Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

May 2012 Archives

Is NYC's Proposed Ban on Big Sugary Drinks Legal?

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has plans to introduce a sugary drink ban in New York City and, as predicted, the industry is not happy. The proposed NYC sugary drink ban would prohibit food service establishments from selling sugar-laden beverages that contain more than 25 calories per 8 fluid ounces.

If approved by the Board of Health, restaurants, corner bodegas and even movie theatres will need to cut down on the size of their sugary drinks. Grocery and convenience stores will be the only places to purchase oversized soft drinks.

The fearful need to keep in mind that the NYC sugary drink ban does not cover diet sodas, fruit juices or dairy-based drinks. It also doesn't prohibit the purchase of two drinks or refills, reports The New York Times. Patrons will just need to drink 3 small cups of soda instead of 1.

Despite this reassurance, some are probably still scratching their heads and wondering how such a law can be legal. The reason is a bit complicated.

Under the U.S. Constitution, local governments are given a significant amount of leeway when it comes to matters of health, morality and safety. States and cities have successfully banned synthetic marijuana, trans fat in restaurant food, shark fin soup and foie gras.

Such prohibitions are usually upheld unless they discriminate against out-of-state businesses or between products without a valid reason to do so. Arguably, there's a good reason to allow diet, milk and juice beverages while banning other large sugary drinks. They have less calories and provide some nutrition.

Nonetheless, if the NYC sugary drink ban comes to fruition, there's a good chance someone will sue. People want the government out of their stomachs and companies want to sell their goods.

Related Resources:

Beware Fake Adderall Sold on Internet, FDA Warns

Some online pharmacies are selling fake Adderall, according to the Food and Drug Administration. The federal agency has learned of at least two instances involving the counterfeit pills, which purport to treat those diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The extent of the con is unknown, as the FDA was only alerted once customers called the manufacturer to report misspellings on the packaging, according to Reuters. The websites involved are also unknown. But what the FDA does know is that the fake Adderall had the wrong active ingredients and can possibly be harmful.

The pills also didn't look like the real thing. They were unmarked, white and came in foil packets. Real Adderall is orange or peach, marked with "dp" on one side and "30" on the other, and is sold in bottles.

Adderall is particularly susceptible to counterfeiting at the moment because there has been a shortage since last year. However, consumers are encouraged to be vigilant about any drugs they buy online.

Before you purchase drugs online, you should always research the website and the medication in question. There are a number of online sources, including the manufacturer, that describe the pills. They will tell you color, size, shape and inscriptions. These sites will also often indicate the type of packaging used.

Once you receive your mail order meds, be sure to compare them to the official description before you take them. If fake Adderall can be harmful, imagine what taking a fake heart medicine can do to you.

Related Resources:

Low levels of radioactive compounds have been detected in bluefin tuna off the California coast.

Cesium-137 and cesium-134 were found in 15 tuna captured near San Diego last August, Reuters reports. Scientists believe the fish carried the radioactive materials from the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. The chemicals were released into the waters along the country's eastern coast following the tsunami last year.

So how bad is the radiation?

Apparently, it's still below the Japanese safety limit, according to lead author Daniel Madigan of Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station. However, he wouldn't say whether the fish was or wasn't safe to eat.

"It's become clear that some people feel that any amount of radioactivity, in their minds, is bad and they'd like to avoid it," Madigan said. "But compared to what's there naturally ... and what's established as safety limits, it's not a large amount at all."

Though some cesium-137 is naturally found in bluefin tuna, the amount discovered in the fish in the study was five times the usual amount. On the other hand, cesium-134 is made only through human activities, such as nuclear power.

Bluefin tuna is sold all over the world, including in America. While the amount is reportedly still within Japanese safety limits, if people here get sick from eating it, a product liability lawsuit could be possible. In such situations, all retailers and companies in the chain of distribution could be held legally responsible.

But perhaps the most disturbing revelation uncovered in the study is that the bluefin tuna transported the radioactive materials faster than water and wind.

Related Resources:

So When Can You Sue for Emotional Distress?

Emotional distress is a legal term many people know from daytime court shows and network dramas. It's a word that has become ingrained into our society, but at the same time how it works is very misunderstood. Especially when it comes to suing for it.

Turn on any episode of "Judge Judy" and you'll likely see litigants claiming emotional distress as part of their damages. It doesn't matter what their injuries are, they always request it.

But emotional distress damages are actually only awarded in very specific situations.

The Food and Drug Administration has received almost 1,000 complaints from pet owners claiming Chinese jerky treats made their dogs sick.

Owners and vets reported the treats caused vomiting and diarrhea in pets. In some cases, death and kidney failure occurred, reports. Eventually the FDA issued warnings about the products, which are sold variously as chicken jerky strips, nuggets, and treats.

So what are your options if your dog has fallen ill to one of these products?

Pursuing legal action could prove tricky. That's because other than the consumer complaints, there hasn't been much evidence to back up the allegations.

FDA scientists have conducted repeated tests, but haven't found any toxins that could be responsible for the doggy illnesses. And for now, reports from a review of the Chinese manufacturing plants aren't available yet.

Typically, when a product is defective, everyone in the "chain of distribution" can be sued in a products liability lawsuit. This means all manufacturers, distributers, and retailers of the good can be held legally responsible.

However, aside from the proof issues, this case also poses a couple more problems. The first is that some of the potential defendants are from China. So joining them in a lawsuit creates some tricky jurisdictional problems.

The second is that the parties actually harmed from the treats are dogs, not people. However, this issue can be potentially overcome if the owners claim property damage (in the form of their injured pooches).

Some of the brands of chicken jerky treats named in the complaints include Waggin' Train and Canyon Creek Ranch, MSNBC reports. But again, the FDA hasn't detected any toxins that could've made the dogs sick.

Related Resources:

As summer approaches, homeowners may be getting ready for some long-awaited remodeling projects. So how can you make sure your contractors are licensed and legal?

Some consumers opt for unlicensed contractors, thinking they're cheaper and will do just as good a job. But is it worth a few bucks?

If something goes wrong with unlicensed help, there may be no recourse for a homeowner who's already paid for remodeling work, Portland's KGW-TV reports. "Unfortunately people reach out to Craigslist, they find [unlicensed contractors], and they get taken," an Oregon state investigator said.

There are ways to protect yourself from shoddy contractors, however. Here are some tips:

Do Your Research.

Contractors who advertise or bid on a remodeling project must generally include their license number. You may also want to research different types of contractors, depending on the scope of your project. And you'll want to know what potential scams are out there as well.

Get Referrals from People You Trust.

Friends and relatives who've had success with contractors can point you toward qualified and reliable workers.

Ask for References.

If your contractor wasn't recommended by someone you know, consider asking for three or four references: previous clients who can vouch for the contractor's work. You may also want to inspect some of your contractor's work in person.

Know the Law.

Federal laws and regulations are meant to protect consumers and keep contractors honest. Because these laws are complicated and are subject to change, it may be wise to consult a local construction attorney if you have questions, and especially if you're a victim of an unlicensed contractor.

Related Resources:

How to Tell if Your Identity Has Been Stolen

Identity theft. Everyone worries about it these days, especially as the number of large data breaches increase.

Some people now turn to identity theft protection companies to monitor their financial information. But this isn't necessary -- you can implement an identity theft protection plan by yourself. But to that, you first need to know how to spot identity theft.

Here are some of the tell-tale signs:

1. You get bills for credit cards you didn't open. Or for purchases you didn't make. If you receive letters about these strange cards and purchases, or even phone calls from debt collectors, there's a good chance you have had your identity stolen. It only takes a social security number to open a card.

2. You notice strange charges. Sometimes these credit or debit card purchases are simple mix-ups. Other times, they're evidence of fraud. Monitor your monthly statements and consider setting up alerts for purchases over a set amount.

3. You don't get your mail. If you're missing a bill, the Federal Trade Commission urges you to call your creditor. A thief could have changed the address or stolen the letter. The same goes for other mail, such as medical documents, that could list your social security number.

4. Suddenly bad credit. If you're denied great interest rates or a loan, pull up your credit report. If there's any inaccurate information, it may be time to add a fraud alert and start closing accounts.

Identifying fraud early is the first step in any good identity theft protection plan. So stay vigilant and make the monitoring of your financial data routine.

Related Resources:

A bagged salad recall has expanded nationwide after a sample tested positive for Listeria contamination, the Associated Press reports.

River Ranch Fresh Foods of Salinas, Calif., initially recalled bagged salads shipped to stores in California and Colorado. But the recall has expanded to cover the entire nation, River Ranch announced Monday.

The bagged salads in question are stamped with "best by" dates of between May 12 and May 29. They were packaged and sold under the brand names River Ranch, Farm Stand, Hy-Vee, Marketside, Shurfresh, The Farmer's Market, Cross Valley, Fresh &; Easy, Promark, and Sysco, the AP reports.

The Listeria contamination that led to the River Ranch recall was revealed during a random FDA inspection. No illnesses have been reported.

Most healthy adults can consume Listeria-contaminated salad without getting sick. But people at increased risk of infection, and especially pregnant women, can become seriously ill.

Symptoms of Listeria infection include fever, muscle aches, and perhaps gastrointestinal problems. If the infection spreads to the nervous system, it can cause headaches, a stiff neck, loss of balance, or convulsions.

If you suspect you're a victim of Listeria infection, you may want to seek medical attention and retain the food or foods you believe may have caused your infection. For serious cases of foodborne illness, an experienced personal injury attorney can help you get compensation for medical expenses and lost wages linked to Listeria contamination.

Consumers who bought any recalled bagged salad can return it to the store for a refund. River Ranch also has a 24-hour customer service hotline: (888) 624-2569.

Related Resources:

We get a lot of questions about automatic contract renewals over on the FindLaw Answers Consumer Issues board.  Are they legal? Can they be enforced? Is there any way to get out of them?

Unfortunately, the answers to these questions aren't particularly favorable. Ordinarily, an individual must affirmatively signal his desire to enter into a contract. But when there is a history of prior dealing, silence may be sufficient to prove assent. Such is the case with automatic contract renewal clauses. 

When you sign a contract that includes an automatic renewal clause, you are preemptively agreeing to extend the contract at a later date. If you don't actively cancel the renewal, your silence is to be considered an affirmation of this agreement. This is why you should always read contracts and make note of any automatic renewal clauses. It's also a good idea to write a note on your personal calendar reminding you to send in a cancellation.

If you failed to do this, you aren't necessarily without recourse. There may still be a way to get out of an automatic contract renewal.

A number of states have consumer protection laws that deal specifically with automatic renewal clauses. Illinois law, for example, demands consumers be given at least 30 days notice before the cancellation deadline if the original contract was for 12 months or more. California law, in contrast, only requires companies to make consumers adequately aware of the contract term at the time of signing.

If the company you are dealing with failed to strictly adhere to your state's laws, you may be able to void an automatic contract renewal. So do a little research and see if your opponent violated the law.

Related Resources:

2010 Jeep Wrangler Recall Over Risk of Catching Fire

Chrysler has announced it will be recalling almost 68,000 Jeep Wranglers due to a potential fire risk.

The recall affects 2010 models equipped with automatic transmissions, according to a report filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The recall came after the NHTSA investigated the vehicles in March following eight consumer complaints about fires, The New York Times reports.

While most of the Jeeps were sold in America, the recall also touches the international market.

Wranglers sold in Canada and other parts the world were also included in the announcement. In total, Chrysler will be recalling nearly 87,000 vehicles.

The fire risk is due to a lack of "clearance between the exhaust catalyst and the automatic transmission skid place," the automaker said. Debris can collect in this area, creating the potential for fire.

So far no injuries have been reported, according to Chrysler. However, the company has received 14 complaints of fires connected to the debris issue.

Chrysler has described the recall as voluntary. However, under federal regulations, once a safety defect is detected, manufacturers must report it to the NHTSA within five days.

Safety defects are any problems found in a group of vehicles that pose a driving safety risk. It's pretty broad and can include everything from fire risks to cracked wheels and broken windshield wipers. Typically, manufacturers are required to repair or replace the vehicle or defective part. In some cases, a refund may also be issued.

Fortunately, manual transmission Jeep Wrangler owners don't appear to be affected by the recall so far. However, Wrangler drivers who don't drive stick may want to call Chrysler (1-800-853-1403) to see if their vehicle poses a fire risk.

Related Resources:

Second Flesh-Eating Bacteria Victim is New SC Mom

A South Carolina woman has been diagnosed with a case of necrotizing fasciitis -- just weeks after Georgia college student Aimee Copeland began her battle with the flesh-eating bacteria.

Lana Kuykendall is currently hospitalized in Greenville and appears to be in relatively stable condition. The 36-year-old contracted the bacteria just days after giving birth to twins. Her delivery was relatively normal, according to CBS News.

However, the day after, she felt pain in her leg and was unable to move. Tests revealed nothing was wrong, reports The Greenville News. But then she noticed a growing bruise on her calf and was rushed back to the hospital. Doctors luckily suspected the cause and immediately took her into surgery.

It's unclear how Lana Kuykendall contracted the flesh-eating bacteria, but it's not as uncommon as we'd like to think. There are about 750 cases a year, according to The Greenville News, and many of them are caused by the A Strep bacteria, which is the same bacteria that causes strep throat.

The bacteria enters the system through a cut in the skin, such as after surgery. Some women have also contracted it through natural childbirth.

There's no indication at this point that hospital staff was negligent or had some part in Kuykendall's condition. They very well may have taken all proper precautions to ensure that she was healthy post-delivery. Given that hospitals house sick people, it's impossible to make them free from bacteria.

Nonetheless, you can bet medical personnel will try and figure out how Lana Kuykendall contracted the flesh-eating bacteria. It's important information that can help doctors prevent this from happening again.

Related Resources:

Acura Recalls 56,000 TL Sedans Over Fire Risk

Acura is recalling 56,881 of its 2007 and 2008 TL sedans in North America. The Honda brand is citing a faulty power steering hose as the reason.

The recall will affect 52,615 U.S. TL owners. The remaining 4,266 cars are in Canada, MSNBC reports. Acura states the defective hose could deteriorate and leak over time. This could result in cars losing power steering assistance and even smoke and fire.

While no accidents, injuries, or fires have been reported so far, the problematic hose could still be a potential product liability lawsuit.

Whenever a defective or improperly designed product is released to the public, manufacturers can be held liable for any damages that result. In addition, all distributors and retailers can also be sued, as well.

In the case of recalled vehicles, typically the law requires the car's maker to correct the defect in one of three ways. The manufacturer must repair the damaged part, replace it or the whole car, or issue a refund. As you can probably imagine, most automobile companies aren't too keen on the last option.

In addition, manufacturers are also required to issue a public notice of the recall and mail notices to affected owners. Acura is doing just that. They've also set up a website ( where TL owners can check to see if their car is affected. Owners can also call the company directly at 800-382-2238.

But what happens if you've already gotten your vehicle repaired? Don't worry. Typically, manufacturers are required to refund your fees. However, don't wait too long to put in your request. Generally, the cut off for refunds is 10 to 30 after final notices are issued.

So if you're an Acura TL owner, be sure to find out if your car was included in the recall.

Related Resources:

Teenagers are the most dangerous drivers on the road, with a crash rate almost four times that of older drivers. Males are particularly susceptible, and the rate is especially high during the first year of driving.

We also know technology can greatly affect a teen driver's accident risk. But so does the number of teen passengers. A new study by the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety pinpoints just how much.

Teen car accidents increase by 44 percent when a 16- or 17-year-old driver has one passenger younger than 21, according to the study. The risk doubles with two young passengers. It quadruples with three or more young passengers.

The correlation between teen car accidents and teen passengers has been known for quite some time. Almost every state places passenger restrictions on teens for six months after they obtain a driver's license. Some even require adults to be in the car.

In light of these numbers, AAA suggests that parents talk with their kids about these restrictions and ban their teens from carrying a young passenger without adult supervision, reports the Washington Post. Adding adult supervision can save lives.

Carrying one passenger over the age of 35 decreases a teen driver's accident risk by 46 percent. It decreases their death risk by 62 percent.

It's also suggested that parents think twice before allowing their teen to be toted around by another teen driver. Your child doesn't need to be driving to be hurt in a teen car accident. Passengers are killed every day.

Related Resources:

Textaholics can Now Text 911 with Their Emergency

Some cell phone users will soon be able to send text messages to 911, in a service that will be the first of its kind in the United States.

Verizon Wireless announced it's set to launch a text-to-911 service in select areas of the country later this year, Phoenix's KPHO-TV reports. "It's a new way for people to communicate in times of need," a Verizon spokesman said.

It may be new in America, but the UK already has such a system, called EmergencySMS. Registered cell phone users can send texts to a call center, which relays the message to the appropriate agency, the website VentureBeat reports.

Verizon's text-to-911 service will be similar, allowing customers to send text messages to a nearby emergency dispatch call center, PC Magazine reports.

The new service partly answers the Federal Communications Commission's call for "Next Generation 911," a push to upgrade and bring 911 services into the digital age. The FCC's "Next Generation" vision goes beyond text-to-911 and foresees the use of mobile videos and photos to provide even more information to first responders before they arrive at the scene, according to PC Magazine.

Technical details are still being worked out, but Verizon is touting the benefits of text-to-911 for hearing-impaired customers, and even younger cell phone users who prefer texting over voice calls.

Texting is also generally much quicker than making a voice call to 911. The average length of a 911 call is 70 seconds, the Verizon spokesman told KPHO.

A text-to-911 service could also help in situations where making a phone call could be dangerous -- for example, the Connecticut woman who was recently rescued from a kidnapper after she texted her location to her boyfriend, who then called police. If 911 texting had been in place, the woman could've sent texts directly to law enforcement.

Related Resources:

Public Urged to Check Phone Card Fine Print

| 2 TrackBacks

Phone card fraud is a rampant problem in the industry, as evidenced by a new Consumer Reports study. Approximately 75% of prepaid phone cards the organization purchased didn't even disclose calling rates. Some used "units" and others doubled the per-minute cost after the first call.

Prepaid phone cards are popular in low-income, minority and immigrant communities, according to the Federal Communication Commission. Users see them as a cheap way to call relatives abroad. However, some companies see these communities as vulnerable and swoop in.

Many phone cards include fees that sap the value within minutes of use, according to Consumer Reports. There are post-call, pre-call and activation fees. There are fees if you use the card more than once. Then there are the cards that barely even work.

Though some cards simply don't include relevant information, others bury it in the fine print. In light of the Consumer Reports study, the Federal Communications Commission is urging the public to read a phone card's fine print. Before you buy a phone card, make sure you:

  • Understand the real rates, including any fees, conditions and limitations;
  • Determine if the minutes are for a single or multiple calls;
  • Locate the expiration date; and
  • Ensure the card includes a toll-free customer service number.

You can also scour the Internet for signs of phone card fraud. Signs include busy service numbers, providers that no longer exist, reports of unmentioned fees and expiration dates, and poor quality calls.

If you'd like to report an incident of phone card fraud, you can contact the FCC at 1-888-CALL-FCC or file a complaint online.

Related Resources:

Top 10 Signs an Internet Hoax Landed in Your Inbox

Countless messages are exchanged online every day, many of them are between strangers. While it'd be nice if everyone was always honest, the reality is the Web has become the new playground for con artists. And knowing how to spot an Internet hoax in your email will keep you from becoming another victim.

Internet hucksters live all over the world. They construct scams that prey on people's greed, sympathies, or naivety.

So if you get a strange email, look out for the following tell-tale signs of a hoax.

1) Typos and Bad English

Many scam emails come from countries where English isn't the primary language. Mistakes in spelling and grammar scream phony.

2) Exploding Offers and Direct Links

Offers that are too good to be true are usually just that. Be wary of direct links in these emails, too. Many will send you to fake pages that contain viruses or attempt to steal your identity.

3) Requests for Personal Information

Banks, credit card companies, and most every other business will almost never ask customers to verify their personal information. That's because they already have it.

4) Picture Emails

Sometimes scammers will send an image of text instead of actual text in their emails. The reason is because they can make the whole picture a link. And if you click anywhere on it, you'll accidentally pull up their phony Website.

5) Generic Greetings

Look out for the "Dear Sir" and "Dear Friend" emails, they're usually fake. Though it's true that even legitimate emailers might not know your name, scammers will almost never know.

6) Virus Detection and Free Scans

No Internet security company notifies customers of detected viruses in their computer this way. So don't click on any links in these emails.

7) Pleas for Help

While it's good to want to help people, keep in mind that those in real need probably won't be emailing strangers for assistance.

8) Known Sender with a Strange Request

If you receive an email from a friend or relative requesting money or help, be careful. Their account might've been stolen. Read these emails closely to ensure they're legitimate. And contact your friend or relative directly to verify.

9) Subject Line Spelled in All Caps

It's not just bad Internet etiquette, it's also a sign of scam.

10) Recipient's Address is Undisclosed

One of the easiest ways to spot an Internet email hoax is by looking at the "To:" box. Scammers usually send fake emails in bulk and your address often won't appear as a recipient.

Related Resources:

A Georgia woman is recovering after being infected with flesh-eating bacteria following a zip line accident. While there's no word of any legal action being taken, the snapped zip line could possibly be a basis for a negligence lawsuit.

Aimee Copeland, 24, was kayaking with friends when they decided to zip line using a homemade rope, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. When it was Copeland's turn, the rope broke. She fell and cut her leg. Doctors believe the cut was the catalyst that led to her infection.

Copeland's leg eventually had to be amputated. But her family warns she's not out of the woods yet.

The University of West Georgia master's student could lose more limbs, according to her family. Circulation in Copeland's hands and foot is poor, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Again, there are no talks of legal action, but if there were, a negligence cause of action could be possible.

Negligence allows a person to be sued for any harm caused as a result of that person's carelessness.  A plaintiff must show it was the defendant's fault that harm occurred.

While there's no word yet on who was responsible for making the rope and securing the zip line, that person could potentially be liable for negligence.

However, even then, they could raise the defense that Copeland assumed the risk of injury by choosing to zip line.

Copeland remains in critical condition following her zip line accident. Deaths from flesh-eating bacteria are usually rare, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Friends have established a fund to help pay for her medical costs.

Related Resources:

Severe injuries, including a man's paralysis and a woman's death, have prompted a recall of about 21,000 inflatable water slides nationwide.

"Banzai Splash" slides, made in China by Manley Toys Ltd., "can deflate, allowing the user to hit the ground underneath the slide and become injured," the Consumer Products Safety Commission said in announcing the recall Thursday.

The slides are meant to be used with in-ground swimming pools, which are typically made of concrete, Reuters reports.

Partially deflated Banzai Splash slides are being blamed for at least two severe injuries, along with the death of a 29-year-old Colorado woman who died after fracturing her neck at the bottom of a deflated slide.

Another woman, from Pennsylvania, also fractured her neck in a Banzai Splash accident, but survived, according to the CPSC's recall alert. And a Missouri man became a quadriplegic after a severe injury on the slide.

The Banzai Splash inflatable water slide recall affects all slides sold at Walmart and Toys "R" Us between January 2005 and June 2009. Owners of recalled slides can return them to those stores for a full refund.

Anyone injured on a recalled inflatable water slide may also consider a product liability lawsuit alleging a defective product. The CPSC's recall alert suggests one type of defect -- a marketing defect, because the slides carry "inadequate warnings and instructions."

The slide maker could possibly also be held liable for a manufacturing defect, if the recalled slides didn't conform to specifications. A design defect is also possible, if there was a flaw in the product's design that made it unreasonably dangerous. A product liability lawyer can help victims figure out which causes of action to pursue.

In addition to the risk of injury from deflation, the Banzai Splash slides can also easily topple in both still and windy conditions, the CPSC's recall announcement says. Consumers can call Walmart (800-925-6278) or Toys "R" Us (800-869-7787) for more information about the inflatable water slide recall and refund.

Related Resources:

Despite what book publishers would like you to believe, there's no perfect manual on parenting. Kids will screw up despite your best efforts. But if your children cut school, can you, as their parent, be arrested?

Criminal liability is certainly a possibility depending on where you live. For instance, last year in Baltimore over 400 parents received court notices regarding their chronically-absent children. The parents were told they could face charges if they didn't get their kids in line.

But when does a child's school truancy become a criminal problem for parents?

The answer, again, largely depends on your local laws. While most every state in the country has truancy laws, not all of them impose criminal liability on parents. The ones that do, usually will only punish parents of "chronically truant" children.

But when is a student considered chronically truant? Again, it's whatever your local laws say.

For instance, in California, a child who misses more than 10 percent of school days is deemed a chronic truant. Parents of these children can be charged with a misdemeanor and fined $100. If the parents do nothing to correct their kid's behavior, they can then be fined up to $2,000 and jailed for up to a year.

The punishment sounds quite harsh. However, legislators reason that it's necessary to get parents to be more active in their children's lives.

So to find out if a child who cuts school can get a parent arrested, try contacting your local school district or department of education. They should be able to inform you of the relevant truancy laws in your area.

Related Resources:

Have You Rented a Recalled Car?

Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) are ready to regulate rental car recalls. The politicians are making plans to propose legislation that would ban companies from renting recalled vehicles until safety defects have been repaired.

The issue has been under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration since the end of 2010, according to USA Today. Figures provided by General Motors and Chrysler show that rental car companies only repair 10% to 30% of cars within 30 days of a recall. At 90 days, the number increases to a solid 30%. After a year, to 50%.

A third automaker, Ford, declined to provide the agency with data.

Sen. Boxer sent a letter to the four leading rental companies -- Hertz, Avis Budget, Enterprise (Alamo, National) and Dollar Thrifty -- asking them to make a commitment to her plan, reports the Los Angeles Times. Hertz already has such a policy, according to a company spokesman. The company has also struck an agreement with safety advocates in support of similar legislation.

Enterprise says it supports legislation proposed by the American Car Rental Association, but safety advocates don't believe the proposed law goes far enough to protect consumers from rental car recalls.

Getting this legislation passed could take some time, so it's time to be proactive about your safety. If you need to rent a car, don't be shy about asking whether it has any pending recalls. You can also call ahead to find out what type of car you're renting, and then do an Internet search. Unfixed rental car recalls can be unsafe and you don't want to get into a car that has not been repaired.

Related Resources:

Sports drinks -- and especially energy drinks -- are so acidic, they can cause irreversible damage to teeth in as little as five days, a new study by dentists finds.

"Young adults consume these drinks assuming ... that they are 'better' for them than soda," the study's lead author said in a statement. But "these drinks are essentially bathing their teeth with acid."

Researchers looked at acid levels in 13 sports drinks and nine energy drinks. They submerged human tooth enamel in each drink for 15 minutes, then in artificial saliva for two hours, to try to simulate how the drinks are consumed. Researchers repeated the tests four times a day over five days.

Results showed irreversible damage to tooth enamel with all drinks they tested. But energy drinks caused twice as much damage as sports drinks, the dentists' study found.

Damage to tooth enamel can make teeth overly sensitive, and more susceptible to cavities and tooth decay, researchers said.

To prevent those consequences, dentists recommend:

Cutting back on sports and energy drinks. About 30% to 50% of U.S. teenagers consume energy drinks, and 62% consume at least one sports drink a day, according to the Academy of General Dentistry.

Lowering the acidity levels in your mouth after consuming a sports or energy drink -- by rinsing your mouth with water, or chewing sugar-free gum that can get your saliva flowing.

Waiting at least one hour before brushing your teeth after consuming a sports or energy drink. Brushing sooner could spread the acid and cause more damage to your teeth, dentists warn.

But critics challenged the study's real-life application. No one holds energy drinks "in their mouths for 15 minute intervals over five day periods," the American Beverage Association said, according to CBS News.

The dentists' energy and sports drink study appears in the May/June issue of General Dentistry.

Related Resources:

The Federal Communications Commission has passed new anti-cramming rules which should make it easier for consumers to locate fraudulent charges on their landline telephone bills.

Cramming, as defined by the FCC, "is the practice of placing unauthorized, misleading or deceptive charges on your telephone bill." Local telephone companies often bill customers for services provided by third parties, such as long distance carriers and pay numbers. Crammers have been known to use this process to fraudulently bill consumers.

Such charges are often in small amounts -- a dollar or two -- and are described in a way that suggests they are for phone company services. They're often listed as a service fee, a membership plan or voicemail. Sometimes they're for 900 numbers and psychics that you may not have called.

Under the FCC's new anti-cramming rules, all third-party charges must be separated from charges levied by your phone company. This should make it easier to determine whether there are any strange fees on your bill.

Telephone companies must also notify consumers if they provide an option to block charges from third-party companies. The notice must appear on each phone bill and the company website, according to Consumer Reports. Telephone companies, however, are not obligated to actually provide this option.

Though definitely a step in the right direction, the FCC's anti-cramming rules are still a bit behind the technological times. They only apply to landline telephones. VoIP services and wireless carriers are not covered. You'll need to watch these bills more closely.

Related Resources:

Self-described "ultra-low-cost" Spirit Airlines is revamping its carry-on baggage fees, and one fee in particular is going sky-high.

Some Spirit passengers will face a $100 charge per carry-on bag, just in time for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday travel season.

Spirit's new carry-on fees take effect Nov. 6, according to the airline's online schedule of "optional fees." Spirit was the first U.S. air carrier to charge passengers for carry-on bags that get stowed in an airplane's overhead compartment, according to ABC News.

Spirit Airlines boasts "ultra low base fares," but tacks on fees for a wide range of "optional services" with prices that vary according to when a fee is paid.

Currently, Spirit's carry-on fee is $30 per bag -- if you pay for your carry-on at the same time you book your flight online, that is.

If you wait until you check-in online for your flight, the carry-on fee is $35 per bag. If you check-in at an airport counter or kiosk, the fee is $40 per bag. And if you pay at the gate, it's $45.

But starting Nov. 6, those fees are set to take off. Spirit's new fee schedule for carry-on bags will be:

  • $35 per bag, if the fee is paid during the online booking process;
  • $40 per bag, if the fee is paid during online check-in;
  • $50 per bag, if the fee is paid at an airport counter or kiosk; and
  • $100 per bag, if the fee is paid at the gate.

Spirit passengers may already know this, but it may be cheaper to check a bag, instead of carrying it on-board, when flying with the airline. The fee for a passenger's first checked bag is currently $2 less than Spirit's carry-on fees; beginning Nov. 6, it'll be $5 cheaper. (Fees for additional checked bags, however, are higher than the carry-on fee.)

To bypass Spirit's bag fees altogether, a passenger will have to pack lightly: Carry-ons that fit beneath the seat in front of you remain free, ABC News reports.

Only one other domestic airline, Allegiant Air, currently charges passengers for carry-on bags, according to ABC News. Allegiant's fee currently levels off at $35 per bag.

Related Resources:

It looks like the Nutella lawsuit will finally be paying off for some customers. Ferrero, the company that makes the chocolate-hazelnut spread, has settled the misleading ad lawsuit for $3 million.

As part of the agreement, any customers who bought Nutella between January 1, 2008 and February 3, 2012 will be able to request a refund for up to five jars. For California customers, the purchase window is between August 1, 2009 and January 23, 2012.

But the fun doesn't end there. Ferrero will also have to make some changes to its iconic packaging.

Nutella labels will no longer say the product is "An example of a tasty yet balanced breakfast." The line has been on the jar's back panel for years.

The class action lawsuit was filed by two San Diego mothers. They claimed Nutella deceived customers into thinking the product was healthy. They cited Nutella's website and commercials as examples of the company's false advertising.

The ads depict a mother giving her children toast and fruit covered in Nutella.

Typically, many class action lawsuits result in more than payouts. Parties often agree to limit or change their practices. Ferrero's case is no different.

While it's hard to imagine that anyone could be duped into thinking dumping chocolate on bread is healthy, Ferrero has agreed to remove the offending ads.

As part of the Nutella lawsuit, the company has also set up a Website to process claims. So if you bought Nutella during the time period stated above, fill out the online form to get your refund. And don't worry about receipts either. You won't need to send any to get your money back.

Related Resources:

How to Avoid 3 of the Most Common Consumer Scams

At times, we all get weak in the face of easy money or a good deal. Scammers know this and have devised a number of consumer scams that you should always avoid.

Con-artist tricks have come a long way in terms of sophistication. They can be much more difficult to spot. However, you don't need a law degree to identify them. All you need is common sense.

Here are three common consumer scams and how to avoid them.

1) Advance-Fee Fraud (aka "419" Nigerian Money Scam)

This scam usually starts with the victim receiving an email saying they won a lottery or inheritance. But to get paid, the victim must pay a transaction fee first. Scammers take the fee and send a fake check to the victim. But if the victim spends any of it, they'll be left liable to the bank.

Avoiding this scam starts with reading your email closely. Scam messages usually contain lots of spelling and grammatical errors. Beyond that, be skeptical. And if you've fallen victim, don't hesitate to contact federal authorities and your bank.

2) Foreclosure Solution Scams

Victims facing foreclosure are sometimes approached by people or companies claiming to be able to save their home through refinancing. Instead, they often trick victims into signing over their deeds or locking them into unmanageable payment plans.

The best way to avoid this scam is by checking out the backgrounds of these companies.  You can ask your mortgage company, lawyer, state Attorney General, or real estate commission for help confirm the situation. Oh, and don't sign anything.

3) Moving Scams

Some moving companies will lure victims in with low-ball estimates, only to raise prices after moving everything. Some will also pad their fees with bloated packaging costs, among other things.

You can avoid this consumer scam by getting everything in writing first. Also check your local laws and the U.S. Department of Transportation's Website to see if you're mover is required to be licensed and insured.

Related Resources: