Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

July 2013 Archives

Bagged Salad Linked to Cyclospora Outbreak

Health officials in Iowa and Nebraska have identified bagged salad mix as the source of a Cyclospora outbreak. However, federal authorities say it’s not clear whether Cyclospora outbreaks elsewhere in the United States are also linked to bagged salads.

Cyclospora is a rare parasite that causes lengthy gastrointestinal illness and other flu-like symptoms. Outbreaks of the illness have sickened scores of people in Iowa, Nebraska, and beyond, reports CNN.

Nationwide Outbreak

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 372 cases of the Cyclospora infection have been reported in 15 states: Iowa, Texas, Nebraska, Florida, Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, New Jersey and Ohio, according to Food Poison Journal.

Most of the illness onset dates have ranged from mid-June to early July. At least 21 people have been hospitalized in three states.

Victims may be able to file a food poisoning lawsuit in order to seek damages for medical expenses, lost income, as well as pain and suffering. In some extreme situations, victims may also be able to seek compensation for emotional distress.

But to file a successful lawsuit, it is essential to first determine the cause of the outbreak. Unfortunately for victims, state health departments are still working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the CDC to pinpoint a cause.

Iowa, Nebraska Hardest Hit

Still, the Cyclospora outbreak has hit Iowa and Nebraska especially hard. More than 178 people have fallen ill in these states since last month, reports CNN.

Authorities in both states believe a bagged blend of iceberg and romaine lettuce, red cabbage, and carrots is to blame.

Nebraska's tainted products came through national distribution channels. Though sellers anywhere within the salad mix distribution chain could face liability for food poisoning injuries, it has yet to be determined where the product was sold or under what brand name.

If you're in Iowa, don't trash your salad mix and opt for the Atkins diet just yet. The tainted product is apparently no longer on grocers' shelves and is no longer in the state's food supply chain, according to the head of Iowa's food and consumer safety bureau.

If you think you may be a victim of the Cyclospora outbreak, you may want to call an attorney and see if you can get compensation for your injuries.

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After Royal Baby, Social Media Scams Are Born

With the exciting news of the royal baby and the worldwide buzz of events leading up to the birth, George Alexander Louis was not all that was born -- social media scams were as well.

According to the Better Business Bureau, users should beware of royal baby scams online, especially on Facebook or Twitter. Of course, these scams are not limited to just those sites, and they can just as easily be circulated through email.

How does the scams work, exactly? If you are browsing your feed on a social media site, for example, and you see that one of your friends links to or has liked an "exclusive" video of the new royal baby, you might be tempted to then click on it.

After clicking, however, you won't be led to the advertised footage, but instead a third-party website that may request that you update your video player by clicking first on another link.

After you click on that link, the website may start automatically downloading a virus or software onto your computer. This can then lead to your banking and other personal information being scanned and stolen from you.

What can you do to protect yourself from being scammed? Here are a few tips:

  • Don't trust sources you don't recognize. If you see an ad for a link on the side of your Facebook page advertising some "exclusive" video, it's probably too good to be true. Always be wary of especially tempting bait, like exclusive material, coming from sources you don't know personally.
  • Even if the links come from trusted friends and family, err on the side of caution. Is this friend or family member the type of person to usually post these "exclusive" links? If not, it's better to be safe than sorry. Ask your friend or loved one directly first if their link is legitimate or not before you click it.
  • Find out what the actual URL is. If you can, try hovering over the link, or right-clicking on it to find out the actual destination that you'll be taken to. If it's a trusted source (a reliable news site, for example), then it's probably OK to click it. If it looks at all suspect, don't.
  • In general, comb your computer for viruses. Make sure that you take the usual precautionary measures even if there isn't a new member of the royal family on its way (or, in this case, has arrived already). This includes acts like frequently updating your passwords and regularly running virus scans on your computer to keep the material and protective measures fresh.

To learn more about keeping yourself safe on the Internet, check out FindLaw's comprehensive section on Online Scams.

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More than 400,000 Baby Einstein Musical Motion Activity Jumpers are being recalled over a hazard that's led to dozens of infant injuries.

At least 60 small children have been hurt, including a 7-month-old boy who suffered a skull fracture from using the baby activity seat. One adult was also injured, suffering a chipped tooth.

The problem lies in an attachment toy that looks like a "sun," the Consumer Products Safety Commission explained in a recall notice.

The "sun" toy is one of many toys attached to the baby activity seat. It's on a flexible stalk that "can rebound with force and injure the infant, posing an impact hazard," the CPSC reports.

The recall only affects Baby Einstein Musical Motion Activity Jumpers with model number 90564, which can be found on a tag underneath the seat. The recalled jumpers were manufactured before November 2011; owners can tell by looking for a "date code" sewn into the back of the blue seat pad.

The CPSC lists 20 specific "date codes" included in this baby seat recall. They are: OD0, OE0, OF0, OG0, OH0, OI0, OJ0, OK0, OL0, OA1, OB1, OC1, OD1, OE1, OF1, OG1, OH1, OI1, OJ1 and OK1.

Consumers who've purchased Baby Einstein Musical Motion Activity Jumpers can contact the manufacturer, Atlanta-based Kids II, toll-free at (877) 325-7056, or head to the company's website, www.kidsii.com. The company plans to issue replacement toy attachments.

As for those hurt by the product, they may want to consider consulting a products liability lawyer to help get compensation for medical bills and other expenses related to their (or their children's) injuries.

One potential legal route would be to sue under a theory of strict liability, alleging that an unreasonably dangerous defect caused injury. In such cases, plaintiffs must generally show the product was being used properly and that the product had not been substantially changed from the condition in which it was sold.

Keep in mind, however, that each state sets different time limits for bringing product liability lawsuits. Check out this list for the statute of limitations in your state.

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Mark your calendars: A "tax-free weekend" is coming soon to many states. But not all states, and not all types of purchases, are included in this temporary reprieve from state sales taxes.

Nationwide, 17 states are taking part in some sort of state sales tax holiday this year, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators (FTA) which works with tax-collection agencies in all 50 states.

In fact, eight of those states have set aside more than one weekend as "tax-free weekends" this year, with each covering different types of seasonal purchases.

With many states' "tax-free weekends" falling in August, back-to-school shopping is the main focus. But note that each state sets its own rules as to which exact items can be purchased tax-free. Most also set a maximum amount for "tax-free" purchases.

Here are the states with "tax-free weekends" coming up in July and August, according to the FTA:

July 26-27, 2013:

August 2-3, 2013:

August 2-4, 2013:

August 3-4, 2013:

August 9-10, 2013:

August 9-11, 2013:

August 11-17, 2013:

August 18-24, 2013:

Because each state's "tax-free weekend" is different, you'll want to check with each state's tax division (see links above) to see exactly how the "holiday" works before you make a special trip across state lines to do your back-to-school shopping.

Of course, four U.S. states don't need "tax-free weekends" because they don't have state sales taxes at all. Those states are Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon, according to The Christian Science Monitor.

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5 Reasons to Get Flight Insurance

In an age where checked bags are rarely free, flight insurance seems like one of those superfluous added costs that airlines try to shoehorn onto tickets.

But despite a completely valid suspicion about added costs, flight insurance can be a really smart investment, and it can pay off for passengers.

Consider these five scenarios in which flight insurance can come in handy:

1. Trip Cancellation.

Airlines understand that travelers often have to cancel their flights for unexpected reasons, but they tend to be somewhat mercenary in charging cancellation fees.

A discount-rate ticket or one purchased through a discount travel site generally has an inflexible cancellation policy, one that can be mitigated by purchasing travel insurance.

Most basic flight insurance plans will cover last-minute cancellations due to family member illness, injuries, or even political unrest.

2. Flight Life Insurance.

As relatives of victims from any tragic plane crash know, there are potential dangers to health and life when stepping on a plane.

In the event of a flight passenger's death, she may already have life insurance through her employer or individual policy. But flight life insurance can often pay up to $1 million to a passenger's beneficiaries, at a cost of less than $100 per passenger.

3. Lost Baggage.

If your baggage is lost during a trip, flight insurance can often pay for you to buy necessary replacement items like clothing or even prescription medications.

4. Trip Interruption.

Vacations can often be cut short due to inclement weather, unexpected injuries and illnesses, or even a cruise liner losing power.

Many flight insurance plans will cover the costs for returning early due to an unexpected event, and may even supplement existing health insurance in the event of an injury.

5. Stolen Passports.

Having a passport stolen is a nightmare for any international traveler, but some flight insurance policies will cover a replacement.

Ultimately, passengers should base their insurance needs around their expectations for travel, making flight insurance a better buy for international or cross-country flights and not for commuter flights.

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Looking to avoid a speeding ticket? Aren't we all. Speeding is one of the most common (and easiest) traffic violations to commit.

Before you rev up for that summer road trip, though, consider these seven ways to (potentially) avoid getting pulled over:

  1. Watch for speed cameras. Instead of a real-life police officer pulling you over, there may be cameras that record your speed, snapping a picture of your license plate and then mailing you your ticket. While many judges have been dismissing these tickets, and others have ordered the cameras unplugged altogether, you should still watch out for them.
  2. Watch for common speed trap locations. The police often like to set up camp in certain spots, like at the bottom of hills, at the end of off-ramps, or inconspicuously behind signs. So keep your foot close to the brake pedal if you approach of these common hiding spots.
  3. Use radar detectors -- if they're legal where you're going. Radar detectors are an easy way to figure out where and when police are using radar guns on the road. There may even be radar detector apps available for your smartphone. However, before you invest in (or download) one, keep in mind that some states prohibit their use.
  4. Don't confuse radar detectors with radar jammers. A radar jammer actually blocks the signal from a police radar gun from monitoring your car as it passes. Using a radar jammer, however, is considered a federal offense. These devices are also illegal in some states, meaning that even if you aren't on a federal highway, you could still be in trouble. So while they probably would work in avoiding speeding tickets, it's in your best interest to not use them at all.
  5. Download a police scanner app -- if it's OK in your jurisdiction. While police scanner apps are cool to listen to at home if you want to know about any (alleged) criminal activity afoot, they can also potentially help you figure out where cops may be patroling for speeders. However, while listening at home is fine, using it in your car may be a different story. Make sure you check your state's laws about using police scanners while driving before you decide to turn to this method.
  6. Don't draw attention to your car. The more attention you draw to your car, the more likely that attention will place you on a police officer's radar. Even though you may not necessarily be speeding, you'll still want to avoid rousing suspicion by committing reckless acts. Things like swerving wildly, flashing your lights frequently, and changing lanes far too often can send the wrong signal.
  7. Just don't speed! The only foolproof way to avoid a speeding ticket is if you, well, just don't speed! While it may be tempting to go just 5 mph above the limit, remember that anything over the limit can be enough cause for a speeding ticket, which often comes with costly fines.

Even if you do end up getting a speeding ticket, it's not the end of the road. Traffic tickets can often be challenged in court for a variety of reasons. An experienced traffic ticket attorney will be able to help map out your best course of action.

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