Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

August 2012 Archives

Cases of West Nile Virus have been high this summer, which means it's important to know the symptoms.

The states hardest hit are one's in the south and central U.S.. Texans should be especially cautious since a majority of the deaths caused by West Nile come from that state, reports ABC News. Still, there are reported cases in 47 out of 50 states so everyone needs to be careful.

West Nile Virus is dangerous but only 1 in 150 cases develop into the severe and potentially deadly form. Knowing the symptoms can help you identify the virus early and receive treatment if necessary.

The vast majority of people affected never show any symptoms and the disease leaves them relatively unaffected. For them, the virus poses no real risk.

Of the 20% that do develop some form of the disease, the symptoms are generally flu-like, reports Forbes. They can include headaches, fever, muscle aches, and chills.

Symptoms for the rare cases that turn severe include tremors, convulsions, and vision loss. Those can indicate series neurological issues and patients that show these symptoms need medical attention.

West Nile Virus is no joke so take good care of yourself.

If you or someone you know develops any of those symptoms, now is not the time to be proud. Go to the doctor's office or local hospital to be checked out.

There are also steps you can take to prevent infection.

Mosquitoes breed in standing water so make sure they don't have the opportunity. Empty wading pools before dark and dump them into the street drain, not the grass. Avoid any areas with large stagnant puddles and wear bug spray.

Bug spray with DEET is controversial because of health concerns but the CDC reports that it's still the best way to keep mosquitoes at bay.

Cases of West Nile Virus are being reported all over the country with 1,118 sick and 41 dead this year, reports ABC News. Symptoms can turn serious quickly so don't waste time once they start.

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5 Tips to Prepare for Flood Damage

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Preparing for flood damage is a must for anyone who lives in a flood-prone area. Post-flooding disputes can arise about what's covered by your insurance policy and who's going to pay for your losses.

If you have advance warning of a potential flood, like with a forecasted hurricane, keeping yourself and your loved ones safe will be a top concern. But you should also take steps to prevent a potential legal disaster once flood waters recede.

Here are five tips:

  1. Be familiar with your insurance policies. What does your homeowner or renter's insurance policy say about water damage? In general, such policies do not cover flood damage, so you'll probably need a separate flood-damage policy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency advises. But keep in mind, policies under the National Flood Insurance Plan need 30 days to take effect.
  2. Have a plan for your pets. Who can forget the images of stranded pets being rescued from rooftops after Hurricane Katrina? Take your pets with you when you evacuate, along with their health records. Taking pictures or video of identifying marks on your pet can help prove ownership, suggests.
  3. Take pictures, before and after. Photos and video of your other belongings can be used for identification purposes if any property floats away. Get close-ups of any unique or identifying markers, such as serial numbers. Photos of flood damage can also help your claims adjuster in gathering evidence and coming up with a repair estimate.
  4. Keep important phone numbers on hand. The Internet may not be accessible during or after a disaster, and your smartphone may run out of battery. So keep a list of important numbers for utility companies and relatives.
  5. Keep important legal documents with you. Perhaps most important, keep the following items on your person or in a safe, dry place: your driver's license, Social Security card, proof of residence (a deed or lease), health insurance policy, homeowner's or renter's policy, birth certificate, marriage certificate, property deed, vehicle titles, recent tax returns, and your will.

For more tips on how to prepare for a flood, check out this Flood Safety Checklist from the American Red Cross.

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There is a massive hotel price fixing scheme between hotels and online travel agencies, claims a class action lawsuit.

When you shop for cheap hotel deals, you're likely to shop rates at one of the major travel websites like Expedia, Travelocity, or Priceline. When you visit one of these sites, you likely operate under the assumption that you're looking at independently negotiated deals.

However, that may not be the case. A budding class action lawsuit alleges that hotels and these online travel agencies were in cahoots in fixing the prices for the rooms.

The federal hotel price fixing lawsuit was filed in San Francisco and claims that Hilton Hotels, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, Marriott International and others conspired with Expedia, Travelocity, and a subsidiary of Priceline, among others, to fix hotel prices across the country, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The lawsuit says that the hotels and the online travel agencies prearranged a price customers would pay for the rooms. So instead of independently negotiating room rates with the hotels by purchasing a block of rooms, as is commonly thought, the hotels and travel agencies allegedly just worked together to set a uniform rate, reports the Times. So the idea that you could shop different, and better, rates on these online sites is claimed to be just an illusion as the hotels and online agencies already predetermined what you would pay.

The lawsuit is seeking an injunction to prevent the hotels and travel sites from continuing the alleged hotel price fixing scheme. The lawsuit also makes a claim for unspecified damages. This would likely include the difference between what a consumer would have paid in legitimately negotiated hotel rates versus the fixed rates they allegedly paid.

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8 Children Die in One Week After Left in Hot Cars

Leaving kids in hot cars is dangerous and unfortunately nothing illustrates that better than the tragedy it causes.

In just the first week of August, eight children died from being left in hot cars. Since the beginning of the year 23 children have died, reports ABC.

Most parents leave their children by accident, not realizing how hot the car can get in a short period of time. The results are no less deadly when it's a mistake.

Law enforcement officials rarely press criminal charges against a parent whose child dies while left in a hot car. But it does happen in some cases.

Neglecting a child is a crime in some states and police have arrested parents for criminal neglect in cases like this. Failure to properly care for kids can also lead to Child Protective Services involvement, something no parent wants.

In a rare circumstance, a woman was convicted of murder earlier this month after her child died when left in the car overnight. The severity of the charge was due in part to the fact that the woman left her son in the car because she was high.

Part of the reason that leaving kids in hot cars is so deadly is because their bodies heat up more quickly, reports Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide. That means symptoms can become serious in a much shorter period of time.

Even if the child survives, parents can be arrested for child endangerment for leaving kids in a hot car.

Mistakes are more likely when there's a change in schedule, reports ABC. Be aware of things that may make it difficult to remember or may distract you when getting out of the car.

Make a habit of checking the backseat every time you get out of the car, even if you don't think your children are with you.

Kids have a difficult time in hot weather so make sure they keep cool by drinking water and staying in the shade. No matter how inconvenient kids can be on errands don't leave them in the car. It's much better to have them with you then to lose them forever.

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About four million Bumbo baby seats are being voluntarily recalled by Bumbo International Trust.

The popular single piece molded-foam baby seats were sold at U.S. stores like Babies "R" Us, Sears, Target, Toys "R" Us, and Walmart from August 2003 through August 2012.

The seats are being recalled as babies have been falling out of them and suffering severe injuries like fractured skulls. In fact, since an earlier 2007 recall for a similar problem, another 50 incidents have been reported of babies falling out of the seats with 19 reported skull fractures, reports Reuters.

After the 2007 Bumbo baby seat recall, Bumbo installed warning labels on both the front and the back of the seats warning consumers not to use them on raised surfaces, reports Reuters. However, despite the added warnings, consumers continued to use the seats on elevated surfaces like chairs and tables and babies have been suffering injuries.

The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) urges consumers to stop using the baby seats until the company installs a repair kit. In the meantime, consumers injured by the product may consider contacting a product liability attorney and learning their rights.

A company like Bumbo could be liable for injuries caused by its product even though it provided warning labels. An argument can be made that the company was aware that consumers were using the product on raised surfaces and should have installed some type of safety device after the 2007 Bumbo baby seat recall. A warning label may not be enough to insulate the company from liability for an obviously dangerous product.

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Top 5 Tips to Prevent Theft at College

College theft is now so prevalent that some consider it a natural rite of college like gaining 15 pounds your freshman year.

With an array of i- products from iPhones to iPads, young people's most valuable possessions are increasingly portable and easily stolen.

And when one of these devices is stolen, you not only lose the device, but you also lose all the information contained in the device like your personal information and passwords. This makes you an easy candidate for identity theft.

However, students are not completely vulnerable to college theft, and these five tips from the Wall Street Journal can help you protect your valuables.

  1. Leave valuables at home. You don't always need to take your gadgets with you everywhere you go. Leave the laptop at home if you're not going to use it. And consider cleaning out your wallet, so that you only carry the necessary items.

  2. Take inventory. Make a list of what you take with you to school. Students are usually the last ones to report theft, because it usually takes them weeks to realize that something is missing. Have a list of your valuables and make sure to check it every once in a while to account for what's missing.

  3. Don't leave items unattended. If you study in the library or spend time in common areas, make sure you take your belongings with you when you go to the restroom or make a telephone call outside. You can also ask your friends to keep an eye out.

  4. Keep financial documents in a safe place. Any document that contains important personal information like your credit card statements should be stored and put away properly. These documents offer a treasure trove of information to identity thieves.

  5. Be careful about online information. Young people have a tendency to share everything on social media sites like Facebook. You will want to exercise discretion when posting any personal information on a public site.

If you fall victim to college theft, make sure you notify the authorities. If you lose personal information, you may want to update your passwords and take steps to avoid identity theft.

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McDonald's, Burger King Bitten by Apple Slice Recall

McDonald's and Burger King apple slices are part of a nationwide recall over fears of possible listeria contamination in prepackaged fruit and vegetables.

No illnesses have been reported, but the fast-food restaurants have stopped serving apple slices affected by the recall. The voluntary recall covers nearly 300,000 units of fruit, vegetable, and sandwich products shipped to 36 states and the District of Columbia, the Associated Press reports.

The recalled packages are stamped with "use by" dates of July 8 through August 20. In addition to fast-food restaurants, packages were also sold in supermarkets under the "Ready Pac" and "Safeway Farms" labels.

In the McDonald's and Burger King apple slice recall, Listeria was found on equipment used to make sliced apple products at a Ready Pac plant, according to the AP.

Listeria is a bacterium that can cause listeriosis, which typically results in flu-like symptoms such as fever, muscle aches, and gastrointestinal problems. In severe cases, the infection can spread to the nervous system and cause stiff neck, confusion, or even convulsions.

Though the risk of listeria infection is small, anyone sickened by a contaminated food product may be able to get compensation for medical expenses. A doctor's diagnosis is generally needed, and a products liability lawyer can help too.

Along with McDonald's and Burger King apple slices, many of the recalled Ready Pac foods were shipped to Wawa and Wegmans grocery stores in the eastern United States, though other stores may have received potentially tainted produce as well. Consumers can click on Ready Pac's website for a list of recalled items, and can call Ready Pac at (800) 800-7822 for a full refund, the company says.

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The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is waging a full-scale attack against the makers of adult magnet toys. This week, the CPSC filed an administrative complaint against Zen Magnets. This follows on the heels of their Buckyballs complaint last month.

The CPSC wants the producers of these toys to remove the product from store shelves -- even if it means putting the companies out of business.

Their rationale is that while these toys are marketed to adults, many teens and young children have been getting a hold of them and playing with them. The agency says that the magnets pose a risk of being swallowed, which can cause serious health risks including death, reports The Associated Press.

While there have been no specific injuries related directly to Zen Magnets, the CPSC has cited other incidents where the similar Buckyballs magnets have been swallowed by young people, requiring emergency surgery.

These magnets can be used to mimic tongue and lip piercings, which has led to children putting the powerful small magnets in their mouths, reports the AP.

However, the makers of Zen Magnets, like the makers of Buckyballs, are not taking the complaint lying down. Both companies have stated that they will fight the complaint and have pointed out that their products are specifically marketed towards adults and carry required warning labels.

As the Zen Magnets and Buckyballs complaints reach an administrative law judge, it will be interesting to see how the judge balances the risk of harm in the products against the fact that the products are not dangerous if used properly.

Until the administrative judge makes a ruling, you may want to contact a product liability attorney if you or someone you know has been injured by such a product.

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Listeria concerns have prompted a massive recall of products that include onions processed by Gills Onions. The recall initially was limited to several Trader Joe's products, but has now grown to include a substantial list of prepared foods.

The recall is only precautionary and no sickness has been reported, according to the company.

Still, the issue of contaminated food is big and listeria is no joke. It can cause serious illness, especially for people who are more vulnerable to it.

Listeriosis, the infection caused by listeria bacteria, is especially dangerous for children, pregnant women, the elderly, and others with compromised immune systems, reports Huffington Post.

The recall was voluntary but the FDA is very strict about a company's responsibility when a recall is necessary.

Whenever a food processor realizes through testing that a food may be contaminated they're required to thoroughly investigate. If there is a possibility that the contamination affects the production line a company is expected to issue a recall.

Even if the company does not catch the contamination outbreaks of illnesses can lead the FDA to request or order that a company recall affected products.

Because onions are often used in different prepared foods, this recall affects a large number of products. The company has recalled all onions with a use-by date of August 3 that were shipped to a long list of states.

Consumers in California, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Montana, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Washington should carefully check their shelves for any products involved in the recall.

If you think you or a family member have been affected by the contamination, talk to a lawyer about your legal options.

Listeria can cause significant harm but luckily it appears Gills Onions caught the potential contaminant before anyone got sick. That keeps customers safe while reducing corporate liability.

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