children, a two-year old and a four-year-old, involving Roman shades.

The Loews recall includes all styles and sizes of Roman shades and roll-up blinds sold by Lowe's. Not included in the recall are any Roman shades with repair kits or roll-up blinds with release clips right below the head rail on the backside of the blind. The recalled Roman shades were sold at Lowe's stores, other retail stores and online, since at least 1999 through June 2010, and the roll-up blinds from at least 1999 to January 2005. Both products were priced between $10 and $1,800.

According to the CPSC, consumers should stop using the recalled Roman shades and roll-up blinds immediately and contact the Window Covering Safety Council (WCSC) for free repair kits by calling (800) 506-4636 anytime, or visiting the website: www.windowcoverings.org. For additional information, contact Lowe's at (800) 445-6937 anytime, or go to the company website at www.lowes.com.

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Senator Calls for Football Helmet Review

Are football helmets safe? New Mexico Senator Tom Udall wants to know. Citing the estimated 100,000 concussions in high school football each season, Udall is calling for a football helmet review. Udall suspects that the helmets could be the culprit and wants to protect high school players from long-term brain damage. Many suspect that several hundreds of thousands of concussions go unreported or are not recognized each year.

But is the problem the helmet or the way it is used? The NFL has recently made a lot of news by cracking down on violent hits, especially those that lead with the helmet. But many fans and players think restrictions on the game are unnecessary, that violent hits are simply are part of the game.

A volunteer group with ties to the sporting goods industry sets the football helmet standards, which go back to 1973. Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, wrote a letter to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, calling for a football helmet review and arguing that the “voluntary industry standard does not specifically address preventing concussions.”

According to The New York Times, football helmets are only tested for protection against massive hits--the kind that could cause a skull fracture. However, there may actually be a bigger danger from the cumulative damage of less severe hits, which can still cause concussions.

“Although football helmet safety technology has drastically improved since the days of leather helmets, today’s helmet safety standards may not be informed by current understanding of concussion risks,” Udall said, reported The New York Times.

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Coach Potato News: Loud TV Ads May Get Banned

This one goes out to coach potatoes and casual viewers everywhere: those extra loud TV ads may be banned. You heard right, the obnoxiously loud commercials that punctuate your favorite television program may soon come under some serious regulation. Australia, Brazil, Russia, France and Israel have all enacted legislation aimed at reducing loud TV ads.

The Commercial Advertising Loudness Mitigation (appropriately abbreviated to CALM) Act would require the volume of an ad to be at the same noise level as the program that it interrupts. The popular bill was not so easy to arrive at, technically speaking. The FCC received 132,416 loud TV ads complaints in 2010 alone.

It took researchers years of auditory analysis and other complicated research to determine the best way to quantify and control the volume. For years, the volume requirement has been based on the peak volume of the show the ad was played during, rather than the average volume of the show. In effect, that meant ads could be as loud as a dramatic gun shot in a show, rather than off the much longer and less cacophonous dialogue.

The CALM ACT is scheduled for its final vote in the House of Representatives before the end of the year. This marks the first changes to previous volume regulations since 1994.

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How to Holiday Decorate Without Causing a Fire

Here's a worthy goal for the holidays: avoiding setting the house on fire. Your kids will thank you, the fire department will thank you and so will your wallet. Well, actually it's quite unlikely that anyone will thank you for not starting a fire while you holiday decorate. To paraphrase Chris Rock, you're supposed to avoid fires you idiot!

Nevertheless, we all have our "doh!" moments, so it never hurts to heed a little holiday fire safety advice. Thankfully the Consumer Protection Safety Commission has created a Holiday Home Decorating Safety Guide. "Home decorating for the holidays is a wonderful tradition, and CPSC wants to ensure that this holiday season is a safe and happy one," said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. "To prevent a holiday tradition from becoming a holiday tragedy, keep lighted candles in sight, check trees for freshness, and don't use lights with broken sockets or frayed wire."

And now, on to the top ten list of safety tips for the holidays:

  1. Check your tree for freshness before buying.
  2. Old trees catch fire more easily.
  3. Set up your tree far away from heat sources.
  4. For artificial trees, look for a label that says "Fire Resistant."
  5. Take special care to avoid breakable decorations around children.
  6. Only use lights that have been tested for safety.
  7. Throw out damaged sets, such as with broken sockets.
  8. Make sure extension cords are rated for the intended use.
  9. Only use outdoor lights when decorating outside.
  10. Keep burning candles in sight and extinguish before leaving the room or going to bed. Keep candles on a stable and heat-resistant surface.

Heed this advice and have a safe and happy holiday.

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‘Predatory’ Kardashian Credit Card Cancelled

"I'm sorry your card has been denied."

Those dreadful words are the last thing a shopper wants to hear as she swipes his or her plastic. Especially if you are a Kardashian. Ok so maybe the reality star sisters are not being denied at the register, but their "predatory" Kardashian credit card, the "Kardashian Kard," is being cancelled.

The Kardashian Kard, which features an image of the three sisters, is essentially a prepaid debit card that can carry some heavy fees. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said it "carried unreasonable fees and unfairly targeted unsophisticated young adults." In addition to close to $100 in annual fees, the credit card also charged users for ATM withdrawals, cancellations, and talking with a phone operator.

The decision to cancel the card came after a month of criticism (including the statement by Blumenthal) by various media sites on the nature of the card. US Weekly quotes the Kardashians' lawyer on the matter: "The Kardashians have worked extremely long and hard to create a positive public persona that appeals to everyone, particularly young adults. Unfortunately, the negative spotlight turned on the Kardashians as a result of the Attorney General's comments and actions threatens everything for which they have worked."

For the 250 consumers that hold the Kardashian Card, you will not hear the words "declined" until 30 days, when users will also receive refunds of balances and up-front fees.

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Senate Passes Landmark Food Safety Bill: Is it Enough?

The Senate voted 73-25 to pass a landmark food safety bill. The bill, which is aimed at increasing the overall food safety process, came in the wake of some very public food-related illnesses stemming from eggs, peanut butter and lettuce. Past approach to the growing problem has been to combat the outbreak after it has occurred.

Many of the measures in the current bill (officially titled: Food Safety Modernization Act) are aimed at improving safety and ensuring that outbreaks do not occur in the first place; a reform that is being classified as the biggest change to the food safety system since the 1930's.

"Today's vote will finally give the FDA the tools it needs to help ensure that the food on dinner tables and store shelves is safe," Reuters quotes Democratic Senator Dick Durbin. In addition to allowing the FDA to demand a recall when a company refuses the agency's request to do so voluntarily, the food safety bill also increases the number of FDA food inspectors at riskier plants. Under the bill, the FDA would also have greater power to trace the source of food-borne diseases such as E.coli and salmonella.

Whether these measures will be enough is a question that can't be answered until they are implemented. The House of Representatives, which previously passed a bill similar in scope, will look at the bill before the end of the year.

One area of concern that the food safety bill failed to address was the fragmented nature of the FDA and Department of Agriculture. In addition to the two major agencies, there are also more than a dozen other federal agencies with overlapping food safety functions> It has been a bureaucratic nightmare, at times. Working to ensure safe food on the shelves, rather than safe recalls, is a step in the right direction, even if there is more work to be done.

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Children Still Facing Radiation Risk at Dentist

There has been a lot of talk recently about the radiation risk that may or may not exist from the new airport body scanners. However, according to The New York Times, a radiation risk exists at another place where it has not been receiving a lot of attention: the dentist's office.

According to The Times, unregulated, high doses of radiation are being delivered to patients at the dentist's office, with no upside and lots of risk. In particular, children are placed at a special risk. The problem has to do with the machines they choose to use: old x-ray machines with “D-speed film” and newer, advanced 3D machines that use even more radiation.

The new machine is called a cone-beam CT scanner. It's popular because it’s fast and gives a very impressive, colorful 3D picture of the mouth. They are also highly profitable for the dentists and their manufactures, such as Imaging Sciences International.

The problem is that according to the FDA, the machines are apparently being aggressively promoted by their manufacturer, despite the fact that they do not produce results that are superior to their alternatives. This despite the fact that alternative machines deliver 4 to 67 times less radiation. The FDA has grown increasingly concerned with unregulated radiation levels.

This is certainly something worth keeping an eye on during your next trip to the dentist, especially if you take young children. You might want to check with your dentist and see what kind of equipment he is using. We are all exposed to small amounts of radiation on a regular basis, but that doesn't mean that it makes sense to take unnecessary risks. According to those who have looked at the current practices at the dentist, many consumers may be currently facing an unnecessary and unacceptable risk.

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