Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

July 2011 Archives

A new Fisher-Price recall has been issued for some of the toymaker's toy wagons. The recall is for the small "Little People Builders' Load 'n Go Wagon" toy, sold in the U.S. and in Canada.

About seven children have been injured because of the toy wagon, which has a handle on it that might result in lacerations or cuts if a child falls on it due to a molded-in reinforcement.

Five of the seven children had to have stitches, or had cuts that required surgical glue, reports ClickOnDetroit.

The product in question has the model number P8977, which is a red wagon with a yellow handle, multi-colored plastic blocks and a dog figurine. Wagons with a green handle are not included in the recall, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The toys have been in circulation since June 2009. Consumers are advised to stop use of the products immediately, and to make sure that children are not using it in the time being.

About 208,000 of the toy wagons were sold in the United States, with about 2,800 in Canada.

Fisher-Price is offering a repair kit to fix the dangerous part of the wagon if the consumer purchased the toy between June 2009 and July 2011.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is also soliciting for other injury reports concerning the wagon, or reports of other hazards encountered when using the toy. To contact the CPSC, visit their website at SaferProducts.gov.

Consumers who have questions about the Fisher-Price recall or who would like a repair kit should call (800) 432-5437 between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday. More information on the toy wagon recall can also be found on Fisher-Price's website at service.mattel.com.

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Pilgrim's Pride expanded its chicken recall to 18,312 pounds of chicken nuggets and fillets sold at Dollar General stores in the Southeast this week, while Flying Foods has also recalled another 7,000 pounds of chicken and other meat products, most of which were sold at Starbucks and Race Trac gas stations.

The poultry products are believed to be contaminated with Listeria, a bacteria that can be deadly for pregnant women, older adults, newborns, and those with weakened immune systems.

Sold at Dollar General stores in West Virginia, Tennessee, Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, the Pilgrim's Pride recall covers:

  • 10-pound boxes of "Sweet Georgia Brand Fully Cooked Breaded White Chicken Nuggets Shaped Patties" with date code 11471010.
  • 30-pound boxes of "Pilgrim's Pride Fully Cooked Grilled Chicken Breast Fillet with Rib Meat" with a date code of 11801050 and a Use by Date of Dec. 26, 2011.
  • 16-pound boxes of "Pilgrim’s Pride Fully Cooked Chicken Breast Breaded Nugget Shaped Patties with Rib Meat" with date code 11531010, and a Use by Date of Jun. 2, 2012.

Sold in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, a list of the dozens of products covered by the Flying Foods recall can be found here.

If you have purchased a product that is subject to the chicken recall, return it to the place of purchase for a refund or a replacement.

Additionally, if you have recently consumed a product subject to the chicken recall, and are showing signs of Listeriosis, please seek immediate medical attention.

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What Does Homeowners Insurance Not Cover?

There's a tendency to focus on the benefits of homeowners insurance without reference to its shortcomings.

However, basic homeowners insurance doesn't offer complete protection of your property, pets, family, and guests, leaving you open to quite a bit of liability.

Though it differs from company to company and policy to policy, the following are a few of the things that are generally not included in homeowners insurance, possibly requiring you to purchase separate coverage.

1. Dangerous or Farm Animals.

While a basic policy will often cover injuries caused by a chihuahua, they usually won't cover pit bull bites or chicken scratches. Certain breeds of dog and nontraditional pets require a special rider, as they are believed to be more dangerous and thus impart more liability.

2. Intentional Acts.

Homeowners insurance will cover injuries caused by negligence, but will not cover intentional acts. This includes battery, assault, and destruction of another's property, even if they occur on the premises.

3. Earthquakes and Floods.

Though it varies by region, most policies don't cover earthquakes and floods. Others also don't include hurricanes, and tornados. You'll likely have to purchase an additional policy if you are prone to these natural events.

4. General Wear and Tear.

The ordinary upkeep associated with owning a home is yours and yours alone. Homeowners insurance policies will not cover damage caused by general weather conditions, or old age. This includes issues with paint, landscaping, and even settling.

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Congress has failed to extend the funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). As a result, the FAA's shutdown has affected some services: they've had to furlough employees and freeze some funding meant for airport construction. Part of the shutdown, however, means that it's essentially an airline ticket tax holiday: the FAA won't be collecting some of its airline ticket taxes.

Except that most traveling consumers won't be feeling the effects of any tax savings. Most airlines have now raised their ticket prices, taking advantage of the lack of airline ticket taxes.

The airlines that have raised their ticket prices include Delta Airlines, American Airlines, US Airways, United, Continental, Southwest and AirTran.

The airlines that have not raised their ticket prices include Alaska Airlines, Spirit, Hawaiian Airlines and Frontier. Virgin America had previously said they would not raise their prices, but have since flip-flopped on the issue, reports MSNBC.

The expired taxes can top up to 10% of a ticket price. Amongst the taxes that are not being collected for now includes a 7.5% tax on all tickets, reports MSNBC.

The total amount of the ticket taxes are about $200 million per week, MSNBC reports.

The airline industry, which has been hit by high cost of fuel, could likely benefit some from the increased fares, according to MSNBC. Plus, according to a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, the fare increase would be beneficial for airlines without actually increasing fares for consumers because they would have been paying the same fare if the ticket taxes were still there.

Whether or not you agree with airlines charging higher fares, keep in mind that the airline ticket tax holiday might only be temporary. The partial FAA shutdown might end if the Senate passes the House-approved bill that would extend funding, reports the Los Angeles Times.

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States have been experiencing a recent rash of heat waves lately, which leads to an important question: how do you avoid a heat stroke? Heat strokes and the elderly can be an especially fatal mix, so knowing the signs and symptoms of heat strokes is important to safeguard your health, or the health of your loved ones.

The reason why the elderly are more at risk for heat-related illnesses is because as people age, their bodies lose the ability to easily adapt to hot temperatures, US News reports.

And, hot conditions can worsen any other medical conditions, reports US News.

Avoiding heat strokes would be the best way to avoid a trip to the hospital. How do you prevent a heat stroke?

Below are some helpful tips on how to avoid a heat stroke:

  1. Stay cool. The most surefire way would be to stay someplace where it's cool, in an air-conditioned place. If your house does not have air conditioning, public places like malls or library may provide some relief.
  2. Turn on the fan. Fans may be a good alternative for those who do not have air conditioning units in their home, but want to stay cool.
  3. Drink liquids. However, don't down a lot of alcoholic beverages or beverages that contain a lot of sugar like sodas. Drink lots of water, even if you do not feel thirsty.
  4. Don't wear tight or heavy clothes. Loose-fitting clothes will be lighter, and will feel less hot. Even the color of your clothing may be a factor: wear lighter colors as well.

What should you do if someone you know is experiencing some of the symptoms of heat stroke, including dry skin, convulsions, headaches, disorientation, or chills? Take some action, including maybe submersion in some cool water, or apply some cold compresses or wet towels.

Most of all, even though heat strokes and the elderly can be a dangerous mix, remember that heat strokes and heat exhaustion can hit anybody. And, it's probably impossible to avoid heat strokes entirely in all situations. If someone is displaying symptoms that amount to an emergency, call 911 to seek medical help.

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A Ford recall of Ranger and F-series pickups and Excursion SUVs has been announced. Ford trucks need to have a defective switch replaced that can cause the turn signal, tail lights and brake lights to fail.

The 20,450 Ford trucks recalled, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website, are:

  • 2004-11 Rangers pickups
  • 2002-05 Excursions SUVs
  • 2002-07 F-250, 350, 450 and 550 trucks.

Not all of these trucks received the defective switch. Ford also is recalling more than 6,000 of those switches that went to dealers as replacement parts, The Detroit News reports.

There have not yet been any reports of accidents or injuries.

The company told dealers on July 8 to stop selling the vehicles with the defective parts until they were repaired. The vehicles being recalled that were previously repaired with faulty parts were serviced between January and June of this year.

Ford issued a stop-ship at Twin Cities for the Ranger in April as it investigated a high number of warranty claims, The News reports.

Dealers will inspect the recalled vehicles and replace the switches if necessary.

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A Ford recall of 2007 Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego sedans has been announced to repair faulty fuel tanks.

Ford Motor Co. is recalling the 2007 sedans to fix a fuel-tank problem that could lead to leaks and the possibility of a fire, USA Today reports.

The nearly 3,000 sedans may have bad welds where the fuel filler neck meets the fuel tank, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website, and in a severe rear impact, the bad weld could fail and cause a fire.

While the recall involves a relatively small number of cars, it stands out because it pertains to a flaw that could cause fuel fires.

The recalled cars were built from Sept. 5 to Sept. 11, 2006.

In some cases the joints may not have adequate strength to withstand severe rear-impact collisions. The joints could crack, allowing vapor and fuel to leak. Symptoms of the problem could include a fuel odor or an illuminated emissions-malfunction light. Leaking fuel could cause a fire if an ignition source is present.

Some may have already been fixed because if the leak occurs, it can cause fuel odor, visible leakage or set off the emissions warning light, The Wall Street Journal reports. Ford will reimburse owners who paid for the fix. They can make a claim when they get the recall letter starting Aug. 15.

Under the recall, dealers will replace the fuel tank free of charge. Owners can reach Ford’s customer service center at 866-436-7332.

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Have you ever heard of telephone bill "cramming"? Have you seen some peculiar third party charges on your phone bill for services you've never ordered or authorized?

If so, you may have been hit by a practice called "cramming," where third parties place unauthorized fees on unsuspecting consumers' telephone bills, reports Fox News.

The fees are usually tacked onto customers' landline telephone bills. The fees sometimes go undetected for years, because they aren't too high - sometimes only around $2-20 a month, according to Fox News.

The practice is so widespread that it's estimated that Americans pay up to $2 billion in these "extra" fees, according to Fox News. And the FCC estimates that around 15-20 million landlines are hit by these charges.

The problem is compounded that most telephone providers are not exactly the most responsive when customers complain about the cramming bills. Companies get $1-2 for tacking on these bills. AT&T, Qwest and Verizon have reaped in about $650 million from these types of billing practices. While the problem seems to be mainly on landlines, cell phone cramming charges have also become a problem.

What can you do to detect "cramming" on your bill? Usually, the third-party charges may be in the last few pages of the bill, so if you aren't carefully checking up what charges you have, you may miss the extra charge purely by accident. Read over your bill carefully.

Also, be proactive with your bill, as small charges of $20 a month can easily add up. Make sure if you get strange advertisements or promotions that you read over the text and ensure that you aren't accidentally signing up for a service.

The FCC has also recently proposed new rules that would make telephone companies tell consumers that they have the option of blocking third party charges if the carrier has the option. The proposed rules would also bolster the requirement that third party charges and regular telephone charges be segregated from each other on customers' phone bills, reports Fox News.

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The recent Netflix price increase has stirred the pot - but in a negative way. Many customers are irritated and some are angry that their Netflix subscriptions, now facing a 60% increase, may soon be much more expensive. But, maybe these prices are necessary considering the increasing cost of licensing fees and contracts from big studios: Netflix's NBC Universal contract was just renewed.

Netflix is doing away with its package DVD and unlimited streaming deal that had originally cost $9.99 a month. Instead, the package will be split into two deals: DVD for $7.99 and unlimited streaming for $7.99, reports Bloomberg. The new prices will start in September.

But, why the new price increase? Maybe it's because Netflix has been trying to reposition itself away from DVDs and focus on its streaming service. More customers who switch over to "only" streaming and do away with DVDs would allow the company to cut down on operating costs, since streaming services don't require massive warehouses and thousands of printed red Netflix envelopes. And, there's always the cost of mailing.

Netflix's streaming options are available either via a customer's laptop, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Apple TV, or Roku.

Netflix probably also will need to start charging higher prices for some of its products considering the pressure it is getting from big studios. Recently, its deal with Starz allowing Netflix to stream Sony movies met with a hiccup: the contract was null because Netflix's subscriber base put the number of online viewers over the contract's cap. Now, Sony movies have been pulled from Netflix - and there's probably little doubt that studios will want more money and more pull with Netflix.

While the Netflix price increase may be bad for customers who want to get DVDs in the mail, it's ultimately up to the customer whether or not they wish to keep their Netflix subscription, or if they wish to downgrade their subscription. And, with the new Netflix/NBC Universal contract signed, all hopes are that more big studios will follow - and more content will be available as streaming via Netflix.

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Chrysler is recalling almost 243,000 of its Ram pickup trucks because there could be a “loss of directional stability,” the automaker told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Chrysler says it is recalling the Dodge Ram pickups because their left-side tie rods can break allowing the left front wheel to move independently. The resulting loss of directional stability could increase the risk of a crash.

The recall covers the 2008 Ram 1500 Mega Cab 4×4 as well as the 2500 and 3500 heavy-duty models from the 2003–11 model years, The New York Times reports. Most of the affected pickups, about 168,000, are from the 2008–11 model years.

Chrysler attributed the problem to a tie-rod fracture caused “due to a weakening of the ball stud,” which could occur if there were an alignment problem, the NHTSA released. Such a failure would affect the steering.

Chrysler said the problem “tends to occur during low-speed, parking-lot type maneuvers when the customer is making a tight turn.”

Last December, Chrysler recalled about 15,000 of its heavy-duty 4500 and 5500 Ram pickups from the 2008–11 model years for the same problem. In April, the agency responded to complaints of similar failures from owners of other Ram models and opened a defect investigation.

Chrysler described the recall as voluntary, but once a manufacturer is aware of a safety problem it has no choice but to inform the agency of its plan for a recall or face civil penalties.

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Researchers in Sweden and Japan have found a new gonorrhea superbug. This strain of gonorrhea's antibiotic resistance means that it survives treatment from cephalosporin-class antibiotics, the last known antibiotic treatment for gonorrhea.

This new superbug was found in the throat of a sex worker in Japan. Only a few infections by this new superbug have been detected. The new strain has been dubbed H041.

However, now researchers are worried that the superbug - with its antibiotic resistance - may be able to spread quickly, causing widespread public health problems, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Gonorrhea is diagnosed in around 700,000 Americans each year, according to the CDC. Both men and women can be infected, reports the Los Angeles Times. Gonorrhea can lead to loss of fertility in men, and loss of fertility, pelvic pain, and ectopic pregnancies in women. Serious cases, if left untreated, can end up spreading to a person's blood and joints which can cause death. Gonorrhea can also increase the chances of contracting HIV.

The new gonorrhea superbug is the result of a mutation, which is not the first for strains of gonorrhea which have been known to evolve and develop immunities to antibiotics in the past. Gonorrhea is unique to humans, and can pick up genetic sequences from hosts, reports Popsci.

Also troubling for researchers is this new gonorrhea superbug's ability to pass on its antibiotic resistance other strains of gonorrhea, making them 500-times more resistant against antibiotics, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Men and women who are sexually active and who start showing symptoms of gonorrhea, like burning during urination or rashes, should see a doctor. And, while abstinence is the surest form of protection against gonorrhea, those that choose to be sexually active should know that latex condoms can reduce, but not eliminate, the risks of getting gonorrhea, according to the CDC.

The CDC is working with the NIH to help identify new drugs that can combat this gonorrhea superbug. In the meantime, its advising doctors to treat gonorrhea with cephalosporins and antibiotic azithromycin in order to stop antibiotic resistance, reports the Los Angeles Times.

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'Flat Belly' Ad Scam: FTC Warns Consumers of Scheme

The FTC has issued warnings about flat belly ad scams, or acai berry scams.

These scam websites appear to be legitimate news websites, often carrying logos from major news outlets like ABC, Fox, CBS, CNN, USA Today and Consumer Reports, and have false claims that reporters are testing out the products or that the products are legitimate, according to the FTC press release.

The websites often have catchy titles, such as "Acai Berry Diet Exposed: Miracle Diet or Scam?" with a purported documentation of a reporter's "investigation" into the product. Usually, the news article will claim that the reporter's testing of the product resulted in dramatic weight loss, according to the FTC press release.

The FTC says that it has already received complaints from consumers who paid upwards of $70 to $100 for trials of the acai berry product.

According to the new consumer alert, the FTC has investigated the websites and found that basically everything about or on the website are actually fraudulent.

The photos showing "dramatic" weight loss are stock photos. The claims that the products were tested are also false. And, the comments left by users are actually copied and pasted from fake websites. Pictures of "reporters" on the websites are taken from legitimate news sources.

Essentially, the "news" story about the acai berry products are not true at all, and are simply designed to lure customers into believing that the products have been legitimately tested when they have not.

The FTC has filed a request in federal court to stop the scam websites from operating, according to the FTC press release. In the meantime, consumers should be aware of the existence of the scams and take care not to believe the scam news sites' contents.

If you feel like you have been been a victim of a flat belly ad scam or acai berry scam and would like to file a complaint, contact the FTC via its online complaint form or call them at 1-877-FTC-HELP.

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New Drawstring Safety Rules for Children's Outerwear

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recently issued mandatory guidelines regulating drawstring safety on children's upper outwear, such as sweatshirts and winter coats.

Though the rules have been voluntary since 1997, the agency states that, in addition to conducting 115 recalls, it has still received 26 reports of a child dying after his jacket drawstring became caught in a vehicle or on a piece of playground equipment.

Under the now-mandatory drawstring safety rules, children's upper outwear in sizes 2T through 16 with neck, hood, and certain waist drawstrings will be considered substantial product hazards, allowing the CPSC to force mandatory recalls and order Customs and Border Protection to keep such products out of the country.

To prevent strangulation, the mandatory guidelines state that upper outerwear hoods and necks in sizes 2T through 12 cannot be affixed with drawstrings, but instead require snaps, buttons, Velcro, elastic, or another alternative.

For sizes 2T through 16, drawstrings around a child's waist are not to be more than 3 inches long when pulled to their full width, and also must be sewn in so that they do not become longer on one side. They must also not contain toggles or knots near the ends.

The goal of this latter requirement is to prevent children from becoming caught in vehicle doors or dragged by moving objects.

Because drawstring safety rules have been voluntary up until this time, you should consider evaluating your child's clothing to determine whether or not they pose a safety risk.

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Antidepressants Linked to Higher Autism Risk

New studies have discovered more autism risks. A recent study has shown that there may be a connection between antidepressants and autism.

In a study involving more than 1,800 children and their mothers, researchers found that women who were taking antidepressants when they were pregnant were more likely to give birth to children with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, according to Time.

Women who were taking antidepressants during their first trimester had four times the risk. Women who were taking antidepressants a year before giving birth had twice the risk, reports Time.

The study researched primarily one type of antidepressant: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These include popular antidepressants like Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft.

Though, the research does not necessarily mean that taking SSRI pills increases autism risk by itself. There are a variety of underlying factors which may in turn impact the development of autism. For example, it's unclear if its depression or the presence of SSRIs that increases the risk of autism, reports Time.

Children with autism commonly come from families who have some sort of mental illness or mental health problems, including depression, according to Time.

Autism has both genetic and environmental contributors. And, the researchers do not want patients or mothers who are taking antidepressants to stop taking the pills because of the study, reports Time.

In fact, a recent study has also shown that environmental factors may play a larger role in autism than previously thought. The study showed that genetics increased autism risk by 38%, while environmental factors increased autism risk up to 58%.

For now, women should not stop taking antidepressants. But, women who are pregnant and taking antidepressants or are thinking about becoming pregnant, discussing medication with their doctors is likely a prudent step.

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Giant Hogweed, also known as the Green Monster, is attacking New York, exposing state residents to sap that can cause blindness and third-degree burns.

Indeed, the plant is so dangerous and has increased in such numbers that the New York Post reports that the New York Department of Environmental Conservation has set up a Giant Hogweed Hotline, with dispatchers that will send a team of weed-fighters to uproot any offending plants.

For those who are unsure if they are housing or live near Giant Hogweed, the plants are known for their large size (up to 14-feet), massive umbrella-like flowers, and 5-foot-wide leaves.

The Department of Environmental Conservation has a gallery here. Please share with your children and neighbors.

At one point Giant Hogweed was planted for its unique beauty and size, according to the Times Union. A garden showpiece no longer, the plants, which are notoriously difficult to remove, are being pulled out for the danger they pose to adults, children, and pets alike.

Besides leading to potential blindness and eye irritation, Hogweed sap sensitizes the skin to the sun. Sap-contaminated skin will burn, causing blisters, sores, and scars when exposed to sunlight, according to the New York Post.

It does not mimic poison oak or ivy.

Unfortunately, for those who come across Giant Hogweed or have been exposed to the sap, there is little you can do besides seek medical attention and alert the state for proper removal.

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GM Recalls Hit 10K Trucks and SUVs

Two separate GM recalls have been issued by the car maker. The recalls are about problems with GM's automatic transmission, and the recall effects about 10,000 SUVs and trucks.

In total, GM is recalling 9,215 models of the 2011 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon.

The transmission problem may cause a car to not shift correctly into "park." As a result, the car may roll away. The problem is that the transmission clip can slip and inaccurately show what transmission the car is in, so while it may look like it's in "park" it might not be.

The car could potentially hit into other vehicles or even a person if they are close by, reports the Detroit Free Press. There have not been any crashes or injuries as a result of this defect.

The defect was found by a worker at the assembly plant, reports Reuters.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports the recall hits around 6,768 cars. GM spokesman Alan Adler says the number is closer to 9,215 because of international sales of the SUVs and trucks, reports the Detroit Free Press.

The second recall involves 891 models of the 2011 Cadillac Escalade, Escalade ESV 1500, Chevy Silverado, Suburban 1500 and Tahoe, GMC Sierra, Yukon and Yukon XL 1500, reports the Detroit Free Press.

The second recall is over loose steering bolts that could result in a complete loss of steering if the joins separate, reports the Detroit Free Press.

GM said it learned of the steering problems after a Suburban was inspected at a dealership after the owner had issues with the steering, reports Reuters.

Notices of recalls will be issued to owners sometime in mid-July.

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A Tylenol recall has been issued for about 60,912 bottles of the drug.

Johnson & Johnson announced the recall this week after reports of a musty or moldy smell that accompanied the drug, reports the Associated Press.

Similar odors have previously been linked to "2,4,6-tribromoanisole" or TBA. TBA is a byproduct of some preservatives that are sometimes used when shipping Tylenol. TBA is also linked to temporary and some other non-serious gastrointestinal problems, the AP reports.

Exposure to TBA can cause a temporary upset stomach.

Tylenol recalls are not uncommon. Since 2009, Johnson & Johnson has issued nearly two dozen recalls for various drugs, including Tylenol and Motrin. The reasons for the recalls have been varied as well, ranging from the presence of contaminants, odors, and other packaging issues, according to the AP.

How do you know if the Tylenol recall affects your bottle? Check the product lot number, which can be found on the bottle's label. The lot number that has been recalled is ABA619300450444271, reports the AP. So far, the recall only affects this one particular lot of Tylenol which was made in February 2009, reports the Boston Globe.

The most recent Tylenol recall, in conjunction with the company's multitude of recalls in recent years, has been a reputational hit against the drug company. It has also cut down on its profit and stock prices, reports the AP.

For more instructions on how to get a refund, call McNeil, Johnson & Johnson's Healthcare Unit, at 1-888-222-6036 or visit their website at www.tylenol.com. Customers may also get a product coupon.

Customers who have Tylenol Extra Strength bottles that are subject to the recall should stop using the pills immediately.

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