Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

January 2010 Archives

Chain Restaurants Included in December's Beef Recall

As previously reported on this blog, a recall was announced by the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) on December 24, 2009 of 248,000 pounds of beef produced by Oklahoma based National Steak and Poultry. The beef had been mechanically tenderized, making this at least the second time in the past two years that such a product has been implicated in an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. Several restaurant chains were specifically included in the recall which centered mostly in the West and Mid-West.

As reported in the initial post on this recall, the FSIS had given recall a "class 1" rating, that is at determination that there is a reasonable probability that the use of the products in question will cause “serious, adverse health consequences or death.”

The five chains covered by the beef recall were: Applebee's, Olive Garden (both operated by Darden Restaurants Inc.), Moe’s Southwest Grill, Carino’s Italian and KRM Inc., operator of 15 54th Street Grill & Bar locations. All restaurants took immediate steps to ensure the safety of their customers.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last Tuesday that there have been 21 confirmed cases of E. coli illness in 16 states, including nine that required hospitalization, associated with the recalled beef. Officials indicated that the outbreak may have already spiked.

According to the CDC, the states in which E. coli cases have been confirmed are California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Washington. Fortunately, by mid-December the worst of the illnesses reported from the recall seemed to be over, according to Arleen Purcell-Pharr, a public affairs specialist for Atlanta-based CDC. She added that no fatalities have been associated with the outbreak.

Companies or consumers who still have questions about the recall may contact National Steak and Poultry at (866) 439-7348.

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Are We There Yet? Recall on Car Seats Expected Next Week

As a rule of thumb, it has been recommend that parents discard children's car seats that are over 6 years old. Consumer Reports Safety Blog reports that an upcoming product recall by Dorel will reinforce this rule.

CR writes that next week, Dorel Juvenile Group (DJG) will announce a product recall of more than four million Cosco and Eddie Bauer car seats. The models affected are Cosco Alpha/Omega, Touriva and Hi Back and Eddie Bauer Touriva and Hi Back car seats.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are two problems with the recalled seats. First, the webbing on 3,957,826 Dorel seats fails to conform to standards for abrasion; and second, the webbing on 54,400 car seats may degrade when exposed to sunlight. The result of both problems is the possibility the seats won’t provide sufficient protection in a crash.

CR's Safety Blog reports that the recall has been seven years in the making. In fact, they write, the model numbers under recall are all eight to ten years old. Usually, this means the children the seats were originally purchased for are starting to dream about sitting behind the wheel, but even so, consumers may be using the seats longer than is safe. There are no expiration dates attached to the seats under recall as there are on the newer models. And, due to the “tough economic times,” NHTSA says, people are likely to hang onto them longer than they should.

The model numbers that will be under recall can be found on the NHTSA's website by searching under campaign number 02C026000. Back to the rule of thumb, as CR reminds us, components of a child care seat are likely to degrade under normal wear and tear. Replacing the webbing or other parts specifically listed is not the best way to ensure the safety of the seat's occupant. The best option is to replace seats after the six year point has been reached.

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Toyota has some explaining to do. The recent rash of Toyota recalls coupled with the sales halt of eight of its models indicates that there are potential safety hazards that not even Toyota knows how to fix.

The New York Times blog writes how under federal regulations, a carmaker is not allowed to sell a car with known safety defects. The only way that a carmaker can sell a car with known defect is if can be defect that can be fixed. Toyota had no choice but to stop selling the vehicles.

The Detroit News quoted the company's statement about the halt of sales: "In light of the safety concerns being raised about Toyota vehicles, we are taking the precaution of removing all of the approximately 20,000 cars that Toyota has identified for recall from our fleet in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico." It took them five days after their most recent recall in order to halt sales.

While it seems like a very bold move on the part of Toyota, they were actually bound by federal regulations to do so. The new administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, David Strickland told the Detroit News that the move "was an aggressive one and was the legally and morally correct thing to do."

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood took it one step further and indicated that Toyota needed federal intervention in order to halt sales of their defective cars. He told Chicago radio station WGN: "The reason Toyota decided to do the recall and to stop manufacturing was because we asked them to."

While it remains to be seen why exactly Toyota needed federal prodding to halt sales of their defective cars, one thing is for certain; this is only the beginning of a long safety investigation.

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Salami Food Recall Due to Possible Salmonella Contamination

Daniele Inc., an Italian specialty meats company based in Rhode Island, has initiated a voluntary recall of its pepper salami because of a possible salmonella contamination. According to a press release by the company, the salami food recall was initiated because of 11 individuals who became sick after eating the salami. The press release indicates that there is not a confirmed direct link between the product and the sick consumers as of yet.

USA Today reports that far more consumers may have been affected. There was an outbreak that made 184 people sick in 38 different states back in July 2009. There were no deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released this chart of the outbreak here. They also charted how the salami could be a possible source of the illness here.

Most people infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days. Some people can suffer from diarrhea that is so severe, that they need to be hospitalized. These patients may have the salmonella infection spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other sites. This may cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have severe illness.

1.2 million pounds of ready-to-eat pepper-coated salamis, sausages and other cured meats have been recalled by Daniele Inc. because of the possible contamination. The common denominator for all of the recalled products is that they all were rolled in pepper or packaged with a product that contained pepper. USA Today quotes David Theno, former head of food safety at Jack in the Box as saying that uncooked pepper has been known to carry salmonella.

As a result of this knowledge, Daniele spokesman Jason Maloni told reporters that the company will be using irradiated pepper in their products.  

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The FDA Issues Class 1 Recall on Needles

The FDA issued a Class 1 recall on needles manufactured by Huber. While the company is headquartered in Los Angeles, the needles involved in this recall were made in Japan. According to a press release by the FDA, the needles were used to access ports implanted under the skin of chronically ill patients for repeated access to veins for the withdrawal of blood and infusion of medication, nutritional solutions, blood products, and imaging solutions. They designed to penetrate the port without cutting and dislodging any silicone cores (or slivers) from the ports into which they are inserted.

However, CNN reports that after an investigation by the FDA, the needles were found to cut slivers of silicone when inserted into ports, which raised the possibility of the silicone slivers entering the veins, damaging the port itself, or harming the surrounding tissue in patient. This occurred in 60-70% of the needles made by Huber. The press release by the FDA indicates that over 2 million needles are affected by this recall. The needles that are being recalled were manufactured from January 2007 to August 2009.

There are currently ongoing investigations on 20 companies that manufacture needles. To date, only 10 investigations have been completed. No other products have been recalled.

All hospitals, clinics and patients who have needles from these lists should immediately stop using these affected products and return any unused products to Exelint International Corporation. Direct all questions concerning this recall to:

Attn: Armand Hamid
EXEL International
5408 West Centinela Ave
Los Angeles, Calif. 90045-1504
Tel. 800-940-3935
Fax 800-308-5048

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Group Urges FDA to Pull Fibromylagia Drug from Market

Last week, a group called Public Citizen sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration urging them to pull the drug Savella off the market. Savella, which is marketed by Forest Laboratories Inc. and Cypress Bioscience Inc., is used to treat fibromylagia, a disease with "a wide range" of pain-related symptoms, including muscle soreness, headache, fatigue and depression.

According to a report by the Associated Press, last summer European regulators rejected the drug due to lack of effectiveness data and the drug's side effects. Public Citizen feels the FDA should follow suit. Studies have shown that 20 percent of patients taking Savella had hypertension, or high blood pressure, compared with only 7 percent of those taking a placebo.

Further, it is just not clear what pain relief benefit is realized from taking the drug. Again, AP reports that a reanalyzed study showed only 9 percent of patients on Savella significantly reduced their pain, compared with 7 percent of those taking a placebo.

The FDA approval process includes questions regarding whether a company can properly manufacture the proposed drug, the test results for the drug, and the company's proposed label for the drug. The labeling should include uses for which the drug has been shown to be effective, possible risks, and how to use it. Finally, the FDA balances whether or not the drug's benefits outweigh the known risks and side effects. According to Public Citizen, that balance needs to be reevaluated by the FDA.

Other drugs for fibromylagia, Cymbalta and the anti-seizure treatment Lyrica have been cleared by the FDA approval process for treatment of the disease.

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Tyson Foods Settles "No Antibiotics" Class Action Suit

Tyson Foods has agreed to settle a class action suit brought against the company for the allegedly false claim that their chickens were "raised without antibiotics." The food giant agreed to pay the class of consumers up to $5 million, with a potential for up to $50 per consumer. After paying the attorney's fees of $3 million dollars, any money remaining in the settlement fund will be distributed to food banks. The settlement still awaits the approval of a federal judge.

In 2008, Tyson was ordered by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the USDA, who reviews all such claims, to stop using the statement "raised without antibiotics" on their label. The FSIS wrote that Tyson, "...routinely used the antibiotic Gentamicin to prevent illness and death in chicks. Because of this information, FSIS notified Tyson Foods, Inc. that the company must stop using the qualified raised without antibiotics labels, or any variation of a "raised without antibiotics" claim by June 18. This order came after two major competitors sued Tyson for lost sales due to the claims.

Tyson has insisted that it's claim was technically true. Although company injected its eggs with the antibiotics, since the chickens are not "raised" until after hatching, the company stood behind its claim. A statement from Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said, “[W]hile we believe our company acted appropriately, we also believe it makes sense for us to resolve this legal matter and move on.” According to Consumer Affairs, Tyson spent at least $70 million on its "no antibiotics" campaign before litigation even began.

Consumers who have receipts for the purchase of Tyson chicken my receive up to $50 of the settlement funds. Those without receipts may receive up to $10.00.

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The Latest in Beef Recalls: Beef Recalled by CA Firm

Approximately 864,000 pounds of beef recalled may be contaminated with E. coli. This is the most recent in the rash of beef recalls covered by Findlaw's Common Law Blog. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the California firm Huntington Meat Packing, Inc. is recalling the following items:

  • 40 lb. boxes of "Huntington Meats Ground Beef"
  • 40 lb. boxes of "BEEF BURRITO FILLING MIX"
  • 10 lb. boxes of "El Rancho MEAT & PROVISION ALL BEEF PATTIES"

The recall involves products made from January 5, 2010 to January 15, 2010. The recall also include products made from February 19, 2008 to May 15, 2008. Most of the products have been shipped to distribution centers, restaurants, and hotels within the State of California.

There are currently no reports of any E. coli infection because of the beef recalled. E. coli infection often leads to bloody diarrhea, and occasionally to kidney failure. Sometimes, E. coli poisoning can lead to death or even paralysis. We recently covered a lawsuit filed by a dancer paralyzed by a tainted beef patty that she ate a family barbeque in Findlaw's Injured blog.

This beef recall is just one of many. We recently covered just how many beef recalls there have been in the past few months on Findlaw's Common Law Blog.

These recalls illustrate a need for stricter inspections standards. The New York Times quotes Donna Rosenbaum, executive director of Safe Tables Our Priority, as saying, “To this day, contamination problems are not found by any checks on the products by companies. They’re found when people get sick, and that’s a failure in the system.” This particular beef recall was done after FSIS found possible contamination.

Currently the FSIS recommends that all consumers to safely prepare their raw meat products, including fresh and frozen, and only consume ground beef or ground beef patties that have been cooked to a temperature of 160° F. The only way to be sure ground beef is cooked to a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria is to use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature.

For more information, please visit our Related Resources.

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Last November, the Department of Justice reached a $98 million settlement agreement with Omnicare, Inc., the nation's largest pharmacy specializing in prescribing for nursing home patients, over alleged kickbacks in violation of the False Claims Act. On January 15, the Dept. of Justice announced it is filing suit against the other member in the alleged kickback scheme, Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries, Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., and Johnson & Johnson Health Care Systems Inc.

The DOJ announced in a recent press release that it has filed suit, under the False Claims Act (as with Omnicare), against J&J and its subsidiaries, for what it alleges is a system of kickbacks designed to entice Omnicare pharmacists to recommend J&J drugs for patients in the nursing homes that it serves. According to the complaint, Omnicare pharmacists reviewed nursing home patients' charts "at least monthly" and made recommendations to physicians for J&J drugs which were followed more than 80% of the time. In fact, the government alleges that the recommendations by pharmacists were so pervasive and well received that Johnson actually viewed the pharmacists as an "extension of [J&J’s] sales force."

Among the types of inducements J&J was alleged to have offered Omnicare were increasing levels of rebates based on how many programs Omnicare implemented to increase the number of J&J drugs prescribed, payment for data that never materialized, "grants" and educational funding which were merely further payment for recommending the company's products.

Under its settlement with the government, Omnicare has admitted no wrongdoing.

Johnson & Johnson issued a statement denying the allegations and stating in part, "We believe airing the facts will confirm that our conduct, including rebating programs like those the government now challenges, was lawful and appropriate. We look forward to the opportunity to present our evidence in court."

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FDA Warning About Meridia Diet Drug

There is an FDA warning about the possible side effects of heart attacks and strokes for patients taking the Meridia diet drug. ABC news reports that the FDA added new warnings to let patients with heart problems know that they are at an increased risk of heart attack and stroke if they use Meridia.

The additional warnings on the Meridia diet drug comes on the heels of the European Medicines Agency announcing that they will recommend that healthcare providers stop using the diet drug which is issued by Abbott Laboratories. ABC News quotes the agency as saying, "the risks of these medicines are greater than their benefits."

In a press release by the FDA back in November 2009, the agency said that they were reviewing the findings of a study that found a link between taking the diet drug and cardiovascular events. The study suggested that patients using sibutramine which is the active ingredient in Meridia; experienced a higher number of cardiovascular events compared to those using a placebo. The preliminary data shows that cardiovascular events were reported in 11.4% of patients using sibutramine compared to 10% of patients using a placebo.

According to a press release by the FDA, Abbott Laboratories has agreed to add additional warnings to their drug warning label for Meridia. The new warning will advise that patients should not use the drug if they have a history of: coronary artery disease, stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), heart arrhythmias, congestive heart failure, peripheral arterial disease and uncontrolled hyerptension.

The FDA advises that any patients currently taking Meridia should consult with their doctor in order to decide if they should continue using the drug. The FDA recommends that healthcare providers monitor their patients' blood pressure and heart rate if they are using Meridia.

For more information, please visit our Related Resources.

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More Toyota Recalls Over Accelerator Pedal Sticking Issues

Toyota is issuing its second recall amid complaints among its consumers about sudden acceleration. The New York Times reports that the recall is intended to prevent possible accelerator pedal sticking. Accelerator pedal sticking is what Toyota claims is causing sudden acceleration. This recall will cover over 2.3 million vehicles made from 2005 through 2010. This is the second in what could be a few Toyota recalls.

The first recall was supposed to fix the unintended acceleration problem by removing floor mats that could get stuck to the accelerator pedal. We wrote about the first recall on Findlaw's Common Law Blog. Toyota claimed that the floor mats can hold down the accelerator and cause deadly high speed crashes.

However, Toyota still received reports of sudden acceleration and stuck pedals even in cases where the floor mats had been removed. The most chilling was an accident the day after Christmas in Dallas. The Toyota Avalon sped off the road and into a pond which resulted in the death of four people. The police discovered that the floor mats were in the trunk of the car.

That incident along with another incident in New Jersey, has prompted Toyota to address the problem directly. “Our investigation indicates that there is a possibility that certain accelerator pedal mechanisms may, in rare instances, mechanically stick in a partially depressed position or return slowly to the idle position,” said Irv Miller, a group vice president of Toyota Motors Sales U.S.A; who was quoted by The New York Times.

According to a press release issued by Toyota, the following vehicles are involved in this second recall:

  • 2009-2010 RAV4,
  • 2009-2010 Corolla,
  • 2009-2010 Matrix,
  • 2005-2010 Avalon,
  • 2007-2010 Camry,
  • 2010 Highlander,
  • 2007-2010 Tundra,
  • 2008-2010 Sequoia
Currently, no other vehicles are involved in the recall.

The press release advises consumers who experience sudden acceleration to control the car with firm and steady application of the brakes. The brakes should not be pumped repeatedly because it could deplete vacuum assist, requiring stronger brake pedal pressure.

For more information, please visit our Related Resources.

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Update: Dodd's Almost Done, What Will Happen to the CPFA?

How the announcement of Senate Banking Committee Chair Senator Christopher Dodd's retirement is affecting the financial reform process is still playing out in Washington. One effect is the pressure on a key element of the reform, the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that Senator Dodd is considering dropping plans for an autonomous agency responsible for protecting consumers against industry abuse in credit cards, mortgages and other aspects of lending and simply assigning the powers to another agency. Some think this suggested compromise will aid Dodd in securing the bi-partisan support he needs to pass the legislation as a whole, a key part of any legacy he will leave behind.

However, according to a report by the Huffington Post, the White House is not yet ready to give up on the idea of an independent CFPA. The Administration feels that one agency with concentrated power would be more effective than when competing multiple agencies have partial responsibility for oversight. "The president has always said he thought a consumer authority was important, that there is a tendency when it is spread over seven different agencies at it is now...that it can fall by the wayside, as you saw in past years," Austan Goolsbee, a member of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, told the Post. Some experts on the more progressive end of the spectrum might almost prefer that proposed CFPA be left out of legislation altogether, than to compromise on an Agency without any real power.

As the health care debate winds down, look for more discussion and focus from both the legislative and executive branches on the details of the financial regulation legislation, especially regarding the fate of an autonomous CFPA.

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Charity Scam Artists and Haiti: Donate With Caution

As we wrote about earlier in Findlaw's Law and Daily Life Blog, the response for charitable contributions for the devastating earthquake in Haiti has been immense. Experts say that so much money has never been raised so quickly. But what about charity scam artists and Haiti relief efforts? How do you know what is a legitimate charity organization willing to help the people of Haiti and which ones are charity scam artists trying to make a quick buck off your good will?

The FBI recently issued a warning about charity scam artists who are taking advantage of the earthquake relief efforts in order to make money. CNN reports that most charity scammers make their money via websites. Recently, California's Attorney General issued this press release about charity scams and Haiti. Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. said: "After every tragedy, a wave of scam artists take advantage of generous individuals who want to help the victims of a tragedy. It's important to thoroughly research charitable organizations before you write a check."

Here are some useful tips to ensure that you give your charitable donation to a legitimate charity.

  • Be wary of charities that ask for donation via email or through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.
  • Research the contact information and name of the charity.
  • Do not give any suspicious charity your personal or financial information.
  • Look up the charity at Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, or Charity
  • Find out how much of the money that you donate will actually reach those in need.
  • Don't give cash. Making a check out in the name of the charity makes it harder for scammers to steal from you. Never use a credit card on a website you are not familiar with, or give your information over the phone.
  • If the charity asks you for more than you are willing to give, take that as a red flag. Legitimate charities take all donations happily.

For additional tips on charitable giving, check out our Related Resources.

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The government's anti-terrorism investigations have been run, on occasion, by post-it note. That was just one of many inappropriate, possibly illegible and probably illegal methods the FBI reportedly has been using to obtain phone records from 2003 to 2006, according to a report released today. The Department of Justice Inspector General's report details the practices the FBI used to obtain phone records in the time period after the passage of the Patriot Act loosened the once strict requirements for gathering such information.

The report, "examines in detail the flawed practices that the FBI used to obtain thousands of telephone records, and the accountability of FBI employees for these troubling practices," Inspector General Glenn Fine said. One method under scrutiny is the widespread use of the "exigent circumstances letters" which were used to obtain evidence such as phone records without extended legal process in times of emergency. The report found the FBI issued over 700 letters from 2003 to 2006, many with no emergency actually in existence. The FBI is required by law to follow an exigent circumstance letter with a National Security Letter, a small, technical requirement it now appears was rarely followed.

The report further detailed the "informal" requests for least 3,500 telephone numbers made use of by agents including requests by email, in person, by practically leaning over the shoulder of a phone company employee and yes, by post-it note. The report quotes one senior FBI official saying the free for all methods were, "like having the ATM in your living room." Americans attached to the 4th Amendment can take small comfort in the statement by the FBI that it never obtained the content of any telephone conversations, only the telephone billing records.

The Bureau was further reported to have obtained phone records for reporters at the New York Times and the Washington Post without first obtaining approval from the Attorney General as required by federal regulation and department policy.

The report concludes that the Bureau's practices (not to mention record keeping methods) are "troubling," and represented a failure to comply with the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. In response, FBI director Robert Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee during an appearance Wednesday, that the FBI takes the concerns raised in the Inspector General's report "exceptionally seriously."

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CPSC Announces Graco Folding Strollers Recalled

As has been previously reported in this blog, the CPSC has recalled folding strollers due to fingertip amputation hazards to children. Today, the Commission has announced a voluntary recall in conjunction with Graco Children’s Products Inc., of Atlanta, Ga., for the Graco Passage™, Alano™ and Spree™ Strollers and Travel Systems strollers.

The CPSC states that the hinges on the stroller's canopy pose a fingertip amputation and laceration hazard to children when the consumer is opening or closing the canopy. Graco has received seven reports of children placing their fingers in the stroller’s canopy hinge mechanism while the canopy was being opened or closed, resulting in five fingertip amputations and two fingertip lacerations.

It is important to note that Graco manufactured two different styles of hinge mechanisms for these stroller models. Only strollers or travel systems with a plastic, jointed hinge mechanism that has indented canopy positioning notches are included in this recall. The model number and manufacture date are located on the lower inside portion of the rear frame, just above the rear wheels. For a complete list of the specific model numbers listed by the CPSC in this recall and the full announcment from the CPSC, click here.

The recalled strollers were manufactured between October 2004 and February 2008 and were sold during the same period at the following retailers nationwide: Burlington Coat Factory, Babies “R” Us, Toys “R” Us, Kmart, Fred Meyer, Meijers, Navy Exchange, Sears, Target, Walmart and other retailers. The strollers were priced from $80 to $90 and the travel systems from $150 to $200.

The CPSC asks consumers to immediately stop using the strollers and contact the company for a free protective cover repair kit. For additional information, contact Graco at (800) 345-4109 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or visit the firm’s Web site at

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CPSC Announces One More Drop Side Crib Recall

Today the CPSC, in conjunction with the company Dorel Asia SRL, of Barbados, announced a voluntary recall of drop side and non-drop side cribs. Consumers are asked to stop using the Dorel cribs immediately until they receive and install a repair kit. The CPSC reports that suffocation or strangulation can occur when the drop side detaches and creates a space that the infant can become trapped in. The same dangers can occur when a slat on the side of the crib becomes damaged.

The CPSC has received one report of the death of a six month old child when the drop side hardware broke and the parents continued to use the crib after attempting to fix it themselves. CPSC and Dorel have reports of 31 drop side incidents and 36 incidents of slat breakage.

The cribs under recall were sold at K-Mart, Sears and Wal-Mart stores nationwide from January 2005 through December 2009 for between $120 and $700. For the complete CPSC list of model numbers and descriptions of the cribs under recall, click here.

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled cribs and contact Dorel Asia to receive a free replacement kit. Consumers can log on to to order the kit. According to the CPSC, repair kits will be provided to owners within the next several weeks.

To contact Dorel Asia, call toll-free at (866) 762-2304 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or visit the firm’s Web site at

The CPSC reminds parents not to use any crib with broken, loose or missing parts and to check to insure the drop side of the crib functions smoothly. Do not attempt to repair any part of a crib with wire, string, duct tape or rope.

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FDA Warning Issued Over Fake Alli Drug Sales

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently issued a warning about counterfeit Alli drug sales. The FDA warning details that the counterfeit version of the Alli drug has been sold online. The fake Alli drug could have potentially harmful effects if taken. According to the FDA warning, the fake Alli drug does not contain orlistat; which is the active ingredient in the authentic Alli drug.

Instead, the fake Alli drug contains the controlled substance sibutramine. Sibutramine is a drug that should not be used in certain patient populations or without doctor supervision. According to the Wall Street Journal, it is the substance that is found in the diet drug Meridia. This particular substance is known to interact with other medications. While Alli can be taken over the counter, any drug with sibutramine should not. Another issue is that the drug Meridia should be taken once a day while Alli is taken three times a day. This exposes consumers to health risks.

The FDA has released that the maker of Alli, Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) have received consumer complaints about possible fake Alli pills on the market since early December 2009. Some of the features of the counterfeit Alli are:

  • Outer cardboard packaging missing a “Lot” code;
  • Expiration date that includes the month, day, and year (e.g., 06162010); authentic Alli expiration date includes only the month and year (e.g.,: 05/12);
  • Packaging in a plastic bottle that has a slightly taller and wider cap with coarser ribbing than the genuine product;
  • Plain foil inner safety seal under the plastic cap without any printed words; the authentic product seal is printed with “SEALED for YOUR PROTECTION”;
  • Contains larger capsules with a white powder, instead of small white pellets.

Consumers who believe they have received counterfeit Alli are asked to contact the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI) by calling 800-551-3989 or by visiting the OCI Web site (

For more information, please visit our Related Resources.

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The FDA Criticizes Johnson & Johnson Recall

The FDA had some strong words for the company Johnson & Johnson over its handling over consumer complaints of strange odors from their over the counter drugs such as Tylenol, Benadryl and Motrin. CNN reports that the FDA was angry over the Johnson & Johnson recall taking so long. It had been receiving complaints of an "unusual moldy, musty or mildew-like" odor since 2008.

CNN quotes Deborah Autor, director of FDA's compliance office as saying, "When something smells bad, literally and figuratively, you aggressively investigate and solve the problem." The FDA issued a warning letter to the company that stated that it had 15 days to report back what it was doing to fix the problem and prevent future problems back in 2008 and did not receive a timely response. Getting a warning letter from the FDA is bad news. As we wrote about previous in the Common Law Blog, while these letters are not legally binding, they do allow the FDA to sue the drug company.

CNN spoke to Ira Loss, senior health policy analyst with consulting firm Washington Analysis who said that letters such as those sent by the FDA open the door to injunctions, product seizures, and other serious measures.

After being contacted again by the FDA, Johnson & Johnson revealed that the smell was caused by chemical called "2,4,6-tribromoanisole (TBA)," which is applied to wooden pallets that are used to transport and store packaging materials. Not only were the drugs smelly, but they also caused some consumers to have problems such as nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Currently, there are the following drugs on voluntary recall: Children's Motrin, Children's Tylenol, Benadryl, Extra Strength Tylenol, Motrin IB, Regular Strength Tylenol, Rolaids, Simply Sleep, St. Joseph Aspirin, Tylenol 8 Hour, Tylenol Arthritis, and Tylenol PM.

Consumers can call 1-888-222-6036 or log on to The company said consumers with medical concerns should contact their health care provider

For more information, please visit our Related Resources.

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FSIS Announces Beef Recall in Massachusetts

On January 11, the Dept. of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced a recall of approximately 2,574 pounds of beef from Adams Farm Slaughterhouse in Athol, Mass. State safety inspectors have discovered the presence of E. Coli 0157:H7 in beef from that source. Working with the FSIS, state inspectors have determined they have found a link between the contamination and at least one illness reported in Massachusetts.

The products listed for recall are as follows: 1,025-pounds of "Beef Cuts and Ground" packed for Mazzarese; 697-pounds of "Beef Cuts and Ground" packed for Side Hill Farm; 852-pounds of "Beef Cuts and Ground" packed for Sweet Water Farm. Each package bears a label with the establishment number "EST. 5497" inside the USDA mark of inspection and a packaging date of 11/11/2009. The beef products were distributed to private owners on three separate farms in the state of Massachusetts.

The FSIS encourages anyone who thinks they may have symptoms of a food borne illness to see their doctor. Symptoms connected with E. Coli contamination include bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and in the most severe cases, kidney failure. Those with weakened immune systems are the most susceptible to food borne illness.

The FSIS advises that beef is safest when cooked to a temperature of 160° F. The best way to be sure beef has been cooked appropriately to kill any bacteria that may be present is to use a cooking thermometer to measure the internal temperature of the food.

Questions about the recall can be directed to the company's Business Manager, Edward Maltby, at (413) 427-7323. For the full text of the recall announcement go to:

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Taking Charge: New Credit Card Rules Help Out Americans

The federal government recently released new credit card rules that makes it harder for credit card companies to take advantage of American consumers. CNN reports that banks must comply with the credit card rules starting on Feb. 22, 2009.

Some of the new credit card rules that protect consumers are:

  • Minimum interest rates will not be set by card issuers
  • No automatic enrollment in over-the-limit programs
  • Banks can no longer increase interest rates based on a consumer's paying or not paying other bills (no universal default)
  • Consumers will get a 45 day notice on prime rate changes and existing balances generally may not be subject to the changed interest rate
  • No over-the-limit fees from accidental processing on the issuer's part

The American Bankers Association now says consumers will benefit from the new rules. This is contrary to what the industry thought back when the legislation was passed in the Senate. As we wrote previously in Common Law, credit card companies asserted that the legislation may backfire, forcing banks to issue fewer credit cards at greater cost to the current cardholders and making credit harder to get at a time when many Americans need it.

However, we also wrote about how the very same companies tried to take advantage of consumers before the new credit card rules take effect by raising interest rates, imposing penalty fees, and having "hair trigger" penalty rates.

There are many who say that the new credit card rules actually help consumers. CNN quotes Nessa Feddis, vice president and senior counsel for the American Bankers Association as saying, "This demonstrates the Fed is trying to anticipate moves and err on the side of consumers."

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Nobody likes to be criticized publicly, least of all it seems, doctors. A new trend with medical care providers has website ratings services such as AngiesList and RateMDs feeling a bit ill. Doctors, saying they fear for their all-important reputations, have taken to asking patients to sign confidentiality agreements stating they will not rate doctors or their services on line. AngiesList founder Angie Hicks calls these agreements "medical gag orders" and they may be unenforceable.

The growing use of these confidentiality agreements has developed in response to what some doctors perceive as unfair, damaging and potentially libelous comments posted on the online ratings services. Dr. Jeffrey Segal, a neurosurgeon and founder of Medical Justice Services Inc., a North Carolina-based business that helps doctors battle defamation (for a fee), says patients are always free to seek medical providers who don't require this type of agreement be signed. It is unclear what Segal would suggest to a patient who had already developed a relationship with a doctor, or if there were no other medical care providers in the area who were part of the patient's insurance network.

These contracts haven’t been tested in court, and Internet law experts say they’re unlikely to prevail.

Segal sees the rights of the doctors as lagging in this area. “There is no venue for physicians to get their side of the story out,” said Segal, who notes that doctors can't respond to specific patients because doing so would violate federal privacy laws. When the posting is anonymous, as it is on some sites, it could be from any source, such as a competitor, ex-employee, or even an ex-spouse, Segal said.

One difficulty with this argument is that it holds true for anonymous or untraceable comments regarding any person hoping to earn their livelihood by providing services that are reviewed online. Doctors do have a more rigorous standard of confidentiality than perhaps that plumber who was harshly reviewed on AngiesList, but both are equally at risk of loosing custom from a bad review. Perhaps it is just that the stakes are higher for doctors, involving as they do risk to health, life and large sums of money...more so than the average plumber.

A backlash is now gowning however, against those doctors requiring the agreements. now includes a "wall of shame" for those docs who require them. More importantly, the Office of Civil Rights for the federal department of Health and Human Services recently forced a doctors’ practice to stop requiring patients to sign waivers in exchange for privacy protections already mandated under HIPAA, the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Some doctors complain that the reviews focus more on a doctor's attitude and bedside matter than the medical outcome. This may be a valid complaint, but it may also be a tool for doctors to bridge the gap between medical competence and respect for patients that is often a major cause for complaint both on and off line.

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Android User Beware of Malware Apps Scam

The Google Android user has something else to worry about besides IPhone envy. It turns out the Android user must also worry about malware apps that could scam them out of money from their bank accounts. USA Today reports that apps from the developer "09Droid" were pulled from Google's Android Marketplace because of concerns that the apps could possibly be programmed to steal account login information of Android users.

ComputerWorld reports that some banking institutions warned customers not to use the Android apps. BayPort Credit Union of VA issued this warning "It is believed that fraudsters deployed fraudulent mobile banking applications to the Android Marketplace, using a phishing technique to attempt to gain access to mobile banking users financial information." First Tech Credit Union of Oregon also warned its customers of suspicious apps for Android. First Tech Credit Union's warning said: "We recently learned that a fraudster developed a rogue Android Smartphone app. It creates a shell of mobile banking apps that tries to gain access to a consumer’s financial information."

Google goes through a process that is vastly different from Apple's when it comes to placing apps for smartphones in the marketplace. According to PCWorld, Google depends on users to let them know when an app is phishy so to speak. This means a greater vulnerability for Android users and the businesses that work with smartphones like the Android. Apple heavily polices all of the apps that it places in their marketplace. As a result, there have been no reports of malware apps (except on IPhones that have been jailbroken).

As a result of this process, Google may need to reconsider its self-policing policies because it could mean that new smartphone users will walk away from using the Android. While it has pulled the suspicious apps, Google will have to ramp up security and customer support in order to keep customers happy and safe.

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AP Report on Cadmium Toxicity Spurs a Response

The federal government and retailers have responded very quickly to an Associated Press investigative report that found high amounts of cadmium in children's products such as cheap jewelry. Cadmium toxicity is a big concern since cadmium is known to cause cancer, kidney problems, hinder brain development in small children, and cause bones to weaken. The report caused possible items of harm to be pulled from the shelves of Walmart and Claire's

Retailer Response

Walmart removed items after the report found high levels of cadmium in its children's jewelry from manufacturers in China. As we wrote in the Injured blog, Melissa Hill, spokesperson for Walmart said: Walmart had a special responsibility "to take swift action, and we are doing so."

The Detroit News is now reporting that the other retailer named in the report is also pulling its cadmium laced items from shelves. The item cited in the report was a "Best Friends" bracelet sold at Claire's with charms attached to it. Claire's has removed the item from its stores and will offer store credit to customers who return the item. The Detroit News quoted a statement released by Claire's that said: "While we have no reason to believe that this product is unsafe, out of an abundance of caution, we are taking this action because we take our responsibility to our customers very seriously."

Government Response

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reacted swiftly to the AP report by taping a keynote speech by CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. She said: "All of us should be committed to keeping hazardous or toxic levels of heavy metals out of surface coatings and substrates of toys and children's products." The CPSC has started a formal investigation into children's jewelry and the presence of cadmium.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Sen. Charles E. Schumer (Dem-NY) wants to introduce legislation for a cadmium ban on children's products as early as next week. He was quoted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as saying: "It is just despicable that a manufacturer anywhere, in this case in China, would use something that's known to be poisonous to children and put it in children's jewelry to save a few bucks."

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What is an FDA Drug Marketing Enforcement Letter?

Recent marketing enforcement letters the FDA sent to drug makers Eli Lilly, Bayer, Amylin Pharmaceuticals and Cephalon bring up the question: What is an FDA marketing enforcement letter and what does it really mean?

FDA Marketing Enforcement Letters

These are letters sent out as a warning by the FDA in order to rectify what the FDA views as a violation of the the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The warning letter affords firms the opportunity to voluntarily correct violations prior to the initiation of formal enforcement action. It is typically the first notification that a drug company gets that their drug marketing may be in violation.

The Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising, and Communications (DDMAC) of the FDA is responsible for reviewing prescription drug advertising and promotional labeling to ensure that the information contained in these promotional materials is not false or misleading. They typically send out the warning letter. While the letters are not legally binding, they do allow the FDA to sue if the drug companies ignore the letters.

What Are Some Marketing Requirements of Drugs?

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act requires that all drug advertising contain information in brief summary relating to side effects, contraindications, and effectiveness. This includes ALL risk information of a drug. This is called the information disclosure requirement. Drug companies must also refrain from using claims of superiority, unless they have evidence to support the claim. Drug companies must submit their marketing to the FDA for review.

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FDA Warnings Issued Over Drug Company Marketing

The Food Drug Administration has issued warning letters to various drug companies over their promotional materials making inaccurate or incomplete claims. The Los Angeles Times reports that the FDA warnings involve drug company marketing from Eli Lilly, Bayer, Amylin Pharmaceuticals and Cephalon.

For some background on what an FDA marketing enforcement letter is and what it means, look here.

What Drug Companies and Drugs Are involved In Recent Warning Letters?

Eli Lilly was sent a letter by the FDA about their drug Cymbalta. Cymbalta is used for depression, generalized anxiety disorder, diabetic nerve pain and the pain ailment fibromyalgia. The FDA warned Eli Lilly that they did not properly display information about the drug's side effects.

Bayer was warned by the FDA about the marketing of its birth control implant drug Mirena. The agency warned that the marketing of the drug "overstates the efficacy" and "presents unsubstantiated claims."

Amylin Pharmaceuticals' drug Byetta (co-marketed with Eli Lilly) which is used for diabetes has marketing which the FDA views as promoting the drug for unapproved FDA use and also overstated the efficacy of the drug.

Cephalon used a promotional card for its drug Treanda (a lymphoma treatment) that was described by the FDA as "false or misleading because it omits important risk information."

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The Department of Justice recently announced five new civil cases it is pursuing against tax preparers in Detroit, Cincinnati and Chicago. These suits join the twelve filed against individuals and businesses in Rhode Island, in December. The suits seek to stop the named defendants from preparing or in any way advising on tax returns due to allegations of fraudulent claims used to lower the tax liabilities of their customers.

Most of these fraudulent providers of tax preparation services have been quite prolific, providing tax returns for as many as 24,000 customers a piece. Perhaps they can turn out so many returns because they are not overly careful about the deductions they list for their customers. For example, court filings in Rhode Island against tax prep services Refunds Now Inc. and Refunds Now Tax Service Inc.,show the filed returns containing made up charitable contributions, inflated employee business expense deductions, and inflated dependent exemptions, among other tricks. Filings against preparers doing business as K & N Tax Pros Inc., in Chicago allege that defendants prepared or oversaw preparation of over 23,000 customer tax returns containing fabricated or falsified deductions for employee business expenses, mileage, cash contributions, rental losses and medical expenses.

One good rule of thumb when discussing tax returns with a preparation service is, as usual, "...too-good-to-be-true results ... are just that," said John A. DiCicco, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Tax Division. Some issues most of the fraudulent tax prep services had in common were: fabricated or inflated charitable deductions, inflated business expense deductions, inflated or false real estate deductions.

There is one very good reason to steer clear if you think your tax preparer might be stretching the truth a bit. If your preparer gets caught for fraudulent claims, you will not only have lost the money spent to prepare the tax returns, but after the fraud is detected, customers are still responsible for paying all taxes, interest and penalties. To be clear, John DiCicco says, "Taxpayers using these types of preparers, at best, are stuck with paying additional taxes and interest, and at worst, depending on culpability, may be subject to penalties and possibly even criminal prosecution."

Information on Dept. of Justice cases against more than 435 tax-scheme promoters and tax preparers is available on the Justice Department Web site, at

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CPSC Delivers a Shock To Home Repair DIY Folks

Attention home improvement enthusiasts. Please put down your wire clippers and take note of the following product recall announcement from the CPSC. The agency, in conjunction with the Oxmoor House, Inc., of Birmingham, Ala., has announced a voluntary recall on home improvement books. The CPSC believes that the issues under recall contain diagrams that would lead those of us hungry for a little DIY home repair, to incorrectly install or repair electrical wiring leading to shock or fire hazards.

As if a recall on these books weren't cause for concern enough, here comes the real er... shock. The books under recall include editions published as far back as 1975. In fact, on the list are books published in every decade from the '70s until the last date of January, 2009. The books listed for recall by the CPSC are as follows:

AmeriSpec Home Repair Handbook 978-0-376-00180-1, January 2006

Lowe’s Complete Home Improvement and Repair 978-0-376-00922-7, 978-0-376-01098-8, September 2005, December 1999

Lowe’s Complete Home Wiring 978-0-376-00928-9, May 2008

Sunset Basic Home Repairs 978-0-376-01581-5, 978-0-376-01025-4, February 1995, January 1975

Sunset Complete Home Wiring 978-0-376-01594-5, December 1999

Sunset Complete Patio Book 978-0-376-01411-5, 978-0-376-01397-2, 978-0-376-01399-6, January 2006, January 1998, April 1990

Sunset Home Repair Handbook 978-0-376-01258-6, 978-0-376-01256-2, October 1998, February 1985

Sunset Water Gardens 978-0-376-03849-4, January 2004

Sunset You Can Build - Wiring 978-0-376-01596-9, January 2009

Sunset is a trusted name in home improvement. Handyman and teacher Jeff Vasek, co-founder of the DIY Academy in San Jose, Ca, was surprised by the recall but said, "home repair is one of those things that you can't learn out of a book. You need to be trained by an expert." Also, he noted, "the codes have changed a great deal, and the enforcement agencies know a lot more than they did 34, 35 years ago."

These books were available at booksellers and retail outlets nation-wide for the over the last 30 years. Consumers are asked to stop using the books immediately and to contact Oxmoor House for a full refund at: (866) 696-7602 anytime, or visit the firm’s Web site at

No injuries have been reported. For the full text of the CPSC's announcement go to:

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That's why they call it climate change. Throughout the Midwest, East and Southeast, Americans have been faced with an icy blast from Arctic air since last weekend, according to meteorologists. The Southeast, not accustomed to the extreme cold has been hit hardest, shivering in temps that have plunged 10 to 35 degrees below normal for the last two weeks.

Since this cold snap coincides with the to-be-hoped tail end of the great recession, many are still struggling to pay their most basic bills, including gas and electricity. What happens if, during the coldest weather on record, you are faced with the power company threatening to cut off your heat because the bill has not been paid?

In three states, there is a provision called the "Cold Weather Rule." In Minnesota, Missouri, and Kansas, the power company cannot turn off the heat to a home under certain circumstances. For instance, in Minnesota, homeowners are protected from heat shut off from October 15-April 15 each year. In Missouri, the heat can not be turned off if the temperature is forecasted to drop below 32 degrees. In 2009, the Kansas Cold Weather Rule when into effect for the period of November 1-March 31. There are also some regulations in New York City that may prohibit shut off of heating during the cold weather months.

Unfortunately, it is the southern states who are suffering the most from the unexpected cold and do not have state-wide provisions like those listed above. Some southern governments and agencies are being proactive under the stress of weather emergencies. CNN reports that in Memphis, homeowners who had their heat discontinued due to failure to pay had it restored by the city.

If paying the utility bill has become difficult and you are concerned about turn off due to non payment, there are steps you can take. Most utilities suggest that you contact the company first, before your heat, light and/or gas has been shut off. It is easier to keep these utilities on, than to reestablish them, once they have been shut off. According to Turn (a consumer advocate group), power companies may not shut of your utilities without notice and, "[i]f you cannot pay your entire bill in but you are able to make partial payments, the utility must extend your payments." Companies will also take the medical condition of household members into consideration before initiating a shut off.

As with nearly everything else, early action will help address the problem and keep it from getting worse. It might even keep the light in your life a bit longer this winter.

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As has been widely reported, Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd has announced that will be stepping down from his senate seat at the end of this year and will not be seeking reelection. As the Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and currently at work on a controversial and difficult "overhaul" of financial regulations in response to the 2008 Wall Street disintegration, will the Senator's retirement effect the outcome of the senate banking bill?

Listening to the variety of voices dissecting Dodd's departure, its difficult to guess whether or not, in the words of the old football cheer, Dodd will lean to the left, or lean to the right. Regardless, he will have to fight to get his hoped legacy of new financial regulations through the Senate. And it is just that desire that might be the best indicator of what he will do.

The financial regulations legislation is complex, but news sources come back repeatedly to three key issues which affect consumers and may be affected by Dodd's actions. The issues are: 1) the new rules for breaking up faltering banks deemed "too big to fail," 2) new regulations to oversee "exotic" financial products such as derivatives, and 3) the proposed consumer financial protection agency.

It is the loss of last, the consumer protection agency, that some think will be the price Dodd and President Obama will have to pay to pass the bill. However, it is one of the proposals that seems to be high on the priority list for both the president and the senator. Since the senator no longer needs the campaign contributions of the financial industry (that he has counted on in the past) he may well stand and fight for this one element of the bill.

The press and pundits have painted Dodd as a wild-eyed liberal bent on saddling banks with heaps of new regulation and alternatively, as conservative lackey for the Wall Street crowd, sometimes both at once. It can be hard for everyone else to discern which caricature is closer to the truth. As with most things in real life, it's likely be a mixture of both and Dodd have to work both sides of the street to get the bi-partisan cooperation he needs to get the bill, in whatever form, passed. But he will, because without it, he will not have the legacy he seeks.

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The Iowa Legislature received a bit of help from the Catholic Conference this week in its push to increase the state's regulation of payday loans. Although there are currently laws on the books regulating these types of loans, according to the Iowa Division of Banking, borrowers who use payday loans average as many as 12 loans, making the state the nation's leader in the number of loans per consumer.

The two areas of the payday loan industry that are not currently regulated in Iowa are interest rates, and the number of loans permitted to be given to a single borrower. In an industry in which interest rates can reach 400%, the Catholic Conference has suggested a 36% interest ceiling. Iowa's representatives are also thinking about loan limits. "By limiting the number of loans the payday industry can make to one person, lenders will be forced to take some responsibility for ensuring that Iowans don't end up in a vicious debt cycle," said State Rep. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines.

The Executive Director of Iowa's Catholic Conference, Tom Chapman, told reporters Tuesday, that the system of payday loans is based on the failure of Iowans, not on success. Addressing the issue of loan interest rates, Chapman said, "We believe these types of interest rates are unjust and should be outlawed." This is what the Iowa Legislature will consider when it reconvenes later this month.

Most states have some form of regulation for payday lenders. These laws can regulate the amount of fees, the length of time of the loan and the notification lenders are required to give. Some states regulate the amount of interest that can be legally charged and require lenders to be licensed, but many do not. Consumers should carefully review all the terms and interest rates of each loan and make certain they understand those terms before borrowing.

For a state-by-state breakdown of payday lending laws, see the National Conference of State Legislatures link below.

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CPSC Announces Disney/Eddie Bauer Infant Play Yard Recall

The December 30 product recall announcement by the CPSC actually has little to do with the favorite maternal command: "go outside and play." The play yards at issue are for infants and are a combination play-pen, sleeping area, and bassinet, some featuring built in changing tables. This is a voluntary recall from the CPSC in conjunction with the importers of the product, Dorel Juvenile Group Inc., of Columbus, Ind. No injuries have been reported.

The play yards are being recalled due to the potential suffocation hazard caused by the one piece metal bars supporting the floorboard of the bassinet attachment slipping from the fabric sleeves and creating an uneven sleeping surface, posing a risk of suffocation. The specific products under recall are Safety 1st Disney Care Center™ Play Yard and Eddie Bauer Complete Care Play Yard. Model numbers included in the recall are: 05025, 05026, 05037, 05088 and 05350. The model number is printed on a sticker on one of the support legs underneath the play yard. “Safety 1st” or “Eddie Bauer” is printed near the bottom of the fabric sides of the play yards.

The play yards are portable and were sold at Babies “R” Us, Kmart, Sears, Target and Walmart from January 2007 through October 2009 for between $100 and $130. The CPSC asks consumers with the recalled products to stop using them immediately and contact the company, Dorel Juvenile Group, for a free repair kit including replacement bassinet fabric, bassinet bars and installation instructions.

For more information, consumers can contact Dorel Juvenile Group toll-free at (866) 762-2166 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. ET Friday, or visit the firm’s Web site Incident or injury reports can be made to the CPSC by going to:

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This case is one of those interactions between something very ordinary and something most of us have never heard of. No, it's not Balloon Boy again. Have you ever wondered what happens to the balances on those pre-paid phone cards that just never get used? The D.C. Attorney General has evidently spent a little time thinking about it and now is going to spend a little more time in court about it.

In the last week of December, D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles filed suit against AT&T to claim that the unused balances on phone cards belonging to individuals whose last known address was somewhere in D.C., belongs to the District under the law of escheat. "AT&T's prepaid calling cards must be treated as unclaimed property under district law," the attorney general's office said in a statement.

This is the part very few of us are familiar with. The law of escheat is a common law doctrine that dates back to the medieval era, when all unclaimed property would revert back to the power of the local feudal lord. In a slightly more modern context, property can escheat to the state when a person dies without a will or heirs that can be located, or if a bank holds property or money that is unclaimed. Under these circumstances, the money and property escheats to the state.

Jumping back to the current day, the amount left hanging around on those calling cards, known in the industry as "breakage," can amount to as much as 5 to 20 percent of the total balances purchased by consumers who use the cards. "You're talking about a lot of money," said Gene Retske, who worked for AT&T for 20 years and is now editor of Prepaid Press, a trade publication. "You buy a card for a trip. Your trip gets canceled. You throw it in drawer and just forget about it."

No doubt any amount of extra income would be welcome in the District budget, which like so many others, is strained by the tough times. At this time, AT&T has not commented on the suit.

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Social networking applications provider RockYou, who provides applications like Slideshow for MySpace and Superwall for Facebook, was hit by a suit filed last Monday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco due to a major security breach which exposed the email and password information of an alleged 32 million users. Plaintiff Alan Claridge of Evansville, Indiana, claims that hackers were easily able to breach the security RockYou placed on their database containing user information. The complaint includes actions for negligence, breach of contract and breach of California's Security Breach Information Act, among others. At this time, the damages are unspecified.

Claridge claims that RockYou was informed by security company Imperva on December 4 that their database had been breached. But wait, even this part of the process might point up a few holes in the company's security structure. According to Cnet News, the security firm learned about the problem from "underground hackers forums." Allegedly, RockYou had been hit with a common type of exploit known as a "SQL injection flaw" that targets information stored in databases, and it seems hackers were regularly discussing the fact that the hole at RockYou was being exploited. Thank goodness for bragging hackers.

Upon discovering the breach, the suit further claims that the company took 10 to 12 days to inform users of the problem. It did not post a warning on its site and took at least a day to actually fix the security leak. Even though the exposure of a password to a photo app provider may not sound like a serious security issue, most users utilize the same password across a broad spectrum of internet accounts, thus enabling hackers to gain access with one password to many other avenues of personal information.

Claridge and his attorneys are currently seeking class action status for the suit. RockYou responded to the suit in a prepared statement: "RockYou is aware of the class action suit brought by Alan Claridge and plans to defend itself vigorously. The company takes its users' privacy seriously."

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E Coli Outbreak Prompts Machine Tenderized Beef Recall

On Christmas Eve, the National Steak and Poultry Company voluntarily recalled 248,000 lbs. of beef due to contamination with a particularly nasty strain of E. coli bacterium, E. coli O157:H7. The bacteria sickened 21 people throughout 16 states, sending 9 to the hospital and prompting the recall. Because this strain of E. coli is potentially lethal, the USDA considers this recall a class 1 or "high health risk" action.

According to the Washington Post, the Dept. of Agriculture has a partial list of restaurants using beef possibly tainted with the bacteria, including two chain restaurants: Moe's and Carino's Italian Grill, located in the West and Mid-West.

Although the CDC is said to have considered this outbreak relatively small, it overlays a larger problem. This is the fourth outbreak of E. coli contamination in mechanically tenderized beef since 2000.

Beef can be tenderized during processing by being hammered by blades or needles to break up more fibrous tissues such as muscles or connective tissue. This process is vulnerable to contamination problems when applied to cuts such as steaks, which are often served rare. The needling process can push bacteria from the surface of the steak to the center where, if served rare, the cooking process may permit the bacteria to survive.

This has been an issue of concern with the USDA for some time. Carol L. Tucker-Foreman, of Consumer Federation of America, would like to see labels placed on mechanically tenderized beef advising consumers not to serve the meat rare. However, James H. Hodges, executive vice president of the American Meat Institute, disagrees. He says the mechanically tenderized beef is no riskier than any other type and should not carry additional labels.

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Stop number one on this consumer odyssey occured way back in 2007. No doubt parents will recall (no pun intended), the Thomas the Tank Engine toy recalls in June and September of that year caused by the toy's violation of U.S. standards for lead levels. At that time, nearly 1.7 million pieces of the Chinese made Thomas & Friends toys were recalled by importer RC2 Corp. Quite a ways further down the track is the next stop, a settlement announced on December 29th, that the RC2 company has agreed to pay $1.25 million in civil penalties for violating the federal lead paint standards for toys.

During its investigation, the CPSC staff alleged that RC2 knowingly violated federal law by failing to take adequate action to ensure that the toys it imported would comply with the federal lead paint standards. Before the first recall in June '07, RC2 permitted up to 1.5 million units of non-compliant Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway toys to be distributed for sale to U.S. customers.

Federal standards for lead paint were first set in 1978, and banned toys with more than .06% lead paint or surface coatings. This level was further reduced to 0.009% as a result of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. Not coincidently, it was the major recall of the Thomas toys in 2007 that coaxed Congress to get on board (pun intended) and set stronger limits for the federally accepted levels of lead in toys. The Act took effect in 2009.

The current settlement between the CPSC and RC2 settles all allegations against RC2 stemming from the 2007 recalls and also resolves "other potential matters." The settlement has been provisionally accepted by the Commission and goes into effect upon its final acceptance.

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