Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

April 2008 Archives

FindLaw's New "State Laws" Collection

Findlaw announces the launch of its new "State Laws" collection, with state-specific laws on dozens of common legal topics.

FindLaw for the Public's new "State Laws" collection features user-friendly summaries of state laws on legal topics like criminal law, family law, employment law, estate planning, real estate, and much more -- for all 50 states and Washington, D.C. This content also includes citations and links to relevant sections of each state's official online statutes. With FindLaw's new "State Laws" collection, you can browse by state or by legal topic, or visit the official online version of your state's laws.

Supreme Court OKs Voter ID Law

An Indiana law requiring voters to present government-issued photo identification has been upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Indiana "Voter ID Law" requires citizens voting in person on election day -- or casting a ballot in person at the office of the circuit court clerk prior to election day -- to present photo identification issued by the government. A challenge to the law was brought by several groups, including nonprofit organizations representing elderly, disabled, poor, and minority voters. In Monday's 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the law is valid and relevant to the state's interest in protecting the integrity and reliability of the electoral process, including the interest in preventing voter fraud. The New York Times reports that "[b]ecause Indiana's law is considered the strictest in the country, similar laws in the other 20 or so states that have photo-identification rules would appear to have a good chance of surviving scrutiny." Indiana voters will cast their ballots in the presidential primary on Tuesday, May 6th.

FDA Plans Lasik Eye Surgery Safety Review

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will take a closer look at health risks associated with Lasik laser-assisted vision correction procedures, an agency panel announced Friday.

The FDA will conduct a study of the "quality of life" of patients after Lasik surgery, and the agency will assess how to give prospective Lasik patients stronger warnings about risks associated with the procedure. The Los Angeles Times reports that, of the 8 million Americans who have undergone Lasik surgery since its approval in 1998, a small number have suffered "serious side effects that have left their eyes painfully dry and their vision marred by ghostly shadows or starbursts of color." Lasik (short for "Laser-Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis") is a vision-correcting surgical procedure that permanently changes the shape of the cornea.

Stimulus Rebate Payments to Begin Monday

The federal government will begin distributing the first economic stimulus rebates on Monday, four days ahead of schedule, President Bush announced today.

The rebates, part of the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, can amount to as much as $600 for a single person or $1,200 for a married couple. "On Monday, the Treasury Department will begin delivering the first of these tax rebates by direct deposit," President Bush stated during today's announcement. "During the first week alone nearly 7.7 million Americans will receive their tax rebates electronically. Then on May 9th, the IRS will begin mailing checks to millions more across America." Forbes reports that by the end of May, the first $50 billion of the economic stimulus package should be in taxpayers' bank accounts, and by July $110 billion will have been disbursed.

U.S. Supreme Court Rules on Police Search Powers

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a ruling allowing the use of evidence seized by police officers in the search of a criminal suspect during an arrest that violated state law.

In Virginia v. Moore, the Court considered a case in which David Moore was pulled over and arrested for driving on a suspended license. Police discovered crack cocaine while searching Moore and carrying out his arrest. Under Virginia law, drivers pulled over for suspended license violations are to be issued a court summons and released, so Moore's arrest was contrary to state law. In Wednesday's 9-0 decision, the Court held that although the arrest was prohibited by state law, the police officers did not violate Moore's Fourth Amendment "search and seizure" rights because the arrest was based on valid probable cause, and the search was necessary to properly effect the arrest.

Study Looks at State DUI Rates

A new federal government study finds that about 15 percent of U.S. drivers age 18 and older drove under the influence of alcohol at least once in the past year, with levels in some states reaching 25 percent of drivers.

The study, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), provides state-by-state estimates on the pervasiveness of driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs. An SAMHSA news release, which also contains a state-by-state breakdown of DUI rates, reports that "driving under the influence ranged from a low of 9.5 percent in Utah, to highs of 26.4 percent in Wisconsin, 24.9 percent in North Dakota and 23.5 percent in Minnesota." The SAMHSA is a public health agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Contaminated Heparin Found in 11 Countries

Contaminated heparin blood-thinning medication has been found in 11 countries, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned shipments from one Chinese drug manufacturing facility after inspections revealed safety problems at the plant.

In addition to the United States, heparin containing the contaminant -- called oversulfated chondroitin sulfate -- has been found in Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, and New Zealand, according to an FDA Announcement. On Monday, the FDA sent a warning letter to Changzhou SPL Company in China, notifying the company that an FDA inspection of its manufacturing facilities revealed "significant deviations" from acceptable U.S. health and safety standards, and prohibiting future U.S.-bound shipments from the plant until those safety problems are remedied. The Los Angeles Times reports that the contaminated medication has been linked to as many as 81 deaths.

National Small Business Week 2008

National Small Business Week 2008 takes place April 21 - 25, with a full schedule of featured events and speakers in New York City and Washington D.C., most available for viewing via Webcast.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), National Small Business Week 2008 "focuses on the state of the small business economy, [covers] important policy issues such as health care and international trade, and honors the national small business person of the year." Last Friday, during Small Business Summit 2008 in Washington, D.C., President Bush called on Congress to address and remedy economic uncertainty among small businesses, in order to help entrepreneurs remain competitive.

Fake Subpoena Email Phishing Scam

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is alerting computer users about a new scam email that contains a fraudulent "court subpoena" purportedly from a federal district court in California, and instructs recipients that they are to appear and testify before a grand jury.

The New York Times reports that thousands of company executives nationwide have received the phony subpoena email messages which contain a link that, when opened, installs a program that records the user's computer keystrokes and forwards the information via the internet -- giving criminals access to passwords as well as personal and corporate information. View an Image of the Fake Subpoena Email (from the New York Times).

Ford Explorer Class Action Settlement

The settlement of a Ford Explorer class action case has been approved by a California judge, awarding "discount certificates" to vehicle owners in four states.

According to Reuters, under the settlement -- which applies to most new Explorers purchased or leased between 1991 and 2001 in California, Connecticut, Illinois, and Texas -- Ford will issue $500 "discount certificates" for the purchase or lease of a new Explorer. $300 certificates will be issued for the purchase or lease of any other new Ford, Mercury, or Lincoln vehicle. The class action consists of consumer protection claims based on Ford's alleged concealment of the Explorer's rollover risk, and for diminished vehicle value due to a tire recall. The case did not include any claims for motor vehicle accidents. For more information on the settlement, visit the California Ford Explorer Class Action Official Court Website.

Supreme Court Upholds Lethal Injection

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld Kentucky's lethal injection procedures for carrying out capital punishment.

In a 7-2 decision authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court held that Kentucky's lethal injection protocol -- involving the administration of three drugs -- does not violate Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment. The challenge was brought by a number of convicted murderers sentenced to death in Kentucky, who claimed that there was a significant risk that the lethal injection procedures would not be properly followed. According to the Associated Press, "[t]he argument against the three-drug protocol is that if the initial anesthetic does not take hold, the other two drugs can cause excruciating pain." Lethal injection is utilized as a method of capital punishment in 36 states.

Studies: Merck Engaged in Deception Over Vioxx

Merck, manufacturer of the painkiller Vioxx, was slow to convey information on health risks associated with the drug, and the company wrote a number of research studies which were later published as the work of well-known doctors, according to two studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The Washington Post reports that one study accuses Merck of giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) an "incomplete accounting of deaths in a clinical trial of Vioxx in people with mild dementia." According to the New York Times, the second JAMA study "provides a rare, detailed look into the industry practice of ghostwriting medical research studies that are then published in academic journals." In September 2004, Merck announced that it was voluntarily withdrawing Vioxx from the market worldwide, due to increased risks of cardiovascular problems (including heart attack and stroke) in users of the drug.

Salmonella Illness Linked to Recalled Cereal

At least 23 people in 14 states have been diagnosed with salmonellosis from the same strain of Salmonella that was found in recently recalled Malt-O-Meal cereals, according to a Press Release from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). On April 5, Malt-O-Meal announced that it was recalling its unsweetened "Puffed Rice" and "Puffed Wheat" cereals with "Best If Used By" dates between April 8, 2008 (coded as "APR0808") and March 18, 2009 (coded as "MAR1809"), after routine testing found salmonella contamination in cereal produced in late March. The impacted cereals were sold under the "Malt-O-Meal" brand, and were also marketed under private labels (see a comprehensive listing of affected products from Malt-O-Meal). The FDA is advising consumers to throw out any cereal in their homes from these recalled lots, and is instructing retailers to promptly remove the cereals from their shelves.

April 15 Tax Filing Deadline

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is reminding taxpayers that April 15 is the deadline for filing your 2007 federal income tax return. Taxpayers who need more time to file can get an automatic six-month extension by filing a Form 4868, Automatic Extension of Time to File with the IRS by the April 15 deadline. The extension gives taxpayers until October 15, 2008 to file their 2007 return. But this extension of time to file is not an extension of time to pay. You should pay any taxes you owe by the April 15 deadline; otherwise, or you will accrue interest and possible penalties.

FCC OKs Emergency Alerts Via Text Message

During disasters and other emergencies, the nation's wireless carriers will transmit alerts, warnings and other critical information to cell phones and other mobile devices of consumers, under an order adopted Wednesday by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Under the new plan -- which is part of the Warning, Alert and Response Network Act (WARN Act) and could be in place by 2010 -- consumers would receive "Presidential Alerts," "Imminent Threat Alerts," and "Child Abduction Emergency/AMBER Alerts." The New York Times reports that wireless carrier participation in the plan is voluntary, and consumers will be free to "opt out" of receiving the alerts.

American Airlines Flight Cancellations Continue

American Airlines has announced the safety-related cancellation of about 600 flights scheduled for Friday. More than 3,o00 American Airlines flights have been cancelled since the airline -- the world's largest air carrier -- started grounding and inspecting its MD-80 aircraft on Tuesday. An American Airlines announcement states that "additional inspections of our MD-80 fleet are being conducted to ensure precise and complete compliance with the FAA's directive related to wiring in the aircraft's wheel wells." The airline hopes to end the flight cancellations by the end-of-day Saturday. The American Airlines website is providing information about ticket refunds and compensation for customers who have been forced to make overnight stays due to the flight cancellations.

FDA: More Deaths Linked to Heparin

Over the last 15 months, at least 103 patients have died after receiving heparin blood-thinning medication, according to information released Tuesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In February 2008, Baxter Healthcare Corporation recalled multi-dose and single-dose vials of heparin sodium for injection after FDA scientists identified a previously unknown contaminant in the heparin. To ensure that all is being done to provide a safe supply of heparin, FDA is urging medical device manufacturers to screen for the potentially harmful contaminant. The Los Angeles Times reports that "products to be tested cover a spectrum of equipment and uses," including "kits that flush out intravenous lines, drug-coated stents for opening clogged arteries and certain diagnostic tests that use heparin and could deliver inaccurate results if contaminated."

FindLaw's April Spotlight: Filing Your Taxes

Each month FindLaw for the Public highlights a legal topic. In time for this year's April 15th deadline for filing your personal federal income tax return, the spotlight for April 2008 is on Filing Your Taxes, featuring tips and resources on filing your federal and state income tax returns, information on economic stimulus rebates, new tax laws for 2008, and much more.

Study: Airline Passenger Complaints On Rise

Results from the 18th annual Airline Quality Rating Report released today show that the top three air carriers for passenger satisfaction in 2007 were Air Tran, Jet Blue, and Southwest Airlines -- based on criteria including on-time arrivals, baggage handling, customer complaints, and boarding denials. The Associated Press reports that "overall the industry did a poor job last year," with "more lost bags, more bumped passengers, more consumer complaints and fewer on-time flights than in the previous year." According to its authors -- professors Brent Bowen of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Dean Headley of Wichita State University -- the AQR is a summary of quality ratings for the largest domestic U.S. airlines. 16 airlines were evaluated for 2007.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Honored

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the 39-year-old Nobel Prize winning leader of the civil rights movement, is being honored today in a number of events in cities across the nation, forty years after his assassination on April 4, 1968. The Associated Press reports that thousands of people turned out in Memphis for a march to the Lorraine Motel, where King was assassinated, and Presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain are set to take part in commemorative events in Memphis later today.

FAA Inspectors: Safety Violations Ignored

At a U.S. House of Representatives committee hearing today, safety inspectors for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) testified that safety violations were repeatedly ignored by agency superiors. According to the New York Times, the inspectors stated that "F.A.A. supervisors knew of the problems but had discouraged [the inspectors] from pursuing the safety problems or addressing problems within the agency, even threatening to relieve them of their duties." The Los Angeles Times reports that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman accused the FAA of "the most serious lapse in safety . . . in the past 23 years." Yesterday, acting FAA Administrator Robert A. Sturgell announced improvements to the agency's inspection program -- including enabling inspectors to raise their concerns quicker and at a higher level, preventing inspectors' potential conflicts of interest, and improving the clarity and coordination of FAA directives to air carriers.

AIDS Drugs Linked to Heart Attack Risk

Use of the popular AIDS drugs Ziagen and Videx appears to dramatically increase the risk of heart attack, according to a study published in the UK medical journal The Lancet. The study finds that nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) such as Ziagen (abacavir) and the antiretroviral drug Videx (didanosine) -- both commonly used as part of AIDS treatment regimens -- were found to be linked to an increased risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that heart attack risk seemed to be reversible once Ziagen or Videx treatment was stopped, and the agency will work with the drugs' manufacturers to evaluate the risks and benefits of using these drugs as part of an HIV treatment program.

EPA Issues New Lead Paint Safety Rules

Contractors who are renovating old homes and buildings where children may be exposed to lead paint will face tighter workplace restrictions under new standards announced Monday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The new rules -- which will take effect in April 2010 and are designed to prohibit practices that create harmful lead dust and debris -- apply to contractors who are renovating or repairing residences, child-care facilities, and schools that were built before 1978. The Associated Press reports that a number of U.S. Senate Democrats have criticized the EPA's action, in part because the new standards do not apply to homes in which children over six years of age reside.