Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

June 2014 Archives

6 New GM Recalls: 7.6M U.S. Vehicles Affected

General Motors has announced six new recalls affecting about 7.6 million U.S. vehicles after reports of crashes, injuries, and deaths.

Most of the vehicles are being recalled over the same ignition-switch problem linked to at least 13 deaths in some compact models made by GM, the Detroit Free Press reports. Other vehicles are being recalled to fix separate potential safety issues.

The new GM recalls follow reports of seven crashes, eight injuries, and three fatalities, but a GM press release emphasizes "[t]here is no conclusive evidence that the defect condition caused those crashes."

Many Makes, Models Affected

The recalls cover:

  • About 6.8 million vehicles for the ignition-switch issue, including Chevy Malibu, Oldsmobile Intrigue, Oldsmobile Alero, Pontiac Grand Am, Chevy Impala, Chevy Monte Carlo, and Pontiac Grand Prix models from 1997 to 2008;
  • More than 554,000 Cadillac CTS (from model years 2003 to 2014) and Cadillac SRX models (model years 2004 to 2006), also for the ignition-switch issue;
  • Nearly 182,000 Buick Rainier, Chevy TrailBlazer, GMC Envoy, Isuzu Ascender, and Saab 9-7x vehicles (from model years 2005 to 2007), along with Chevy TrailBlazer EXTs and GMC Envoy XLs (from 2006), for a possible electrical issue that may affect power lock and window switches;
  • More than 9,000 Chevy Silverado HD and GMC Sierra HD models from 2007 to 2011, for a potential electrical issue that could result in smoke or fire;
  • Nearly 3,000 Chevy Cruze, Chevy Sonic, Chevy Trax, Buick Encore, and Buick Verano vehicles from 2011 to 2014, for a possible engine block problem; and
  • About 100 Chevy Camaro, Chevy Impala, Buick Regal, and Cadillac XTS models from 2014, for a potential joint-fastener issue.

Details on these six GM recalls can be found alongside GM's recall announcement.

What Can Consumers Do?

For owners of vehicles recalled over the ignition-switch issue, GM advises that "customers remove all items from their key ring, leaving only the vehicle key ... the key fob, if present, should also be removed from the key ring." Owners of all recalled vehicles will receive information about repairs in the coming weeks.

If you're affected by this recall, you may also want to reach out to an experienced motor vehicle defects lawyer to see if you have a case. Anyone injured or killed in a crash linked to a defective vehicle can potentially receive compensation for damages such as medical bills and lost wages; even those who suffered only "economic harm" (such as a loss of resale value) may also be entitled to compensation.

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Grocery chain Whole Foods Market Inc has agreed to pay $800,000 after an investigation found the company had been overcharging California customers.

The year-long investigation was followed by a civil consumer protection lawsuit brought by the city attorneys of Santa Monica, Los Angeles and San Diego reports Reuters.

According to the Santa Monica City Attorney's office, among the problems found by state and county Weights and Measures inspectors at the company's California stores:

  • Failing to subtract the weight of containers used for self-serve foods at the salad bar and hot bar.
  • Giving customers less weight than stated on the label for packaged items sold by the pound.
  • Selling prepared deli foods by the piece, instead of by the pound as required by law.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge hearing the case issued a five-year injunction covering all 74 Whole Foods stores in California. Under the terms of the injunction, Whole Foods must:

  • Appoint two "state coordinators" to oversee pricing accuracy at Whole Foods stores throughout California;
  • Designate an employee at every store who will be responsible to assure pricing accuracy throughout the store;
  • Conduct random audits four times a year at each of its stores to assure that all prices are accurate and that proper weight is being deducted for all containers; and
  • Provide the advertised weight on all items and charge accurately.

Whole Foods also must pay almost $800,000 in penalties and court costs, including $630,000 in penalties, $100,000 to a consumer protection trust fund, and $68,394 for costs.

Whole Foods isn't the only grocery retailer with less-than-stellar check-out accuracy. A 2010 ABC News report found that consumers lose up to $2.5 billion a year from being overcharged for the items they purchase.

What can you do if you believe you were overcharged for weighed items? In California, the California Department of Food and Agriculture suggests either filing a complaint with the weights and measures office in the county where the business is located or filing a complaint form with the state Division of Measurement Standards. Although the process may differ depending on what state you're, as shown by this case, the government can and will crack down on unscrupulous business practices.

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The first item on any good summer safety checklist is usually sunscreen. But rather than opting for the old-fashioned rub-on varieties of sunscreen, both sun worshipers and parents alike are relying more and more on the convenience of spray sunscreens to help guard against the danger of over-exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays.

But while they may be convenient, consumer watchdogs are now being joined by the Food and Drug Administration in asking: Are spray sunscreens safe?

According to Chicago's WBBM-TV, the FDA is investigating the health risks of using spray sunscreens, requesting data from manufacturers on both the products' effectiveness and the potential health hazards posed by unintentional inhalation.

As the FDA's investigation continues, what do consumers need to know? Here are three things to consider when using spray sunscreen:

  1. Be aware of the risk of inhalation. The Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based public health interest group, warns that spray sunscreens may pose serious inhalation risks. Consumer Reports, noting the FDA's investigation, also advises against spraying sunscreen directly onto your face, which increases the possible risk of inhalation. Instead, the magazine recommends spraying the sunscreen into your hands and then applying it to your face.
  2. Spray sunscreen is potentially flammable. Spray sunscreen also has been known to catch people wearing it on fire. An FDA notice last year warned that five people had suffered serious burns after applying spray sunscreen and standing too close to a flame or heat source. Even if your sprayed-on sunscreen feels dry to the touch, it's best to avoid getting too close to any fires following use of a spray sunscreen
  3. You may not want to use spray sunscreen directly on kids. Consumer Reports recommends avoiding the use of spray sunscreens on children until the FDA determines whether or not they pose a hazard.

If you do choose to use a spray sunscreen, be sure to adequately cover the areas of your body exposed to the sun. One thing that is beyond question is that a sunburn can be a major pain in the neck, ear or anywhere else that you may have forgot to put sunscreen.

And if you are somehow injured by the use of spray sunscreen, seek medical help right away. It may also be wise to keep the spray canister as evidence and then call an experienced product liability attorney to discuss your options.

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A worldwide airbag recall is expanding over fears they may spontaneously deploy and explode, injuring or even killing drivers and passengers.

The affected airbags were manufactured by Japan's Takata Corporation and installed in millions of vehicles that have been sold around the world. The risk is that the airbags' inflators can potentially explode, sending "metal bits flying" into the passenger compartment, according to USA Today.

The problem, identified as early as 2007, has been linked to more than 30 injuries and two deaths in Honda vehicles in the United States.

Worldwide and U.S. Regional Recalls

A prior recall in April and May 2013 attempted to address the airbag inflator problem, but apparently it did not go far enough. That's why seven automakers are moving forward with two new recalls involving Takata airbags:

  • In a worldwide effort, three Japanese carmakers -- Honda, Mazda, and Nissan -- are recalling nearly 3 million vehicles over the airbag problem. The number includes about 2 million older-model vehicles in the United States.
  • Separately, NHTSA also announced "regional recalls" for as many as 1.5 million vehicles with Takata airbags in high-humidity areas such as Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The regional recalls affect seven automakers -- Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Toyota, Chrysler, Ford, and BMW; Honda's recall also covers vehicles in other southern states such as Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.

It's not exactly clear how humidity contributes to the airbag problem; NHTSA is investigating.

Takata Settles With Victims, Surviving Relatives

As The New York Times reports, Takata has already reached settlements with families of the two victims whose deaths were linked to exploding airbags. The Times also reports that a Georgia woman who was severely injured by an exploding Takata airbag has reached an undisclosed settlement with the company.

Anyone who's similarly been injured by a faulty airbag can potentially sue for compensation for medical costs, lost wages, and even loss of consortium. If you're wondering how much your airbag-injury case may be worth, or whether you even have a case, consult an experienced motor vehicle defects lawyer today.

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New crime data suggests that inclusion of a new "kill switch" feature in Apple iPhones has cut down on robberies and theft of the company's devices.

The data was taken from reports by state attorneys general, prosecutors, police, and other officials as part of an initiative called "Secure Our Smartphones," reports The Associated Press. The initiative, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, also announced in a press release that Microsoft and Google have committed to including a "kill switch" feature in the next versions of their own operating systems.

'Kill Switch' Crime-Reduction Data

According to the report, in New York City over the first five months of 2014, robberies involving Apple products fell by 19 percent and grand larcenies fell by 29 percent. During that same period, theft crimes involving Samsung smart phones, which didn't add a "kill switch" feature until April, actually rose 40 percent.

In San Francisco, thefts of iPhones were down almost 40 percent, while Samsung thefts were up by 12 percent.

Cell phone theft is a costly problem in the United States. The initiative's report cites a Consumer Reports estimate that 3.1 million smartphones were stolen in the United States in 2013.

'Kill Switch' Legislation

The new numbers come amid a push for legislation mandating smartphone "kill switches." Last month, Minnesota became the first state to pass a law requiring that smartphones have the ability to be remotely disabled. But in anticipation of widespread litigation, cell phone providers and manufacturers had already begun, ahead of the most recent announcement, voluntarily promising to implement "kill switch" capabilities into their devices.

As the "Secure Our Smartphones" release notes, with Google and Microsoft committing to join Apple in providing the kill switch feature into their Android and Windows Phone operating systems, 97 percent of U.S. smartphones should be protected by 2015.

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5 Summer Scams to Watch Out For: BBB

With summer just days away, it's a great time to sit out by the pool or hit the lake in a boat. Just don't forget the sunscreen.

But your skin isn't the only thing that needs protection this summer. The Better Business Bureau has put together a list of popular summer scams that can put a serious burn on your pocketbook if you're not too careful.

Here are five types of scams the BBB is warning consumers about this summer:

  1. Too-good-to-be-true travel deals. Summer is the biggest travel season, and scammers know that travelers are going online and looking for great deals. Whether you're looking at a vacation rental property or a deal on airfare, the No. 1 tip for shopping online is that if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is!
  2. Moving scams. If you're moving over the summer, make sure that the moving company you hire is licensed and check out their reviews on the BBB's website. Often, the price quoted can be significantly lower than the price you'll end up having to pay. Also use caution when house-hunting online, as online rental scams are on the rise as well.
  3. Ticket rip-offs. With the proliferation of online classified sites like Craigslist, it's easier than ever for a crook to scam people out of their money for fake or nonexistent tickets to sporting events and concerts. Never wire money or send cash for tickets, and be careful of ticket print-outs, as scammers will sometimes sell the same print-out to multiple unsuspecting buyers.
  4. Door-to-door scams. That salesperson knocking on your door may be up to no good. From selling faulty products to offering door-to-door breast exams, be wary of door-to-door salespeople using high-pressure or unscrupulous tactics.
  5. Summer job scams. Students looking for summer jobs are easy prey for online job scams. Use caution when replying to online help-wanted ads, especially if they ask for too much personal information, charge an "interview fee," or want you to wire money for a background check.

For more tips on how to prevent becoming the victim of a scam, visit the Better Business Bureau Scam Stopper or check out FindLaw's section on Consumer Protection.

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Exploding Wine Bottles Prompt Recall in Pa.

Sparkling white wine drinkers may want to drink something less explosive for a couple months, after the risk of spontaneously exploding wine bottles prompted a recall in Pennsylvania.

You won't find Indigenous Selections Prosecco Brut 2013 on shelves, since the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) yanked it over reports of full, unopened bottles exploding at state liquor stores, reports the Pittsburg Post-Gazette.

What do wine consumers need to know about this potentially volatile vintage?

PLCB Pulls Exploding Bottle

The PLCB issued a statement Tuesday warning consumers to "use caution when handling" bottles of the 2013 Prosecco Brut, a sweet sparkling white wine. The wine was sold for $12.99 in approximately 180 Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores in Pennsylvania beginning in June; it is no longer available at the time of this posting.

Pennsylvania, like many states, regulates the sale of wine and liquor through state-sponsored retail locations (i.e., Fine Wine & Good Spirits). Because of this, it is unlikely you'll find this exploding Prosecco in any other retail location.

Although the PLCB has had no reports of consumers injured by the combusting bottles, anyone who purchased a bottle should dispose of it -- preferably out of range of potential shrapnel.

The recalled bottles are Indigenous Selections Prosecco Brut 2013, stamped with code 33283, and sold in 750 mL volumes.

Why Does Wine Explode?

Sparkling wines are chock-full of dissolved carbon dioxide, the gas released during the fermentation process. While wines may contain yeast when sold in stores, there shouldn't be much active fermentation occurring while a bottle sits on retail shelves.

But if enough fermentation occurs after a bottle of wine gets into consumers' hands, then carbon dioxide can continue to build up in a bottle, turning it into a ticking time bomb. As Paul Gregutt of the Seattle Times notes, this can happen even with red wines, and it can be dangerous as well as cause for a refund.

Wine makers implicitly warrant their products to be merchantable, so they must be fit for sale to consumers. Bottles which may unexpectedly explode after or before purchase fail to meet that warranty, and consumers who bought such a wine are entitled to a refund.

Additional questions about this exploding wine may be directed to the PLCB at (800) 272-7522 (then press 3) or at lbconsumer@pa.gov.

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Online Puppy Scams On the Rise, Ohio Atty. Gen. Warns

Ohio's Attorney General is warning consumers about a new online puppy scam that's leaving prospective pet owners out an average of more $1,000 per victim.

In a press release, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said that more than two dozen Ohio residents had been victimized by the same type of online scam over the last two years.

The scam typically involves an online ad for a desired breed of dog at a lower-than-usual price. The seller requests that the buyer send money by wire or on a prepaid card for shipping expenses. The buyer sends the money, but never receives the dog.

Red Flags That You Might Be Getting Scammed

According to DeWine, here are some red flags that the online dog ad you're replying to may be a scam:

  • Breeders who will communicate only online or via text message,
  • A low cost for a dog of a popular or expensive breed,
  • Sellers who ask for additional fees beyond the agreed-upon price,
  • Pets that are “free” to a good home,
  • Sellers who say they will refund the money once the puppy is delivered,
  • Shipping companies or couriers that keep contacting the consumer asking for more money, and
  • Claims that there was an insufficient shipping container.

How to Protect Yourself

When buying animals online, just like when buying cars, houses or any other major purchase, there are a few pretty straightforward rules to follow. For example:

  • Always try to deal locally. The farther away the seller is from where you live, the more likely it is that you're going to get scammed.
  • Never buy anything you haven't seen. Especially when it comes to a large purchase like a car or a pet, never buy anything that you haven't actually laid eyes on unless it's from a reputed, well-known seller.
  • Never send money via Western Union or other wire services. Anyone who asks you to wire money is likely a scammer.

If you've been the victim of a consumer scam, contact your state's consumer protection agency. You may also want to contact a consumer protection attorney, who may be able to help you try to get your money back.

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Automaker GM has announced yet another recall related to its ignition-switch problems, this one affecting more than 3 million vehicles.

While prior GM ignition-switch recalls involved small cars like the Chevrolet Cobalt, the latest announcement covers certain mid-size and large vehicles from model years 2000 to 2014, reports USA Today.

Which cars are included in this updated recall, and how is GM dealing with its liability for the defects?

GM to Rework or Replace 3.2 Million Keys

GM released a statement Monday announcing that it would rework or replace keys on 3.16 million cars in the United States to address a possible ignition switch problem.

Of the recalled models, only one is still in production -- the previous-generation Chevrolet Impala (sold as the Impala Limited). The full recall list follows:

  • Buick Lacrosse (model years 2005 to 2009)
  • Chevrolet Impala (2006 to 2014)
  • Cadillac Deville (2000 to 2005)
  • Cadillac DTS (2004 to 2011)
  • Buick Lucerne (2006 to 2011)
  • Buick Regal LS & GS (2004 to 2005)
  • Chevy Monte Carlo (2006 to 2008)

GM says it will fix a potentially dangerous issue: a heavy keyring that may cause the ignition to switch to "off" while driving. To fix this, the head of the key -- through which key rings are threaded -- will be changed from a slot opening to a smaller 4x6-millimeter hole. Drivers whose keys are too worn to be reworked in this fashion will be replaced with new hole-bearing keys for free.

GM believes this will address the problematic ignition-switch issue, but it won't dismiss current lawsuits.

GM Attempts to Shield in Bankruptcy Court

After consolidating dozens of ignition defect cases against GM in federal court and relocating them to New York, the auto company is now hoping to shield itself from litigation in bankruptcy court.

As you may know, GM declared bankruptcy in 2009, creating a legal split between the "old GM" and the "new" post-bankruptcy GM. As The Associated Press reports, the same judge who handled GM's 2009 bankruptcy is now being asked if these defect claims can proceed against "new GM." If not, those who suffered financial losses because of defects in their GM cars may not be able to sue the "new GM" for damages.

To find out if your GM car is affected by the latest recall (or any subsequent recalls), visit GM's website and enter your vehicle's VIN.

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Social networking site Facebook has announced that it's giving users the ability to see the information the company has assembled about them for targeted advertising purposes.

As The New York Times reports, Facebook will be the first major Internet company to allow U.S. consumers to see why a specific ad was shown to them.

Ads on Facebook will soon feature an arrow in the right-hand corner; clicking on the arrow will allow users to select "Why Am I Seeing This?," which will list the attributes -- taken from the information the company has about you on file -- that it used to determine the ad's placement.

Your Facebook 'File'

In a video explaining the changes posted online, Facebook also announced that users will be able to tailor the advertising they see while using Facebook by deleting or adding to the information in their file.

The information in each users file is gleaned from their activity on Facebook, and starting soon, their activity on outside websites and other apps on their mobile devices as well. Such tracking of user activity outside of Facebook has previously prompted lawsuits as well as lingering privacy fears over the amount and types of information stored by Facebook on individual users.

How to Opt Out

Users who wish to opt out of Facebook's external activity tracking can do two things: First, they can opt out of browser cookie-based ad targeting by Facebook and many other websites by going to the Digital Advertising Alliance consumer opt out page.

Mobile users can also adjust the settings in their mobile operating system to restrict ad targeting.

Facebook, of course, hopes that instead of opting out, users will take advantage of the new options to see ads that better suit their interests or needs.

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Salmonella fears are typically associated with egg or poultry products. But as seen in two recent recalls, the food contaminant can also be found in your dry goods.

Americans may need to re-examine their pantries after ground black pepper sold at Costco stores across the country was recalled because of possible Salmonella contaimination. Those with a health bent may also want to reconsider chia seed and flax seed powders, which have also been voluntarily recalled over Salmonella worries.

Here's what consumers need to know about these Salmonella-related recalls:

Costco Black Pepper Recall

Those who bought Kirkland brand spices in the past few months should be aware of a potentially harmful pepper recall. The Oregonian reports that 5,153 cases of pepper were recalled by Olde Thompson Inc., which sells its brand of Signature Coarse Ground Malabar Pepper exclusively through Costco.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, a routine sampling of the product revealed the presence of the Salmonella bacterium. Salmonella can often contaminate fruits and vegetables when feces-contaminated water comes into contact with crops. Those who eat Salmonella-contaminated food can contract salmonellosis, which can cause diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever.

The following Lot numbers are listed in the recall:

  • OT 065099,
  • OT 065169,
  • OT 065254,
  • OT 065255,
  • OT 065256, and
  • OT 065284.

If you have one of the recalled pepper products, throw it away and contact an Olde Thompson representative at (844) 568-5555.

Sprouted Chia Seed Powder, Chia & Flax Seed Powder Recall

Unlike Costco's pepper, which has no reported deaths or illnesses associated with it, bags of Organic Traditions' "Sprouted Chia Seed Powder" and "Sprouted Chia and Flax Seed Powder" have been linked to a handful of illnesses both in the United States and Canada.

Food Safety News reports that the affected seed powder, produced by New York-based Health Matters America Inc., was voluntarily recalled because of possible Salmonella contamination. The affected lot numbers include Organic Traditions Sprouted Chia Seed Powder numbers:

  • BIO13SBCS275,
  • BIO13SBCS290,
  • BIO14SBCS290,
  • BIO13SBCS310,
  • BIO13SBCS330,
  • BIO13SBCS353, and
  • BIO13SBCS364.

The Sprouted Chia & Flax Seed Powder recall covers bags with lot numbers:

  • BIO13SFCB273,
  • BIO13SFCB288,
  • BIO13SFCB305,
  • BIO13SFCB310,
  • BIO13SFCB345, and
  • BIO13SFCB350.

The Center for Disease controlled noted that 17 people had been infected with Salmonella linked to chia powder as of June 2, 2014, and two of those infected required hospitalization.

Products affected by the recall should be disposed of, and consumers can contact Organic Traditions at (888) 343-3278.

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With an influx of new grads and students looking for summer jobs, online job scams are becoming more and more common.

As The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, reports, websites that host free job postings offer the perfect opportunity for a scammer to potentially capture your personal info or con you out of money.

Here are five tips to help you keep your summer job hunt scam-free:

  1. Never agree to cash a check and return a portion of the money. A new take on the classic Craigslist scam, in this ruse a phony employer sends you a check, as an advance on earnings or as money to buy equipment, but then asks you to cash the check and wire a portion of back via Western Union or other money transfer service. When the check eventually turns out to be fraudulent, you'll be on the hook for paying back the bank.
  2. Don't pay to be interviewed or have a background check performed. If a prospective employer asks you to pay them upfront for a background check or an "interview fee," it's very likely you'll never hear from them (or see your money) ever again.
  3. Be careful with your personal information. Although at some point a legitimate employer may need some personal information to confirm that you're actually you, be careful about providing too much information too soon, especially via the Internet. If a potential employer seems too eager to get a hold of your personal data, providing it may put you at risk for identity theft.
  4. Look for red flags. If communications with an employer are coming from a personal e-mail address (as opposed to an official company email address) or the person purporting to be from the company has noticeably bad spelling or grammar, they may not be who they are claiming to be.
  5. Double-check everything. If the job being offered is at an established company, contact the company and ask them if they are really hiring for the position being offered online. For smaller companies, search online to make sure your potential employer is real and not just a potential scam.

If you suspect you have been the victim of an online job scam, you should report it to police immediately. You also may want to consider consulting an experienced consumer protection lawyer, who may be able to help you get your money back and safeguard your identity.

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A sixth infant death has been linked to the recalled "Nap Nanny" baby recliners, leading to renewed calls for parents to stop using the product.

ABC News reports that an 8-month old girl from New Jersey suffocated while belted in to the Nap Nanny reclining seat. The infant became trapped between the recliner and a crib bumper.

Suffocation, Injury Risks

The Nap Nanny, made by a now-defunct company called Baby Matters, were recalled in 2010 after one infant died from suffocation, similar to the most recent case, and 22 others were injured.

Although manufacturers claimed the product was safe when used as intended -- placed on the floor, with the infant strapped securely in -- the number of infants being injured or killed when they became trapped between the product and their cribs or fell out of the Nap Nanny increased.

Federal Lawsuit Settled

When the makers of the Nap Nanny refused to pull the product off the shelves, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) brought a lawsuit. At the time, five deaths and 92 complaints had been linked to the Nap Nanny. The suit was settled after Baby Matters agreed to recall all 165,000 Nap Nanny products it had sold to date.

Although it is now illegal to sell the Nap Nanny in the United States, the CPSC warns that the recliners can still be found at yard sales or given as a hand-me-down and that parents should avoid using the product.

Details about the recall and the settlement can be found at the former Nap Nanny website.

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