Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

August 2011 Archives

The U.S. government has filed suit to stop the merger between wireless carriers AT&T and T-Mobile. The AT&T antitrust lawsuit alleges that if the deal goes through, competition would be substantially lessened in the wireless market.

AT&T is currently the 2nd largest wireless carrier in the U.S., while T-Mobile is the 4th. The merger would essentially make AT&T the largest wireless carrier, reports Bloomberg.

The Justice Department is saying that the merger would result in fewer choices for consumers, lower quality products and higher prices, USA Today reports.

Antitrust laws are used to make companies compete fairly in the open market. U.S. antitrust laws are utilized to combat restraints on trade and are also used to break down monopolies, which are believed to create higher prices for consumers.

The Justice Department says that T-Mobile has been a vital part of the competitive wireless market. T-Mobile was the first to roll out a nationwide high-speed network, according to USA Today. Removal of T-Mobile as a competitor would thus be hurting the economy.

If the $39 billion merger does not go through, T-Mobile could be in serious trouble, reports USA Today. T-Mobile's owner Deutsche Telekom has said that it's not going to invest more into the already-struggling company.

And, if the merger does not go through, AT&T will not be walking away from the table without any losses. Including the fees they'll have to incur if they decide to fight the antitrust lawsuit, they have already promised to give T-Mobile $3 billion in cash and spectrum rights if the deal falls through, USA Today reports.

Will ATT and T-Mobile's merger really be stopped? AT&T's antitrust woes have only begun, as the suit was only recently filed, but there is the possibility that a resolution will be reached between the wireless carrier and the government, according to Bloomberg.

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More and more users are turning to Android smartphones, which might be why there's been a big increase in the amount of Android malware.

The number of malware, or malicious software, that target Android phones have increased 76% since the previous quarter, according to McAfee.

This new statistic means that Android is now the most highly-attacked mobile operating system, according to CNET.

In comparison, Apple's operating system has few malware threats. "Jailbroken"
Apple devices, however, may face a few malware threats.

What can malware do? Malware can infiltrate your phone and make it a target for hackers and it can potentially expose private information stored on your phone.

But, consumers can combat malware.

For example, consumers should try to download applications on their phones only from reputable sources. Of course, malware programs might be available on legitimate sources, like the Android Market, because Android developers have great freedom in posting new applications into the marketplace. But, only downloading from reputable online stores can help curb malware, according to PC Magazine.

And, always install updates to your phone's operating system, reports PC Magazine. Many malware applications function by exploiting weaknesses in the phone's OS. The update might have patched (or fixed) the vulnerabilities.

Consumers should also be wary about using public WiFi spots to access private information. It may be tempting to use open WiFi networks, but unsecured use of public WiFi can open you up to hacking attacks later down the line.

Android smartphone users may not be able to fully safeguard themselves against Android malware. But, taking precautions can significantly reduce your risk.

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Sprint's iPhone 5 Coming in October

It looks like Sprint's iPhone 5 launch will happen sometime in October. This news may be a boon for the 50 million Sprint customers itching to get their hands on an iPhone, but could also mean trouble ahead for Sprint's 3G network.

If Sprint's iPhone 5 happens in mid October, as The Wall Street Journal reports, it will join the ranks of AT&T and Verizon. Both carriers currently carry Apple popular smartphone.

Some may think that having an iPhone as an option will draw in more consumers. While it may appeal to a wider customer base, offering an iPhone may also come with some drawbacks that Sprint customers might want to be aware of. These potential drawbacks would impact not only new Sprint iPhone customers but all Sprint customers in the long run.

One is the effect of iPhones on data plans offered by mobile carriers. AT&T used to offer unlimited data plans. However, unlimited data plans are now ancient history at AT&T. Customers now must purchase data plans that grant specific amounts of bandwidth, and if customers go over their allotted amounts they will incur additional fees.

Similarly, Verizon also used to offer unlimited data plans for its iPhone customers. Now, the mobile carrier is offering a tiered plan like AT&Ts where customers can only use a certain amount of bandwidth. Additional bandwidth usage will also incur more fees.

Sprint currently still has an unlimited data option. But, there's a possibility that the introduction of the iPhone 5 into its ranks will also mean the elimination of unlimited data.

And, smartphones like the iPhone mean a lot more traffic over a carrier's 3G wireless network. Networks can be overloaded or strained, causing slower internet speeds.

Will Sprint's 3G and wireless networks become strained or slow when iPhones roll out? It's anybody's guess, but customers might want to be prepared. Customers who are itching to get a Sprint iPhone 5, however, should start looking forward to October when it's rumored to launch.

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Will Wells Fargo's $3 Debit Card Fee Come to Your Bank?

Wells Fargo's $3 fee may come as a surprise to consumers who rely heavily on their debit card for spending. The monthly debit card fees come in the wake of legislation that caps the amount that banks can get from merchants in the form of "swipe fees."

So far, Wells Fargo plans to implement the new $3 fee in five states: Oregon, New Mexico, Nevada, Georgia and Washington. The bank will be rolling out the fee starting in October.

Customers can avoid paying the fee altogether if they stop using debit cards for purchases, or if they have certain checking accounts, reports the Charlotte Observer.

Though ATM withdrawals will not result in a $3 fee, the debit card fee will be impacting a large number of consumers. A poll last month found that around 2/3 of consumers use their debit cards for purchases more often than their credit cards.

Though, with the addition of fees, these statistics may end up reversed.

The motivation behind the increase in fees is partially due to the limits on "swipe fees" that banks can collect. In 2009, banks collected around $19.7 billion in swipe fees, which will be significantly reduced as a result of the new swipe fee caps, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Banks are now scrambling to find ways to make up for the lost revenue; including ending its debit card rewards programs and charging additional fees to customers. While the Wells Fargo debit card fee is unusual, the bank may soon be joined by others as they start to feel the pinch of lost revenue. Chase is already implementing a $3 monthly debit card fee in Wisconsin, reports the Sacramento Bee.

What can consumers do to stop themselves from getting slammed with fees? Check with your bank to see if you can sign up for a checking account that doesn't require the fee. Or, find alternative ways to pay, such as with cash or credit cards.

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A Target wooden stool recall has been expanded after at least 27 reports of broken stools has left consumers with broken wrists and hips.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced a voluntary recall Tuesday of about 341,000 storage-style step stools. That's on top of 206,000 of the wooden stools that were recalled less than three weeks ago.

Some of the wooden stools have been falling apart under the weight of the user, reports the CPSC.

Of the 27 reports of the stools breaking, the agency said, two adults broke their wrists, and one of them also fractured her hip and pelvis, the AP reports. Another six children and one adult suffered scrapes and bruising.

The stool has two steps and comes in various colors, including natural, natural and red, white, pink, blue and honey. The Circo step stool has a lid on the bottom step that lifts to provide storage. The Do Your Room stool has the same feature on the top step.

The stools, made in China, Vietnam, Taiwan and Thailand, were sold exclusively at Target stores and at Target.com from January 2007 through October 2010 for between $25 and $30.

The CPSC is urging consumers to immediately stop using the stools and return them to any Target for a full refund.

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Brain-Eating Amoebas in Warm Rivers, Lakes Kill 3

Infections from brain-eating amoebas have claimed the life of a third victim. A highly dangerous organism to its human host, the amoebas are typically found in warm fresh water or hot springs. The fresh-water organisms, though rare, result in a 95% mortality rate in its victims.

Most of the cases with the brain-eating amoeba, also known as Naegleria fowleri, occur in children or teenagers, according to CNN.

While the affects of the amoeba on its victims are frightening, there are few known cases of the infection. Between 2001 and 2010, a total of 32 infections were reported in the United States.

Infections commonly occur during the summer, in the months of July, August and September. Southern states are the hardest hit. Warm freshwater lakes and rivers are the most common source of the amoeba, according to the CDC.

The amoeba, once inside its human host, looks for food. The brain is often where it will end up, where the organism will start eating away at the neurons.

Initial symptoms of infection are similar to an infection of bacterial meningitis, including headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting as well as a stiff neck. During its later stages the infection can cause symptoms including confusion, lack of awareness, hallucinations and seizures, reports CNN.

What can the public do to prevent or reduce the risk of an infection by the brain-eating amoeba? First, be aware of the risk when entering into warm, stagnant freshwater. And, if possible, do not take part in water activities in bodies of water that are too warm, untreated, or are poorly-treated.

Since the amoeba usually travels into its human host via the nose, wear nose clips when entering into warm freshwater.

And, avoid digging or stirring up the sediment when in shallow freshwater.

These precautions do not completely eliminate the risk of contracting the brain-eating amoeba. However, it is helpful in reducing the risk of infection from the fresh-water organism.

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What is Gluten-Free? FDA Finally Regulates Gluten Claims

What is Gluten-Free?

A definitive answer to this question appears to be coming soon, with the Food and Drug Administration announcing last week that it plans to regulate gluten-free labeling on food products that contain wheat, rye and barley.

This move is particularly important for those 3 million Americans who have celiac disease, which is when the body's immune system attacks gluten, the protein found in the above-listed grains, causing damage to the small intestine and other health problems.

Others also avoid the protein, as many are gluten-intolerant, or believe that doing so helps with weight loss and increases energy.

The FDA first considered a proposal to regulate gluten-free labels in 2007, but according to Consumer Reports, the agency failed to make a move, allowing manufacturers to create their own standards.

This has resulted in manufacturers using a vast array of measures when defining a product as gluten-free, causing confusion and placing consumers in dangerous situations.

The proposed regulations seek to standardize the term, requiring all products labeled as gluten-free to contain no more than 20 parts per million of the protein, which the Boston Globe reports is the standard currently used in the European Union.

This level is undetectable, and is believed to be safe for celiacs.

As part of its move to regulate gluten-free claims, the FDA is seeking comments from consumers. If you want to chime in on the new regulations, and help the FDA answer the "what is gluten-free?" question, you can do so electronically or by snail mail until October 3, 2011.

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Cargill Turkey Lawsuit Filed over Salmonella in OR

Seeking unspecified damages, a couple in Oregon has filed a turkey lawsuit against Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation alleging that their 10-month-old daughter Ruby Jane Lee consumed the company's Salmonella-laced product back in June.

Ingesting the now-recalled ground turkey, Reuters reports that the girl suffered from diarrhea and a high fever, and eventually had to be hospitalized for a week when the bacteria entered her bloodstream.

The family is seeking compensation for pain and suffering, medical costs, lost wages, and emotional distress.

However, there may be a possibility of punitive damages, as their attorney pointed out that Cargill has had a long history of bacterial contamination and food safety problems, pointing to a larger, more persistent problem.

The same goes for other potential plaintiffs, as this likely won't be the only turkey lawsuit filed against the company.

Cargill voluntarily recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey on August 3 after the USDA finally concluded that its products had been contaminated with an antibiotic-resistant strain of Salmonella, causing some to become sick.

Latest numbers from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that at least 107 people in 31 states have been sickened by the ground turkey, with 1 death occurring in California.

The outbreak has been so widespread as stores in 39 states have sold the ground turkey, which was sold under the Honeysuckle White, Shady Brook Farms, Riverside, Aldi's Fit & Active, Giant Eagle, HEB, Kroger, and Safeway brands.

If you were infected by the contaminated turkey, consider discussing a possible turkey lawsuit with an attorney.

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Cargill Turkey Recall Highlights US Regulatory Problems

The recent Cargill turkey recall over salmonella is surprising not only because of the number of people it has sickened, but also because the government knew about salmonella problems at the plant.

The plant in question, located in Arkansas, has now been linked to the salmonella infections. The recall encompassed around 36 million pounds of ground turkey that was processed in Cargill's Arkansas facility, according to Twin-Cities Business.

The recall was issued this month.

Evidence of contamination in Cargill's ground turkey was found in early March.

But, no recall was issued. This is because according to the regulations set down by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, recalls cannot be issued unless the illness has been linked to the meat, according to Health News.

So, while evidence of salmonella contamination was found in March, nothing could be done. And, it took months for the salmonella to be linked to the ground turkey.

The delay in response to the salmonella outbreak is also surprising considering that a government monitoring system also had evidence of an outbreak. This information was not shared until the recall was issued, according to NPR.

The reason behind the seemingly haphazard response may be the fact that there are dozens of different agencies that oversee food recalls, NPR reports.

And, coordination between these agencies can be difficult. Plus, many federal, state and local health agencies face budget cuts. Ultimately, the less money that go into these state agencies, the less ability they will have to investigate food safety issues.

Even if food recall regulations are changed, with limited funds, it's possible that food recalls will still suffer lengthy delays. This trend could be dangerous, considering the Cargill turkey recall sickened around 107 people nationwide, NPR reports.

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National Beef Recall Over E.Coli Fears

A ground beef recall is affecting more than 60,000 pounds of meat. The beef was supplied by National Beef Packaging Company, and has been sold by Winn-Dixie Stores, Publix Super Markets, and Kroger Co.

The recall was issued after testing at a Department of Agriculture facility revealed E. coli bacteria, reports WebMD.

The E. coli was linked back to National Beef Packaging Company as the sole source of the contamination, according to WebMD.

The beef recall includes ground beef as well as products made from ground beef including meatballs, meat loaf, and beef patties. The states included in the recall are limited to those in the Southeast, according to WebMD.

The recalled beef bears the establishment number "Est. 262" with the USDA inspection mark, according to Reuters. However, some of the beef may have been repackaged and sold under different names in retail stores.

Consumers should take care even if they have not purchased potentially contaminated beef.

In order to help prevent infections, consumers should cook raw beef thoroughly. Beef should be cooked until it reaches a temperature off at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

At restaurants, consumers should also wary of eating beef products that have not been cooked long enough, or are still "pink" in the middle. And, when preparing food, consumers should try to keep raw meat separate from other foods.

E. coli infections can be deadly, and the bacterium is one of the leading causes of food-related illnesses. Illnesses can lead to bloody diarrhea and to kidney failure. Many who suffer only from diarrhea symptoms will make a full recovery.

Anybody who purchased the recalled beef should return the meat to a store for a full refund, reports WebMD. And, those with questions about the beef recall should call National Beef Packaging at (816) 713-8631.

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Sack Lunches for Kids Too Warm, Researchers Say

If you've ever packed your kids a sack lunch, safety is something you've probably thought about. Now experts are weighing in and saying that even if you stick in an ice pack with their brown bag, it's possible that your kid's school lunch is too warm.

A recent study has shown that school lunches often reach dangerously warm temperatures.

The study was conducted by measuring the temperature of food items in about 705 lunches, according to the Los Angeles Times. Researchers measured the temperature of the food about an hour and a half before they were to be served.

What they found was not so delicious: Only about 1.6% of perishable items that the researchers measured were in the "safe" temperature range, according to the Times.

This means that 98.4% of items that were measured were not in a safe temperature range. And, even if you pack in an ice pack, the results are a little stomach-churning. Only 8.2% of items that were packed with multiple ice packs were in a safe temperature zone, the Times reports.

Not all lunches that reach unsafe temperatures will cause food poisoning. However, there is an increased risk that harmful bacteria may grow.

What can parents do to combat the problem? For one, they could opt to pack lunches that won't spoil as easily. Excluding items like dairy and meat might be good for students who don't have access to a refrigerator, according to experts.

Experts also advise parents to put less mayonnaise, or no mayonnaise entirely since it contains eggs and can spoil quickly, reports U.S. News.

Overall, school lunches that are too warm may be dangerous, it's also something that may not necessarily cause any problems. Parents, however, might want to keep sack lunch safety in mind when making their children a meal. After all, prevention is better than having to deal with a case of food poisoning.

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Top 3 Ways to Fix Your Credit Report

Nobody wants to see a credit report error, but if there is a mistake, do you know how to fix your credit report?

Credit reports are important for consumers because the information contained on the report can have a dramatic impact on an individual's daily life. A bad credit report can be a factor in a bank denying you a loan, or could be a reason for a higher interest rate. As a result, it seems almost imperative that consumers should get a copy of their credit report and make sure there aren't any errors.

Tip #1 to Fix Your Credit Report: Obtain your credit report and determine if there are any errors in it. The three credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, are required by law to provide you a copy of your credit report, for free, every 12 months. Requesting your free credit report is the first step to fixing any errors. Check your credit report for any strange accounts or other mistakes you can find.

Tip #2 to Fix Your Credit Report: Write to the credit reporting company. Figure out what you think is inaccurate and include documentation to support your position. You should also, in writing, request that the errors be removed. Usually, the credit reporting agency will then investigate the claim and respond in writing. If they decide that the errors are legitimate, they may take the error off your report. The credit reporting company that investigates the claim will then update the other two companies. And, you can request the credit reporting agency to send updates to anybody who received your credit report in recent months.

Tip #3 to Fix Your Credit Report: Write to the creditor. Alternatively, you could write to the creditor that you are in dispute with. Similarly, enclosing documents or other supporting materials that support your position would be helpful. The creditor could then contact the credit reporting company if the information is found to be incorrect, and the credit reporting company may not report this information again.

Knowing how to fix your credit report when there has been a credit report error is vital. It can mean the difference between being able to afford a loan or not - so make sure to keep track of your credit score. And, if you believe errors in your report are a result of a scam or other illegal activity, consult a consumer protection attorney to see if any legal remedies are available to you.

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Can I Sue My Gym for Getting Me Sick?

Because bacteria, fungi, and viruses thrive in wet areas, gyms are undoubtedly a hot bed of infection, exposing patrons to a variety of ailments, such as athlete's foot and MRSA infections, on a consistent basis.

When pools and showers go unwashed, and cardio machines and weights are skipped during a wipe down, the problem festers, creating a greater risk of injury.

Unfortunately, this lack of care seems to be a problem at many gyms across the nation. And unfortunately, you likely can't even sue a gym for letting it happen.

This is because most gym memberships come with a release of liability, with you agreeing not to hold the gym responsible for its negligent behavior.

So while a gym has a duty to keep the premises safe, which arguably includes ensuring that viruses and bacteria don't propagate, you can't sue them for injuries caused by their failure to fulfill this responsibility.

The main exception to this is if you can prove your gym was grossly negligent at maintaining sanitary conditions, as the law does not allow parties to contract out of liability for gross negligence.

However, this is a high burden to meet.

Even though you likely can't sue a gym for causing a MRSA infection, you may be able to ensure that it doesn't happen again.

In many counties, gyms and health spas are regulated by local health ordinances, requiring the facility to be cleaned and disinfected a certain amount of times per day.

Additionally, those with pools must adhere to local and state laws detailing disinfection and other health standards.

So while you can't sue a gym for a MRSA infection or a fungal outbreak, you can report it to local health authorities, who will investigate the situation.

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A Honda recall of 2.5 million cars (some 1.5 million in the U.S.) will affect small SUVs and minivans worldwide, including its popular Accord sedan, to repair a software problem that could damage the automatic transmission.

Honda's recall includes 1.5 million vehicles in the United States, about 760,000 in China and 135,142 in Canada, the automaker said on Friday. This week, Consumer Reports said it was not recommending the 2012 Honda Civic. This led some industry analysts to ask if that was a symptom of larger problems at the automaker, Reuters reports.

The company has said it disagreed with the influential U.S. consumer advocate's assessment.

Chris Martin, Honda spokesman at the company's U.S. headquarters in California, said on Friday the recall was not a sign of deeper difficulties, but instead stemmed from "extremely unusual circumstances."

"The far majority of our consumers would never really encounter this," he told Reuters. "It's software programming. It's not a weakness in the transmission per se."

Jesse Toprak, an analyst with TrueCar.com, said Honda should easily recover from the massive recall.

"The actual problem and the potential consequences of it are really not significant," said Toprak. "It can affect the performance of your transmission only if you are stuck in mud or snow and you are rocking back and forth very quickly between gears, and the transmission software can't keep up and you can potentially damage the transmission."

He said that, after Toyota recalled more than 14 million vehicles worldwide starting in 2009, "automakers have been so paranoid" about explaining a recall. Before the Toyota recalls, Toprak said automakers tried to hide recalls by fixing any problem with internal bulletins to auto dealer service departments.

Time will tell if this Honda recall will affect sales in the U.S. Through July, Honda auto sales were down 2.6 percent in the U.S. market, in large part because of the supply crisis caused by the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

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Even government agencies are making smartphone “apps” now. The FBI’s iPhone app, Child ID, was released last week.

What’s the purpose of the FBI’s new application?

It’s exactly what the title implies. Child ID will allow parents to store information on their children such as height, weight, gender, date of birth, hair and eye color and whether or not they have piercings. The application will also allow parents to store a child’s photos.

The application is meant to help parents and law enforcement if tragedy strikes and a child goes missing.

The stored information on the iPhone application can easily be e-mailed to law enforcement with just a few clicks, according to the application’s description. None of the information stored onto the application will be transmitted unless the user chooses to do so, The Daily Mail reports.

Much of the application seems to echo the advice of what the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children advises parents to do if their child goes missing. Specifically, parents should call their local law enforcement agency and provide them with information about their children including their physical description and what they were wearing when they went missing.

About 800,000 children go missing in the U.S. every year, which accounts to more than 2,000 children a day, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

While parents can try to be as vigilant as possible when keeping track of their children, sometimes it’s impossible to prevent something from happening.

And, if something terrible does happen, and your child goes missing, maybe Child ID, the FBI iPhone app, can at least prove useful. For parents who are going through a stressful missing child episode, maybe having all the information down in an easily accessible medium can aid law enforcement.

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Is Your DSL Internet Connection Slower Than Advertised?

If slow DSL is the bane of your existence, according to a new study conducted by the Federal Communications Commission, you are not alone.

To help consumers make an informed decision when choosing a broadband internet provider, the Commission conducted the first nationwide performance study of residential broadband services, focusing on the 13 largest providers.

The results are not exactly that surprising.

On average, during peak usage periods, DSL services only provided 82% of advertised download speeds, with cable internet services delivering 93%, and fiber services boasting 114% of advertised speeds.

All types of internet services performed better on upload speeds during peak periods, with DSL at 95% of advertised speeds, cable internet at 108%, and fiber services at 112%.

The study also showed that performance numbers vary within a provider depending on the plan a consumer has purchased.

For example, AT&T was at 78% of advertised speeds for those who purchased connections of 768 Kbps, but jumped to 92% for those who purchased plans of 24 Mbps.

Now that you have proof of your slow DSL, can you do anything about it?

Internet service providers have taken to advertising speeds in an "up to" manner, meaning that they aren't promising you 24 Mbps every moment your internet is in use. As long as they can provide you with something close to that speed at least some of the time, then there are likely no laws being broken.

So unless you choose a different provider or a higher plan, you're stuck with slow DSL.

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Is there salmonella in your ground turkey? A months-long salmonella outbreak seems to be tied to the ground meat.

Government officials are still searching for the underlying cause of the outbreak. So far, it has inflicted 76 people will illness and has killed a Californian resident. 26 states have been affected by the outbreak of antibiotic-resistant salmonella.

Geographically, the salmonella outbreak is widespread, with cases from California to North Carolina and New York, to name a few states.

The outbreak has been moving along since March, reports CBS News. The CDC said that some samples of ground turkey taken from supermarkets between March and June showed that there were strains of salmonella, but these strains have not been matched to the illnesses that have stricken Americans.

USDA rules make it difficult for salmonella-related recalls in poultry products since the bacteria is common in chickens, turkeys and the like. Officials must find a direct link between the salmonella bacteria and the manufacturer or producer of the poultry, and having salmonella in poultry itself is not illegal, according to CBS News.

Salmonella infections and illnesses usually occur around 12 to 72 hours after infection, and most will recover from the illness. Common symptoms can include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. The elderly, young children and those with impaired immune symptoms have more of a risk of suffering from severe illnesses.

What can consumers do to help prevent salmonella infections? Don't eat raw or undercooked meats. Try to make sure your poultry is well-cooked, with no pink in the middle. And, make sure that raw products do not contaminate other products, and wash your hands and kitchen utensils thoroughly after handling raw meats.

While these measures may not completely eliminate risks, it can help reduce the chances of a salmonella outbreak affecting you or your family. And, consumers might want to take extra caution if they decide to purchase poultry products, as there may be salmonella in your ground turkey.

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Some of the patents for many of America's best-selling drugs will be expiring, meaning that cheaper generic options may soon be available. Generic Lipitor and generic Plavix might translate to millions of dollars of savings for consumers.

Many of these drugs' patents will be expiring toward the end of 2012.

About 15% of Americans take one or more of the drugs whose patents are going to expire. Besides Lipitor and Plavix, about 18 other drugs' patents will be expiring, reports the AP.

And, over the next decade, about 120 brand-name drugs will have their patents expire, which will likely flood the market with generic alternatives.

Typically, generic drugs generally cost about 20-80% less than their brand-name counterparts, a steep price difference that can mean lower costs and the ability to afford medication for those who are more hard-strapped for cash or who don't have insurance.

Doctors are hoping that the cheaper medications will also help with the overall health of the population, as patients who might skip medication because of the high costs might be encouraged to take them instead of risking their health, the AP reports.

Patients should expect, however, for the brand-name prices to increase before the generics appear on the market. Typically, drug companies tend to raise the prices on the medicine in the years before the patent expires in order to cash in, reports Time. Some drug companies even hammer out deals with generic drug manufacturers in order to get a cut of generic drug sales.

So while generic Lipitor and generic Plavix is not available yet, consumers should be aware of the possible changes - and savings coming their way.

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Goodbye Birth Control Co-Pays: Insurance Must Pay Up

Under new guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, birth control co-pays will be a thing of the past come next year.

As part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) passed in March 2010, health insurance providers are responsible for covering the entirety of evidence-based preventative care services as dictated by the government.

A panel of experts from the Institute of Medicine, which advises the government, explained last month that preventing "unintended pregnancies is essential for the psychological, emotional and physical health of women," reports the Associated Press.

Additionally, contraception is useful because it allows women to increase the amount of time between pregnancies, according to the report. Pregnancies too close together impact the health of both woman and child, increasing the risk of prematurity and autism.

As well as eliminating birth control co-pays, the new regulations require health insurance companies to cover yearly "well-woman" physicals, STD screenings, domestic violence counseling, breast feeding support (including pumps), and testing for gestational diabetes.

Insurance companies will also be required to pay for the morning after pill, but not RU-486, also nicknamed the "abortion pill." In the same vein, they will not be forced to pay for abortions, but will be required to cover the complete cost of sterilization.

Anyone who purchases a new insurance plan after August 1, 2012 will be immediately subject to these guidelines, while those who are members of existing plans will still have to make birth control co-pays for a few more years.

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Lower Lead Limit for Children's Toys Approved

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The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has voted to require producers, importers, sellers, and distributors to lower the level of lead in toys, furniture, and other items intended for children under the age of 12.

As part of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, a response to dozens of recalls of lead-tainted children's toys and items, the Commission has been tasked with gradually lowering the allowable amount of lead to 100 parts per million, reports OMB Watch.

The threshold level of 100ppm was to be implemented by the end of August 2011 if found to be technologically feasible.

With a number of products meeting this standard, OMB Watch reports that a majority of the Commission felt that all manufacturers will be able to lower lead in toys after August 14.

However, third-party testing requirements have been put on hold until the end of the year.

Even though lead levels have been slowly reduced since 2008, lead can still be found in a variety of products, including paint and furniture, as well as in soil, water and dust.

Because of the devastating health risks associated with lead ingestion by minors, authorities suggest testing young children for lead, reports The Daily News Online. They also suggest that, in order to help protect against exposure, parents wash hands and toys often, and damp-dust homes frequently.

It is also wise to keep an eye on the list of lead-in-toys recalls so that you can remove any items from your home as quickly as possible.

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What is a Lemon Law?

To protect car buyers from purchasing subpar vehicles, most states have enacted consumer protection statutes known as lemon laws. "What is a lemon law?" you may ask.

Whether a new car lemon law or a used car lemon law, lemon laws give buyers recourse when they purchase an unfixable car.

However, just because you think you're entitled to a new car, it doesn't mean you legally must be provided with one.

Though they vary by state, most new car lemon laws require that a vehicle:

  1. have a "substantial defect" that occurs within a certain time of purchase
  2. maintain that defect after a "reasonable number of repairs"

A substantial defect is usually defined as a problem affecting a serious function of the car that is also covered by the car's warranty. A reasonable number of repair attempts is usually around 4, though some states consider number of days a car is with a mechanic.

For those in states with used car lemon laws, they work differently than those that apply to new cars. Depending on age and mileage, they tend to provide a statutory warranty for used cars that requires dealers to repair and replace if necessary.

Some states also have statutes protecting used car buyers by requiring disclosures and providing for implied warranties. These, however, are more difficult to enforce.

Whether you need to rely on a new car lemon law or a used car lemon law, you're likely to run into problems with your dealer. If this occurs, it's often prudent to hire an attorney to give them a little push.

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