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November 2015

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Tesla Recalls Model S for Faulty Seat Belt

The car maker Tesla announced a voluntary recall today based on a single report of a faulty seat belt. The announcement, made via email to the 90,000 Model S owners affected, caused company shares to fall, Bloomberg News reported today.

The Model S has been in circulation since 2012. This recall affects all such vehicles, going back to that time. But it should be noted that no one was injured by the defective seat belt and the recall is an effort to prevent injury.

Insufficient Protection

"Tesla recently found a Model S in Europe with a front seat belt that was not properly connected to the outboard lap pretensioner," the company said in an e-mail to customers. "This vehicle was not involved in a crash and there were no injuries. However, in the event of a crash, a seat belt in this condition would not provide full protection."

The company reportedly learned of the problem two weeks ago when a customer in Europe reported that the front seat belt unlatched when he turned to talk to a passenger in back. "The bolt that was supposed to tie the two anchors together wasn't properly assembled," according to a company representative.

Tesla -- based in Palo Alto, California -- said it immediately inspected 3,000 cars locally and found no other issues. Nonetheless, it is asking owners to bring their cars in to check the seat belts are properly connected. They advised owners to promptly book an appointment for the inspections.

Does This Hurt Tesla?

Although the company's stock did fall today, some financial analysts are heartened by Tesla's response, rather than disconcerted by the single incident. "The recall … shows Tesla's heightened focus on safety," Ben Kallo, a Robert W. Baird & Co. analyst told Bloomberg. "Tesla has made safety a focus in the design and development of … the Model S."

Elon Musk Is Hiring

Meanwhile, Elon Musk, a tech giant and the company's founder, made waves on Twitter by announcing today that he would be personally interviewing software engineers for high priority spots on the Tesla team. His very popular feed has millions of followers (he only follows 49 people). But he made no mention of the recall on the social network.

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New Google Page Is About You

Google users have long complained that they cannot control the data the search giant shows about them. This week the company rolled out a new "About Me" page that lets users see what others are seeing about them across Google products.

From the one page, users can control personal settings. The "About Me" page aggregates personal information available across Google services such as YouTube, Photos, and the Google+ social network, the Christian Science Monitor reports. You still can't control all the info out there. But some of it will be easier to manage.

Data Privacy a Mystery to Most

Although we love the web, admittedly few of us understand data privacy issues. We know that we want data protected but are unlikely to check every account we have ever had online to ensure that the private information we put out is appropriately safeguarded.

In a 2014 Pew Research Center poll half of Americans who regularly use the Internet said that they do not know what a privacy policy is or how it relates to data protection. The "About Me" page will make it easier to track down at least a portion of that data and change privacy settings related to Google products.

Privacy Policies Explained

Google is not the only company that has made efforts to be more transparent about privacy, nor is this its first effort. In 2012, its parent company -- now known as Alphabet -- consolidated product privacy policies into one document. While this ostensibly made things more manageable for users, those of us who don't know much about data privacy were not likely to look there.

Social network Facebook last year created a user tutorial on privacy basics. It illuminates the company's policies on information sharing. Apple is also trying to make privacy more comprehensible.

The Snapchat app, too, recently issued an updated privacy policy. Although it was intended to alleviate user concerns, the rewrite reportedly sparked a scandal. Users mistakenly thought the company was saving and selling their pictures.

"The confusion over the privacy policy is at least partially the fault of overexcited journalism -- but it might also point to a problem with legalese," writes the Christian Science Monitor. Snapchat updated the policy so it would "read the way people actually talk."

Since hardly anyone read the original policy, and even fewer understood the legal terms in it, users took the change as a sign that Snapchat was asserting ownership over their pictures. So much for a transparent privacy policy.

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Top 10 Most Commonly Recalled Foods

Food recalls are alarming but fairly common. They are worrisome in a fundamental way. None of us wants to be harmed by our nourishment, which after all, sustains us.

Some items seem to continually get recalled. Here is a list of the ten most common types of food recalls, according to the Food Network.

Top Ten Most Commonly Recalled Food Items

1. Baked Goods: Let them eat cake … unless they are allergic. Baked goods are most commonly recalled for undeclared allergens that end up harming the unwary consumer with food allergies. Recalls commonly stem from labeling issues and the undeclared allergens that are usually found in baked goods are nuts, eggs, soy, wheat, and dairy.

2. Cantaloupe: This fruit's porous rind is permeable and easily absorbs contaminants. The cantaloupe also has little acid, which means pathogens grow quickly inside once the fruit is cut.

3. Pet Foods: Both dry and wet food for pets is commonly recalled for salmonella contamination.

4. Eggs: The Food and Drug Administration recalled nearly 400 million eggs last year for potential salmonella contamination.

5. Fresh Produce: Produce is susceptible to listeria contamination, particularly when sold cut and, thus, more likely to have been handled. This year, we also saw a major recall of spinach and cucumbers based on salmonella contamination.

6. Beef: While all beef is susceptible to contamination from E. coli bacteria, ground beef is particularly problematic.

7. Milk: Dairy recalls are relatively common and milk is particularly susceptible to spoilage. Last year, Canadians dealt with a major milk recall because the dairy was spoiling long before the best-before dates on package.

8. Peanuts: This groundnut has been subject to some of the most serious and widespread recalls in recent history in 2007 and 2008. Salmonella poisoning in peanuts was linked to eight deaths during that period.

9. Chicken and Poultry: We love to eat these birds but chicken is very commonly recalled for salmonella contamination.

10. Seafood: Botulism and listeria contamination are reasons that seafood is regularly recalled.

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Takata Fined $200M for Faulty Air Bags

On the heels of one of the most massive automobile recalls ever, the world's second largest supplier of airbags was hit with the largest civil penalty in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration history this week. The agency is fining Takata $200 million for the company's poor handling of defective air bag inflators.

It's been a long recall saga for the airbag manufacturer, involving 44 recalls and 19 million vehicles, so let's take a look at where it stands now.

Total Recall

While the $200 million fine seems large, Takata may not have to pay all of it. According to the Department of Transportation, only $70 million is "payable in cash." The other $130 million will only be due if more problems are uncovered or if Takata fails to properly remedy the situation.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the fine is for Takata's "delay, misdirection, and refusal to acknowledge the truth" of a safety crisis that began in 2008. "I have to say, this has been a mess," Foxx said Tuesday, "[a]nd today, NHTSA is stepping in to clean up the mess."

Chemical Burn

The problematic air bags had the potential to explode and send metal fragments flying upon impact. Takata airbags may be responsible for seven deaths and nearly 100 injuries in the U.S. alone. The NHTSA believes that chemicals were a factor in these malfunctioning airbags and has banned Takata from using ammonium nitrate as a propellant in new air bag inflators.

But beyond the defective nature of Takata's product, it was their deceit regarding the issue that drew the NHTSA's ire. "For years, Takata has built and sold defective products, refused to acknowledge the defect, and failed to provide full information to NHTSA, its customers, or the public," said Foxx. "The result of that delay and denial has harmed scores of consumers and caused the largest, most complex safety recall in history."

You can find out if your vehicle is affected by the numerous Takata recalls by entering your vehicle identification number on the NHTSA website. If you want legal advice regarding the recall or have been injured by a defective airbag, you may want to talk to an experienced personal injury attorney today.

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E. Coli Outbreak Prompts Chipotle Closings in Washington, Oregon

On Halloween, Washington state residents got a scary message from their health department. An E. coli outbreak there has been linked to Chipotle restaurants. The chain had shut down more than 40 locations in Washington and Oregon over the week.

"The restaurants under investigation are linked to 19 cases of E. coli illnesses in Washington," the Washington Department of Health announced in a statement issued on Saturday. Three more cases were reported from Oregon, also associated with the restaurant chain. Seven of the Washington patients and one Oregon patient were hospitalized. There have been no deaths.

The State Epidemiologist Speaks

"Anyone who thinks they may have become ill from eating at a Chipotle restaurant in the past three weeks should consult their healthcare provider," said State Epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist. "The elderly and very young children are more likely to become severely ill from this kind of E. coli infection."

E. coli is a serious threat but it is not deadly in and of itself. The problem is that it can lead to deadly complications. Some types of E. coli can cause bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, and vomiting. Those can sometimes result in severe, life-threatening illness and may be fatal, says the Washington DOH.

The threat from E. coli is eliminated with thorough cooking, which prevents bacteria.

Chipotle Responds Cautiously

According to Chipotle representative Chris Arnold, the people who got sick ate at six different Chipotle restaurants, MSNBC reported.

The Chipotle Communications Director said in a statement, "The safety and wellbeing of our customers is always our highest priority. We offer our deepest sympathies to those who have been affected by this situation."

Chipotle closed so many restaurants in an abundance of caution, it said, and it will reportedly open them as the investigation allows. The company is cooperating with health officials. Washington and Oregon health departments are working together with federal officials at the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Halloween-Themed Peanut Butter News From Grave to Gross

Peanut butter news was all Halloween-themed this week. From the gross or gourmet to the grave and dangerous, the sandwich spread made holiday-appropriate headlines.

First, the serious stuff. Skippy peanut butter lovers in seven states should be on the alert. Hormel Foods announced it is recalling some Skippy that may contain metal shavings due to an equipment malfunction.

Recall Details

The recall involves 153 cases, or 1,871 pounds, of Skippy Reduced Fat Creamy Peanut Butter Spread. It is limited to 16.3 ounce jars with a "Best If Used By" date of DEC1416LR1 with a package UPC code of 37600-10500.

The jars were sent to distribution centers for major chains Publix, Target and Walmart located in Georgia, Virginia, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Delaware and Arkansas, Hormel said. The equipment malfunction has been fixed, the company spokeswoman told Reuters in an email.

No Complaints Yet

The metal shavings represent a choking risk. The company is being cautious but says it has not received any complaints or reports of consumer injuries about the defective product. It is announcing the voluntary recall out of abundance of caution, Courthouse News Service reported.

Hormel pointed out that "no other sizes, varieties or other packaging configurations of Skippy peanut butter or peanut spreads are included in this recall." The company urged consumers who bought the recalled product to return it to the store where purchased for an exchange.

Decadence Defined in a Sandwich

Let's finish with the good (or is it gross?) news. A Canadian bistro debuted a Reese's peanut butter cup burger, called The Works, shown here in all its glory on Fox News.

This dinner-desert mashup is imaginative if a challenge to culinary classicists. It is also decadent ... to put it delicately. The sandwich is made with a half-pound patty stuffed full of peanut butter cups before it's cooked.

Sure, it's a lot for just any day. But it may be just the trick for an adult meat lover's Halloween treat.

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Save My Bacon: Processed Meat Risks Best Taken With a Grain of Salt

Bacon, salami, and ham are all linked to an increased risk of cancer, according to the World Health Organization. Does that mean the end of awesome American sandwiches?

Unlikely. While the news about processed meats may temper our seemingly insatiable cultural appetite for bacon everything, we probably won't stop eating it. Nor should we necessarily. Popping salami is not quite like smoking cigarettes, says a Forbes analysis of the data.

Beyond the Headlines

What the WHO announced is not that bacon will cause cancer but that eating it increases the risk. Processed meat is listed as a Group 1 carcinogen, just like tobacco. But the carcinogens are not comparable.

"The alarming headlines imply that eating processed meat is just as bad as smoking. This is very, very wrong," writes Forbes science contributor JV Chamary. "The various carcinogens are not comparable -- being in Group 1 only means there's sufficient evidence to support the possibility that a substance causes cancer."

Chamary points out that the WHO provides little context for understanding the risks, just a vague warning. The press release announcing the processed meat findings notes, "For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed."

Processed meat is any meat that has been cured, salted, fermented, smoked, or otherwise processed. On this list are hot dogs, sausages, corned beef, canned beef, and beef jerky.

It should be noted that non-processed red meats, such as beef, veal, pork, lamb, horse, and goat, fall into Group 2 carcinogens. These are "probably carcinogenic ... based on limited evidence that the consumption of red meat causes cancer in humans and strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect."

What This Really Means for Meat Eaters

The WHO points out that red meat has nutritional value and it does not recommend the whole world become vegetarian. The WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer reached its conclusions by analyzing accumulated scientific studies.

"These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat," says Dr Christopher Wild, Director of IARC. "At the same time, red meat has nutritional value." Dr. Wild hopes that the information will be useful to authorities formulating recommended intake guidelines.

As for what you should do until these recommendations are formulated. Enjoy meat in moderation. Forbes' Chamary -- a biologist and the son of a surgeon specializing in colorectal cancers -- says that you should cut down on processed meats if you indulge often. He writes, "But should you worry about bacon causing cancer? No."

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Parenting Mag Ads Depict Bad Practices

Ads are not parenting primers. Still, they shouldn't promote unsafe behavior with dangerous depictions. Yet, a substantial number do, according to a study reported by MediaPost.

The study of 3,000 ads in two major parenting magazines, Parents and Family Fun, found that one in six ads, or 500 of them, showed kids or parents engaged in unsafe practices. University of Minnesota researchers judged the ads' safety using guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Details Behind the Data

In the carefree world of advertising, children are depicted riding bikes without helmets and sailing boats without life vests. Ads also promote medications for children too young for them per the FDA. Babies are seen sleeping on their stomachs, contradicting efforts to combat Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) with guidance to put babies to bed on their backs.

Other instances of poor choices on the parts of advertisers showed parents using frowned-upon feeding practices and kids playing with unsafe toys. Ads depicted kids using walkers and crib bumpers, which is discouraged by pediatricians.

According to the researchers, more than half of the ads deemed unsafe showed behavior that endangered a child's life. Lead researcher Michael Pitt told Live Science that ads subtly shape parents' ideas of acceptable behavior.

Hence, the danger. "Our concern is that repeatedly seeing images with unsafe practices -- especially in a place where new and seasoned parents look for advice -- can lead parents to assume these activities are endorsed by the experts at the magazines and lead to unsafe practices at home."

Researchers Surprised by Findings

Pitt says he was surprised by the results. He did not expect to see so many unsafe ads depicting such a wide range of unsafe practices. His hope is that publication of the study will lead to greater awareness of the potential pitfalls of disregarding these dangerous depictions.

The researchers hope parents will advocate for safer ads but does not relieve magazines of responsibility. "We suggest the editors consider basic screening of the content in their advertising to ensure the images and products comply with the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics prior to publication."

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National Nut Day - Nut Allergy and Recall Liability

October 22 is National Nut Day, which many of us will celebrate with trail mixes, pb and j sandwiches, and that perfect delicacy, boiled peanuts. But not everyone can enjoy nuts like the rest of us.

Nut allergies and salmonella outbreaks have made nuts dangerous in recent years, so who can be held responsible for allergic reactions and illnesses from nut consumption? Here are some legal aspects to consider:

Nut Allergies

Incidents of peanut allergies, especially in children, seem to be increasing over the last two decades. And the symptoms of an allergic reaction can be severe: everything from itchiness, swelling, and sneezing to abdominal pain, cardiac arrest, and even anaphylaxis. For this reason, food processors and manufacturers must carefully label their products and whether foods include nuts or have come into contact with food processing equipment used for nuts.

If a product lacks adequate warning labels, the manufacturer could be held responsible under product liability law. Food manufacturers are required to warn consumers of hidden dangers in their products, like the presence of nuts or nut contaminants.

Contaminated Nuts

As much as allergies have placed nuts front and center, so have some recent salmonella outbreaks at peanut processing plants. Earlier this year, Trader Joe's was forced to issue two recalls for peanuts and walnuts regarding salmonella contamination scares. And earlier this month executives and managers at a peanut processing plant were sentenced to serious prison time for their roles in a 2009 outbreak that sickened over 700 people and killed nine.

Products liability law also holds food manufacturers liable for food poisoning and contaminated food. And salmonella outbreaks can be dangerous, especially for children.

The best advice this National Nut Day is to celebrate responsibly. Make sure you're not allergic to nuts, and keep an eye out for nut recalls.

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Xbox Stealth Headsets May Hold Stealthy, Unhealthy Mold

Stealth headsets are stealthy indeed. They might make you sick. Xbox headset maker Turtle Beach is recalling Ear Force XO Four Stealth gaming headsets manufactured between April and June of this year for mold spores.

Gamers with chronic health problems are particularly at risk for respiratory illnesses or infections caused by the mold spore, the company states on its website. The recall is partial and voluntary and Turtle Beach is cooperating with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission on it.

Serial Number Says It All

The company is calling for a limited series of headsets sold online and at retailers throughout the U.S. and Canada to be returned. "Here at Turtle Beach, our customers' safety and satisfaction with our products is of the utmost importance to us, so we are voluntarily recalling certain Ear Force XO Four Stealth headsets in an effort to prevent any potential adverse effects."

The recall seeks headsets with production date codes C16 through C25 in the serial number. You can find the serial number printed on the inside of the device's headband or on the bottom flap of the packaging box. According to the company, "Recalled units contain these production date codes but do not have a green dot under the windscreen of the microphone."

The model number for the recalled headset is slightly different in the US and in Canada, however, all of the other applicable information appears to be the same. American headset owners should check for the model number TBS-2320-01 and Canadians should look for TBS-2320-03.

How to Handle the Recall

If you find you have a unit with a recalled serial number but no green dot under the microphone windscreen, stop using the headset immediately. "Place the headset in a bag along with the audio accessory and the retail box if you still have it. Tape or seal the bag shut," Turtle Beach instructs.

The company is requesting that consumers contact them directly online. Do not return your headset to the store where you bought it. Go to the manufacturer's website and fill out the form -- you will receive a pre-paid shipping label and, shortly thereafter, a replacement stealth headset, hopefully mold-free.



Common Law Vanguard Panel

The following firms have assisted the FindLaw editorial team in identifying emerging trends in consumer protection law and topics of importance to readers of this blog: