Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

March 2015 Archives

60 Minutes aired an episode on its investigation into Lumber Liquidators earlier this month. The show claims that it found toxic amounts of formaldehyde that did not meet health and safety standards.

Lumber Liquidators is the largest retailer of hardwood and laminate flooring in North America. Every year more than 100 million square feet of its flooring are installed into American homes. 60 Minutes alleges that the flooring, which is made in China, may contain unsafe levels of formaldehyde.

After the show aired, Lumber Liquidators' stocks fell more than 25 percent. Lumber Liquidators contends that its products are safe and that 60 Minutes used an improper test.

The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) is now investigating the company.

Here is what you need to know:

Formaldehyde and Testing

Formaldehyde, usually found in the glue used to make laminate flooring, is known to cause lung and nasopharyngeal cancer. Acute formaldehyde exposure through inhalation can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, coughing, wheezing, chest pains and bronchitis. Ingestion of formaldehyde can corrode the gastrointestinal tract and cause inflammation and ulcers.

Robert Drury, featured on the 60 Minutes episode, filed a class action lawsuit against Lumber Liquidators for the high levels of formaldehyde in its flooring. Drury sent Lumber Liquidators' Chinese-made laminate flooring to three certified testing labs. The labs found that the average level of formaldehyde in the products exceeded California's formaldehyde emission standards by 600-700 percent. Dr. Philip Landrigan told 60 Minutes that the level of formaldehyde found would be considered polluted indoor conditions by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Lumber Liquidators disputes these findings. It contends that the method of testing used breaks the laminate flooring apart and releases more formaldehyde. This results in higher levels of the chemical detected. Lumber Liquidators claims that a better method is to test the product as it is used in the home. The company argues that the layer of laminate on top of the flooring actually seals in some of the formaldehyde. So, less of the chemical is actually released into the home.

The California Air Resources board uses the first method of testing. CPSC's tests use the second method.

What Next?

It may be months before we find out the results of CPSC's testing. If the agency believes that there is a substantial health hazard, it may recall the products in the future.

Insisting that the products are safe, Lumber Liquidators has promised to pay for safety testing for customers who request it. California officials believe that proper ventilation is enough to mitigate the risks of formaldehyde exposure. They do not recommend removing flooring unless you experience noticeable symptoms.

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Will RadioShack Sell Your Email?

You may have heard that RadioShack is going belly up. It filed for bankruptcy earlier this year after agreeing to sell over 2,000 stores to Standard General, a hedge fund.

However, the stores and merchandise aren't the only things going up for sale. Your name, address, email, and personal shopping habits are also going on the auction block. Technically, the personal information of over 100 million customers has already been bought by Standard General during the bankruptcy auction, but the bankruptcy court must first approve the sale.

Unhappy about the sale?

Texas' Challenge

Don't worry. You're not alone. Texas is opposing the sale. According to Texas state law, it is illegal for companies to sell customers' information if it violates the companies' privacy policies.

Texas' Attorney General Ken Paxton argues that the sale is in direct violation of RadioShack's privacy policy. Signs in the chain's stores explicitly state, "We pride ourselves on not selling our private mailing list."

So far, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin, have joined Texas in its opposition to the sale.

AT&T's Challenge

Notwithstanding its own policy of selling customer information, AT&T is also protesting RadioShack's data sale. AT&T claims that it shares ownership of some of RadioShack's customer data because it worked with the failing chain to market phones.

AT&T is not doing this out of any concern for customer privacy. It just doesn't want the information to fall into competitors' hands. Sprint, a competitor, may partner with Standard General in the future and could possibly benefit if Standard General's purchase of the data is successful.

Will The Sale Be Approved?

There has been past cases where sale of personal information was allowed even when it violated a company's privacy policy. In 2011, Borders was allowed by the Federal Trade Commission to sell personal customer data because the buyer was in the same line of business and promised to apply the same privacy policy. Standard General may try to argue that the circumstances here are similar.

We will just have to wait to see if the bankruptcy court approves the sale or not.

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Amy's Kitchen, Wegmans Food Market, and Carmel Food Group all issued recalls of their products containing organic frozen spinach after a spinach supplier issued its own recall for fear of possible listeria contamination.

Here is what you need to know:

Amy's Kitchen Recall

Amy's Kitchen recalled over 73k packages of frozen foods that may contain contaminated spinach.

Listeria monocytogenes is a bacteria commonly found in soil and water. It can contaminate raw meats, vegetables, and cooked and processed foods. Listeria can cause serious or fatal infections among young children and elderly people. Expectant mother could suffer miscarriages or stillbirths. Healthy adults may only suffer short term symptoms such as fever, headache, stiffness, nausea, and diarrhea.

Amy's Kitchen claims that no illnesses or listeria infections have yet been reported.

The recall includes varieties of Amy's Kitchen's vegetable lasagnas, spinach pizzas, brown rice and vegetable bowls, pasta bowls, and many more. If you have bought any Amy's Kitchen products since the beginning of this year, be sure to check the FDA's website for a detailed list of recalled products.

Amy's Kitchen has already notified distributors and retailers to remove recalled products from store shelves.

Wegmans Recall

Wegmans Food Markets has recalled over 12k packages of Wegmans' organic spinach.

The recall is for the 12-oz bags of Wegmans Organic Food You Feel Good About Just Picked Frozen Spinach. Affected products were sold between January 27 and March 21, 2015 with "Best Used By" dates of either January 26, 2017 or February 2, 2017.

Carmel Food Group Recall

Carmel Food Group also issued a voluntary recall of its Rising Moon Organics Frozen Ravioli.

Recalled products include:

  • Rising Moon Organics Garlic & Veggie Ravioli, sell by Jan. 09, 2016
  • Rising Moon Organics Spinach Florentine Ravioli, sell by Jan. 19, 2016
  • Rising Moon Organics Spinach & Cheese Ravioli, sell by Dec. 22, 2015; Dec. 30, 2016; Dec. 31, 2016; Jan. 02, 2016; Jan. 19, 2016; and Jan. 20, 2016.

It is unclear whether these recalls are linked to the same organic spinach supplier.

If you believe you have bought a recalled product, you should either throw the products away or return them to the store for a full refund.

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Nut eaters beware! In the last two weeks, Trader Joe's has issued two recalls: one for almonds possibly contaminated with peanuts, and one for walnuts possibly contaminated with salmonella.

Here's what consumers need to know:

Almond Recall

On March 12, 2015, Trader Joe's posted a notice on its website recalling its Cinnamon Almonds.

The almonds may contain peanuts which were not mentioned on the packaging. While some people may be able to eat almonds, which are tree nuts, they may be allergic to peanuts, which are legumes.

The company warns customers with peanut allergies to throw the Cinnamon Almonds away or return them to Trader Joe's for a full refund. Even if you do not have a nut allergy, Trader Joe's will still honor the recall and refund your purchase. Trader Joe's has removed the product from its shelves and suspended sales until the problem can be remedied.

Walnut Recall

In a potentially more worrisome issue, Trader Joe's is recalling its raw walnut products due to possible Salmonella contamination.

The company discovered the possible contamination after routine testing. Salmonella can cause fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. More serious infections can also cause arterial infections, endocarditis, and arthritis.

Trader Joe's reports that it has not yet received any complaints or reports of salmonella infection, but decided to issue the recall anyway out of an abundance of caution.

If you've bought Trader Joe's Raw Walnuts, check to see if your bag of nuts are including in this recall. UPC codes, "Best By" dates, and lot numbers can be found on the back of packages of Raw California Walnuts. For packages of Organic Raw Walnuts, the "Best By" date can be found on the front of the package.

The recalled Raw Walnut products include:

  • 00373685 Trader Joe’s Nuts Raw California Walnut Pieces – 16 oz., 12/2015, GU4345
  • 00943338 Trader Joe’s Nuts Raw California Walnut Halves & Pieces – 16 oz., 12/2015, GU4346
    GU4349, GU4356
  • 00519342 Trader Joe’s Nuts Raw California Walnut Baking Pieces – 16 oz., 12/2015, GU4350
  • 00519328 Trader Joe’s Nuts Raw California Premium Walnut Halves – 16oz., 12/2015, GU4343, GU4344, GU4351, GU4352
  • 00586627 Trader Joe’s Organic Raw Walnut Halves & Pieces – 12oz., Oct. 15, 2015 to Dec. 1 2015

If you have purchased any recalled Raw Walnut products, do not eat them. Throw the products away or return them to Trader Joe's for a full refund.

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With tax season comes tax scam season. One scam that's being called out this year is a telephone scam demanding immediate payment of back taxes.

Many people are receiving threatening and aggressive pre-recorded phone calls from someone claiming to be with the IRS saying they owe thousands of dollars in back taxes. 

Potential victims are directed to provide credit, debit, or prepaid card numbers over the telephone. Victims are also threatened with arrest, deportation, having the utilities shut off, or having driver's licenses revoked.

Signs to Look Out For

A Treasury Department investigator told CBS News this is the "largest, most pervasive impersonation scam in the history of the agency." As many as 366,000 people have reported receiving a call, and victims have lost up to $15.5 million.

Common characteristics of this scam include:

  • The caller will give a fake name and IRS badge number.
  • The caller often recites the last four digits of your Social Security number.
  • Your caller ID may show the IRS' toll-free number.
  • The caller gives you a number to call back, and threatens to call the police if you don't.

Is It Really the IRS?

Also keep in mind that the IRS will never call you to demand payment. According to an IRS news release, the IRS will always initiate contact with taxpayers though written communication sent via U.S. mail. The IRS will also never ask you to pay immediately or demand payment information over the phone.

If you do receive a call you think may be a scam, you can call the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at (800) 366-4484 to report the incident. If you think you may owe back taxes and receive a similar call, you can call the IRS at (800) 829-1040 to verify with a real IRS employee. You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at FTC Complaint Assistant. Whatever you do, don't call the scammers back.

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Chrysler and Nissan have announced recalls affecting some 1.3 million vehicles because of faulty ignition switches and failing secondary hood latches, respectively.

Chrysler is re-recalling over 700,000 minivans and SUVs over a defective ignition switch. Separately, Nissan is expanding a prior 2014 recall to cover another 640,000 Altima sedans to fix a faulty secondary hood latch.

Here's what you need to know about these recalls:

Chrysler Recall

Chrysler's recall covers all 2008-10 Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Town and Country, and 2009-10 Dodge Journey SUVs.

A switch defect in these cars can allow the ignition switch to rotate into the "accessory" or "off" position, causing the cars to stall. Consumer complaints describe loss of steering wheel control and difficulty braking when the cars stall.

Chrysler claims that no fatalities have yet been attributed to this defect. A stall has led to one crash, but it did not cause any injuries, the company reports.

Chrysler previously announced similar recalls in 2011 and 2014, but the attempted fix -- adding a trim ring -- did not work.

All recalled vehicles will now receive a wireless ignition module.

Nissan Recall

Meantime, Nissan is recalling 2013-15 Altima sedans made before December 31, 2014, covering 640,000 cars. This recall expanded a prior recall from last October covering about 230,000 cars.

A defect in the secondary hood latch could cause it to release, allowing the hood to fly up. The secondary hood latch is a backup system. A Nissan spokesman told Reuters, "Altima drivers can be sure their hood will not fly up as long as they don't pull the primary hood release while driving or leave the primary hood release undone prior to driving."

Nissan has not yet found the cause for the problem or determined a remedy.

Recalled vehicles will be inspected, and secondary hood latch assemblies will be lubricated.

Does Your Car Need to Be Fixed?

Car owners can use NHTSA's free online tool to determine whether their vehicle is affected by these, or any other, automotive recall.

If you were injured because of a mechanical defect in a recalled vehicle, a products liability lawyer can help explore your options.

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Hyundai has issued a safety recall over a flaw in the power steering systems of more than 200,000 vehicles.

The recall affects Hyundai Elantra sedans from model years 2008 to 2010, along with Elantra touring hatchbacks from model years 2009 to 2010.

What do consumers need to know about this recall?

Faulty Power Steering Controls

The power steering system at issue in the recall makes it easier to move the steering wheel. An error in a control unit component causes the system to disable power steering assistance.

If a malfunction occurs, drivers will see a warning light and may feel that they have to work harder to maintain control of the wheel. The issue is easily reset by restarting the car. In a report filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Hyundai asserts that the error does not drastically affect drivers' ability to maintain steering control manually.

While Hyundai first discovered the flaw in 2010, the company believed a safety recall was not necessary. The amount of effort required to continue steering the vehicle in the event of a malfunction was well within compliance standards, the company said.

But since automakers and NHTSA have recently been criticized for not issuing safety recalls, Hyundai has decided to voluntarily recall the vehicles to maintain driver safety.

Does Your Car Need to Be Fixed?

Similar to other safety recalls, Hyundai says it will contact owners of affected vehicles. The company will test the vehicles for defects and make the necessary repairs at no cost to the consumer.

Car owners can also use NHTSA's free online tool to determine whether their vehicle is affected by this, or any other, automotive recall.

If you were injured because of a mechanical defect in a recalled vehicle, a products liability lawyer can help explore your options.

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