Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

August 2013 Archives

New Tylenol Warnings Aim to Prevent Overdoses

A new Tylenol warning will be placed on pill bottles, cautioning consumers in bright red letters that the product "CONTAINS ACETAMINOPHEN. ALWAYS READ THE LABEL."

Tylenol's parent company, Johnson & Johnson, hopes the new warning on bottle caps will raise awareness and help reduce the number of accidental acetaminophen overdoses that occur every year, reports CNN.

The new warnings are set to show up on bottles of Extra Strength Tylenol in October. Warnings are planned for other varieties of Tylenol as well.

Acetaminophen Overdoses Are Common

"Acetaminophen overdose is one of the most common poisonings worldwide," according to the National Institutes of Health.

Overdoses from acetaminophen send 55,000 to 80,000 people to U.S. emergency rooms each year, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. At least 500 deaths are attributed to acetaminophen overdoses every year.

Taking too much acetaminophen can cause severe liver damage and sudden liver failure. The risk of liver failure increases when you take the medication on an empty stomach, with alcohol or in greater amounts than directed.

Overdose Lawsuits

In all likelihood, the new warning label isn't being introduced out of the kindness of Johnson & Johnson's heart, but in an attempt to shield the company from liability.

McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the Johnson & Johnson unit that makes Tylenol, is in the midst of more than 85 personal injury lawsuits in federal court that blame Tylenol for liver injuries and deaths, according to The AP.

Consumers can file product liability lawsuits for marketing defects such as improper labeling of products, insufficient instructions, or the failure to warn consumers of a product's hidden dangers.

Here, the concern is that consumers didn't have fair warning of the liver damage risks associated with taking more than the recommended amount.

Always Read the Label

Most experts agree that acetaminophen is safe when used as directed, which generally means 4,000 milligrams a day, or a maximum of eight pills of Extra Strength Tylenol. That's the FDA's limit for adults, so follow it.

An FDA advisory panel is drafting long-awaited safety proposals that may heavily restrict the use of Tylenol and other acetaminophen products.

So before you pop another Extra Strength Tylenol for your aches and pains, keep the warning in mind and use the product only as directed.

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Top 10 ‘Safest Driving Cities’ in America Revealed

What are the safest driving cities in the country? Insurance carrier Allstate has the answer to that, in a recently released report.

The annual "America's Best Drivers Report" is based on Allstate claims data from 200 cities. The report looks at car crashes to determine which cities in America have the safest drivers. This is based on the number of car collisions and average number of years between collisions, among other factors.

So what are the Top 10 safest driving cities in America? Allstate says drivers are in relatively good hands in:

  1. Fort Collins, Colorado, where drivers are 28.2 percent less likely to get in a crash compared to the national average. Allstate reports an avergae of 13.9 years between collisions.
  2. Boise, Idaho, where drivers are 28 percent less likely less likely to crash compared to the national average. Boise drivers also report an average of 13.9 years between collisions.
  3. Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where drivers are 21.8 percent less likely to crash, with 12.8 average years between collisions.
  4. Brownsville, Texas, where drivers are 21.1 percent less likely to crash, with 12.7 average years between collisions.
  5. Madison, Wisconsin, where drivers are 20.3 percent less likely to crash, with 12.5 average years between collisions.
  6. Reno, Nevada, where drivers are 20.2 percent less likely to crash, with 12.5 average years between collisions.
  7. Huntsville, Alabama, where drivers are 20.1 percent less likely to crash, with 12.5 average years between collisions.
  8. Visalia, California, where drivers are 18.5 percent less likely to crash, with 12.3 average years between collisions.
  9. Montgomery, Alabama, where drivers are 16.3 percent less likely to crash, with 11.9 average years between collisions.
  10. Eugene, Oregon, where drivers are 16.2 percent less likely to crash, with 11.9 average years between collisions.

Even if you live in one of these cities, remember to always be safe while out there on the road. If you've unfortunately been involved in a collision, remember that there are some first steps you'll want to take at the scene. After that, it may be best to call an experienced car accident lawyer near you.

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Your Facebook Friends May Affect Your Credit Score

From FICO to Facebook, some lending institutions are turning to social media to assess your credit score. If you have a tough time accessing credit or don't have a credit score, you should take into account that a number of lending companies are using your online activity as an indicator of your creditworthiness.

But the practice is raising legal concerns.

Social Data

Lenddo is a Hong Kong-based micro-lender on the forefront of factoring in social media data into its lending decisions, reports CNN Money.

Companies like Lenddo use social behavior, information from your community, and data related to your online purchases to provide a more accurate representation of your creditworthiness.

Taking the old adage of "you are the company you keep" to unsettling new levels, if one of your friends has a bad track record, that doesn't bode well for you.

Invasion of Privacy

The overarching concern is online consumer privacy, of course.

For example, a German company called Kreditech determines your location and considers creditworthiness based on whether your computer is located where you said you live or work, reports CNN Money.

Meanwhile, Lenddo reserves the right to e-publicly shame you to your friends and family when you fall behind on your payments.

Albeit creepy, since these companies disclose the invasive practices and get consent from potential borrowers, the companies may be in the legal clear with valid contractual agreements.

Discrimination

Another concern with banks using social media is the potential for credit and lending discrimination.

If banks take into account social media, they could gather information they aren’t legally allowed to ask for on a credit application -- including race, marital status and receipt of public assistance -- or worse, redline low-income groups and communities.

Dislike and De-Friend

A major issue with this model is that we aren't really friends with all of our Facebook cohorts.

Does an occasional poke or "Happy Birthday! <|:-)" merit you and your friends' financial histories -- and futures -- being intertwined? No. But whether you "Like" it or not, this is becoming a reality.

So it may be best to prune your friends list and think long and hard about that really nice friend of yours who fell behind on his car payments when he was unemployed.

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10 Simple Ways to Prevent Identity Theft

Don't think identity theft is a "real" issue? Well, 12.6 million Americans were ID theft victims last year alone. Identity theft is a harsh reality that is not going away anytime soon.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent identity theft from happening to you:

  1. Only make purchases on secure websites. Credit card fraud is the most common type of identity theft. For online purchases, stick with well-known retailers or smaller sites that use PayPal or Google Checkout.
  2. Check your credit report. Your credit report will give you an idea of your ID security. It will also let you see whether someone has opened new accounts under your name.
  3. Learn how to spot phishing scams. Phishing scams work by pretending to be a site you trust. Check the URL before clicking the link in an email or on a site, and make sure you aren't being asked for sensitive information that seems out of the ordinary.
  4. Install spam-filtering software. A good spam filter can remove junk email that creeps into your inbox, spam messages that can make you (and your identity) vulnerable to phishing and viruses (like Trojan horses) that can compromise your computer's security.
  5. Don't double-dip passwords. Make sure you have a different password for each of your online accounts -- and change them frequently.
  6. Take telephone precautions. Never provide personal information over the phone if you didn't initiate the call -- especially calls that promise an extravagant vacation.
  7. Recognize "familiar fraud." Keep your SSN and other information to yourself because even people you know and trust can misuse your personal information.
  8. Secure your network. If you don't set a password, anyone can join your wireless network. You wouldn't invite a stranger into your home, right? The same goes for your wireless network.
  9. Protect your trash. Before you toss credit card offers, ATM receipts, bank statements, and other mail containing personal information, shred it. It's a security measure and a stress reliever. Win-win.
  10. Use common sense. Many victims of identity theft fall for deals and offers that sound too good to be true. Be realistic. Your peace of mind (and wallet) will thank you in the end.

For more help, check out FindLaw's free miniguide on online fraud and identity theft.

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Iams, Eukanuba Pet Foods Recalled Over Salmonella Fears

Procter & Gamble has recalled close to 30 varieties of dry pet food under the Iams and Eukanuba brands due to potential Salmonella contamination.

The Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers that pups and cats aren't the only ones at risk. Humans can fall sick from the product if they don't wash their hands thoroughly or clean surfaces exposed to the tainted food.

Photos of the affected products are available here.

Salmonella Poisoning

Procter & Gamble issued a voluntary recall after it discovered the Salmonella contamination during routine testing. Only dry food products in specific lots distributed in the United States during a 10-day period are affected, according to the FDA.

Salmonella can directly affect both pets and their human owners handling contaminated products, resulting in similar symptoms for both the animals and humans, including fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea.

While the illness typically passes within a week, there are often severe cases of the infection that require antibiotic treatments. In these more critical instances, improper treatment can result in death, especially for infants, those with impaired immune systems, and the elderly.

Salmonella can also lead to more serious illnesses, including arterial infections, endocarditis, arthritis, muscle pain, eye irritation and issues with the urinary tract.

Potential Lawsuits

Thus far, no Salmonella-related illnesses have been reported. But if injuries surface in the coming weeks, they may be entitled to recall remedies.

Several parties can potentially be held liable for causing injuries. For example, anyone in the chain of production and distribution -- including the merchant who sold the product to the consumer -- can be named in a lawsuit, depending on the circumstances. In this case, that may include Procter & Gamble, retailers, and the processor of the food.

Pet owners who have purchased one of the recalled products should throw it out and contact P&G at (800) 208-0172 (Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time), or online at www.iams.com or www.eukanuba.com.

If you or your pet has been sickened by the tainted pet food, an experienced products liability lawyer can help you figure out your legal options.

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Brain-Eating Amoeba Warning Issued in Florida

A brain eating amoeba warning has been issued by Florida health officials after a 12-year-old boy contracted a potentially lethal form of amebic meningitis, caused by a rare parasite called Naegleria fowleri.

The boy was playing in a water-filled ditch near his home, reports United Press International. ??It's the latest brain-eating amoeba case in recent weeks; in a separate incident last month, a 12-year-old boy in Arkansas? contracted primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) after swimming at a water park.

Naegleria fowleri

Naegleria fowleri, or the "brain-eating" amoeba, is commonly found in warm freshwater (like lakes, rivers and hot springs) and soil. In very rare instances, Naegleria infections may also occur from other contaminated water sources (such as inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water or heated and contaminated tap water), according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Most Naegleria cases occur in children or teenagers. The parasite usually infects people when contaminated water enters the body through the nose.

Through 2012, the survival rates have been grim. There were 128 known cases of Naegleria-caused infections, and just two survivors. The infection typically presents itself within seven days and can be fatal within 12 days, reports UPI.

Fortunately, the 12-year-old in Arkansas has responded positively to an experimental anti-amoeba drug called Impavido. There is hope that the recovery of the two 12-year-olds infected this summer will double the survival rate.

Potential Liability

If the Florida boy contracted PAM from a neighbor's ditch, then his parents could potentially sue for negligence. They would need to prove that the neighbor somehow breached a duty of ordinary care.

Whoever owned the ditch could be on the hook based on premises liability if he knew the ditch was a dangerous condition that is especially risky for children, but failed to fix it. However, liability may be tricky to establish because it may not have been foreseeable that the boy would contract a life-threatening pathogen from an open ditch.

Symptoms to Look For

Keep an eye out for symptoms that resemble bacterial meningitis, including: headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting as well as a stiff neck. During its later stages the infection can cause symptoms including oversleeping, confusion, lack of awareness, hallucinations, and seizures, reports CNN.

If your child exhibits these symptoms and behaves abnormally, seek medical help immediately.

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Baby Monitor Hacked: 4 Simple Steps to Prevent It

Two parents in Texas learned the hard way that baby monitors can get hacked. They heard a creepy voice calling out to their sleeping 2-year-old daughter.

The hacker cursed and said sexually explicit things to the child, and even called her by her name. He also took control of the camera and could see into her room, reports CBS News.

The Texas parents didn't call the cops, and the hacker hasn't been located. But for parents who use baby monitors, there are some simple steps you can take to try to keep creepers at bay. For example:

  • Set a wireless network password. If a password isn't set, anyone can join your wireless network. Cracking into webcams is similar to breaking into a website. If a password "is not set, or is weak, the website that is used to manage the device can be compromised," a security specialist told CBS News.
  • Use WPA2. Use Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) to set up a password. WPA2 has strong encryption standards, making it more difficult for hackers to compromise. A WPA2 in conjunction with a good password is golden.
  • Create a unique password. Think "QWERTY" is special? Well, it's not, and neither is "password" or "12345!" A strong password is long and contains numbers, upper-and-lower case letters, and $pec!@l ch@r@cter$.
  • Change your password. Even a strong unique password can be compromised. Another important precaution to take is to change your password every so often. Changing a password every 90 days is pretty standard.

Calm Down, Parents

Take this incident as a teachable moment on using passwords, but don't get paranoid. Baby monitor hijacking is a rarity and happens on a "slim-to-none" basis, according to The Christian Science Monitor.

If your child is one of the very, very few to fall victim to a monitor hack and be harmed by it, only then should you call the police or speak to an attorney.

But for the rest of you, know that millions of monitors have been sold, in addition to webcams used as makeshift monitors. Yet they haven't been making headlines because no serious hacking danger accompanies using them.

This incident will certainly give fodder to newbie parents who take worrying about their babes to unprecedented heights -- Can you even imagine the shot nerves of a technophobic new parent?! -- but you must resist the urge to overreact.

SIDS -- now that's something to really worry about.

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Hurricane Season: 5 Legal Tips to Prepare

Hurricane season is rapidly blowing in, so some legal tips may be handy right about now.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in its annual hurricane season forecast, has stated that it expects between six to nine hurricanes, with the forecast calling for three to five of those to be major hurricanes.

So, while your windows and shutters may be prepared and you've made sure that any trees and tall shrubs in your area are not hazards, are you ready otherwise? Here are five legal tips to help you prepare for hurricane season:

  1. If you have tenants, double-check their lease. If you are a landlord, it may be useful to look over your tenant's lease and remind yourself what it says about damages. The security deposit clause is a good place to start; it will usually dictate what types of damage is covered and may help to determine whether or not a tenant is liable for not taking precautionary measures to avoid hurricane damage.
  2. Look at your homeowner's policy. The same goes for your own home, especially if you are a homeowner. If you've purchased homeowner's (or renter's) insurance, look over the policy carefully to see what it says about damage resulting from natural disasters. While some policies may cover basic wind and rain damage, they may not carry over into more severe events like hurricane-level storms.
  3. Look into purchasing hurricane or flood coverage. If your regular insurance policy doesn't explicitly cover it, then you may want to look into either purchasing hurricane or flood coverage. Otherwise, be prepared to roll the dice and file the proper claims with your current insurance policy.
  4. Trespassers may be allowed. In general, trespassers are liable for damage they inflict upon the property onto which they trespass, in addition to punitive damages for the intentional entry without permission. However, in the case of an emergency, trespassers may legally retreat onto your property for safety, under the exception of a private necessity. But they must still pay for any damages incurred when they sought refuge on your property.
  5. Have an insurance lawyer prepared, just in case. If you find that you are dealing with any damages from the storm that are not being properly dealt with by your insurance company, a lawyer can help. Experienced, local insurance attorneys who have dealt with similar issues before in their line of work can help you determine your next steps.

Be safe out there!

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Meeting Someone You Met Online? 7 Tips to Stay Safe

When you're meeting someone online, it's important to play it safe offline. We're always quick to remind children about stranger danger. Yet for some reason, we adults sometimes assume we're immune to it.

From notorious "Craigslist Killers" to rape suspects on ChristianMingle.com, the person behind the innocuous smiley may not necessarily be who you think he is. These cautionary tales should give you pause to remember: safety first.

Here are seven tips for meeting people you encounter online:

  1. Don't judge a book by its cover. Don't blindly trust someone you meet online just because the person included a picture, listed an address, or included any other information that "feels" personal. Take the information with a grain of salt -- it could be false information meant to lure you in.
  2. Tell friends or family where you're going. Give any contact information for the person you are going to meet to a friend or family member. Also give them a ballpark idea of when you should be home.
  3. Use the buddy system. You are much more vulnerable alone. If the meeting is arranged through an online dating website, you could turn the occasion into a double date. It will help break the ice and keep you safe -- a win-win.
  4. Meet in a public place. Meet at a populated public place, preferably in an area that you know well. The person whom you're meeting shouldn't have any issues with meeting like this, unless they're agoraphobic (unlikely) or have something to hide (more likely).
  5. Get your own ride. It's important to be in control of your own ride -- even if you take a taxi. Don't get into the online acquaintance's car. If you feel uncomfortable, keep an eye on whether you're being followed and don't drive straight home.
  6. Keep your cell phone with you. Be sure to fully charge your cell phone and keep it with you at all times. Under extreme circumstances, you can use your phone to call for help or photograph a suspect. Equally important, the GPS tracking can help determine your whereabouts.
  7. Listen to your gut. Remember, if something doesn't feel quite right, trust your instincts. Cancel the meeting and be on your way.

For more practical tips, check out FindLaw's comprehensive section on Online Safety.

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AMBER Alert on Phone Gets 1st Real Test in Calif.

A statewide AMBER Alert sent by cell phone came as a surprise to millions of Californians this week. While some found the loud "buzz" of the alert jarring, many others feel law enforcement agencies made the right call.

An AMBER Alert was issued about 11 p.m. Monday, after two children were allegedly kidnapped by a man from their home near San Diego. Neither the children nor their alleged kidnapper have yet been found.

The alert went out statewide as part of a new national AMBER Alert system that's automatically active on most cell phones. Monday's alert was the first statewide use of the system in California, San Francisco's KPIX-TV reports.

What Are AMBER Alerts?

So what exactly is an AMBER alert?

AMBER alerts are named after Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl who was abducted and killed in 1996. The letters AMBER also stand for "America's Missing: Broadcasting Emergency Response."

These new AMBER Alert cell phone notifications are a type of wireless emergency alert -- essentially, emergency messages authorized by the government and sent to your phone. They're intended for situations like tornado warnings and, in the case of AMBER Alerts, alleged child abductions.

Managing Your AMBER Alerts

There is no doubt that AMBER alerts are implemented for the worthwhile cause of catching criminals and preventing child abduction and other serious crimes. However, some in California found the late-night cell phone alert disruptive and almost frightening.

All newer models of cell phones, by default, are programmed to receive AMBER Alerts. This includes virtually all smartphones, which a large bulk of phone users now carry.

However, there is an opt-out option, as the Los Angeles Times explains. Simply check your phone's settings, and there should be an option to set your phone's status for receiving emergency alerts.

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FDA Issues New Gluten-Free Rules for Food Labels

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set a new standard for gluten-free labels on products. According to The New York Times, health officials claim that this move toward uniformity can potentially help the 3 million Americans with celiac disease in the $4 billion market for gluten-free products.

Congress passed a law back in 2004, in an effort to help those with celiac disease, wherein the FDA set standards regarding how much trace gluten may actually be present in foods with gluten-free labels.

The new standard is essentially fine-tuning the 2004 law. The agency has now set a gluten limit of 20 parts per million for products with a gluten-free label. Discussion of the limit had been in the making for a while now, and many other industries in European countries and Canada have similar limits for trace gluten.

"Gluten" refers to the proteins that occur naturally in rye, barley, wheat, and other hybrids of these grains. For those suffering from celiac disease, ingesting foods that contain gluten can lead to harming the lining of their small intestine. This damage can lead to serious health issues, including osteoporosis, infertility, intestinal cancer, and nutritional deficiencies.

It is also against the law to intentionally mislead customers by mislabeling products as gluten-free.

According to an August federal regulation release, the new gluten rule will become effective in 30 days, while the compliance deadline is August 5, 2014. This may sound contradictory, but while the rule is in effect, the FDA still recognizes that food manufacturers may need time to review their products that may contain gluten. Therefore, these manufacturers will have until August 5, 2014, before all labels must comply with the rule.

The FDA will also allow stickers updating the labels in the interim during this 12-month waiting period, so consumers may expect to come across a package or two with more accurate, FDA-approved updates in the next few months while shopping for gluten-free products.

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Ground Beef Recall Triggered by E. coli Fears

A ground beef recall has been issued by a Kansas meat packing firm, with worries that the meat was contaminated with E.coli.

More than 25 tons of ground beef are involved in this limited recall, which affects consumers who bought the potentially tainted product from Winn-Dixie or Bi-Lo supermarkets, among others. The beef was also sold under the brands "National Beef," "NatureSource," and "NatureWell," reports The Christian Science Monitor.

Here's what you need to know about the ground beef recall and how to prevent E.coli infection:

What Beef Is Included in the Recall?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released a notice Wednesday alerting consumers to ground beef products that bear the code "EST. 208A" on their USDA inspection mark.

If any of the meat products in your grocery store or refrigerator bear this mark, do not, by any means, purchase and/or eat that beef.

A spokesman for the company responsible for the recall, National Beef Packing, informed consumers that they should take any recalled beef to the retailer. A Winn-Dixie spokesman guaranteed that customers who return recalled beef will receive a full refund, TheChristian Science Monitor reports.

Threat of E. coli Contamination

While there haven't been any illnesses reported yet, the bacteria detected in one package of the recalled beef was confirmed to be E. coli O157:H7, reports Medical Daily.

This strain of E. coli is a leading cause of food poisoning and is responsible for more than 60 deaths each year in the United States.

If you are concerned that you've consumed food containing E.coli, you should contact a qualified health provider, as even in healthy adults, the food-borne illness can cause bloody diarrhea and possibly kidney failure.

For any questions about the recall, call National Beef Packing at (866) 761-9472.

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