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March 2015

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Will RadioShack Sell Your Email?

You may have heard that RadioShack is going belly up. It filed for bankruptcy earlier this year after agreeing to sell over 2,000 stores to Standard General, a hedge fund.

However, the stores and merchandise aren't the only things going up for sale. Your name, address, email, and personal shopping habits are also going on the auction block. Technically, the personal information of over 100 million customers has already been bought by Standard General during the bankruptcy auction, but the bankruptcy court must first approve the sale.

Unhappy about the sale?

Texas' Challenge

Don't worry. You're not alone. Texas is opposing the sale. According to Texas state law, it is illegal for companies to sell customers' information if it violates the companies' privacy policies.

Texas' Attorney General Ken Paxton argues that the sale is in direct violation of RadioShack's privacy policy. Signs in the chain's stores explicitly state, "We pride ourselves on not selling our private mailing list."

So far, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin, have joined Texas in its opposition to the sale.

AT&T's Challenge

Notwithstanding its own policy of selling customer information, AT&T is also protesting RadioShack's data sale. AT&T claims that it shares ownership of some of RadioShack's customer data because it worked with the failing chain to market phones.

AT&T is not doing this out of any concern for customer privacy. It just doesn't want the information to fall into competitors' hands. Sprint, a competitor, may partner with Standard General in the future and could possibly benefit if Standard General's purchase of the data is successful.

Will The Sale Be Approved?

There has been past cases where sale of personal information was allowed even when it violated a company's privacy policy. In 2011, Borders was allowed by the Federal Trade Commission to sell personal customer data because the buyer was in the same line of business and promised to apply the same privacy policy. Standard General may try to argue that the circumstances here are similar.

We will just have to wait to see if the bankruptcy court approves the sale or not.

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Possible Listeria Contamination Prompts Recalls: Amy's Kitchen, Wegman's Food Market, Carmel Food Group

Amy's Kitchen, Wegmans Food Market, and Carmel Food Group all issued recalls of their products containing organic frozen spinach after a spinach supplier issued its own recall for fear of possible listeria contamination.

Here is what you need to know:

Amy's Kitchen Recall

Amy's Kitchen recalled over 73k packages of frozen foods that may contain contaminated spinach.

Listeria monocytogenes is a bacteria commonly found in soil and water. It can contaminate raw meats, vegetables, and cooked and processed foods. Listeria can cause serious or fatal infections among young children and elderly people. Expectant mother could suffer miscarriages or stillbirths. Healthy adults may only suffer short term symptoms such as fever, headache, stiffness, nausea, and diarrhea.

Amy's Kitchen claims that no illnesses or listeria infections have yet been reported.

The recall includes varieties of Amy's Kitchen's vegetable lasagnas, spinach pizzas, brown rice and vegetable bowls, pasta bowls, and many more. If you have bought any Amy's Kitchen products since the beginning of this year, be sure to check the FDA's website for a detailed list of recalled products.

Amy's Kitchen has already notified distributors and retailers to remove recalled products from store shelves.

Wegmans Recall

Wegmans Food Markets has recalled over 12k packages of Wegmans' organic spinach.

The recall is for the 12-oz bags of Wegmans Organic Food You Feel Good About Just Picked Frozen Spinach. Affected products were sold between January 27 and March 21, 2015 with "Best Used By" dates of either January 26, 2017 or February 2, 2017.

Carmel Food Group Recall

Carmel Food Group also issued a voluntary recall of its Rising Moon Organics Frozen Ravioli.

Recalled products include:

  • Rising Moon Organics Garlic & Veggie Ravioli, sell by Jan. 09, 2016
  • Rising Moon Organics Spinach Florentine Ravioli, sell by Jan. 19, 2016
  • Rising Moon Organics Spinach & Cheese Ravioli, sell by Dec. 22, 2015; Dec. 30, 2016; Dec. 31, 2016; Jan. 02, 2016; Jan. 19, 2016; and Jan. 20, 2016.

It is unclear whether these recalls are linked to the same organic spinach supplier.

If you believe you have bought a recalled product, you should either throw the products away or return them to the store for a full refund.

Related Resources:

Trader Joe's Recalls Walnuts, Almonds: What You Need to Know

Nut eaters beware! In the last two weeks, Trader Joe's has issued two recalls: one for almonds possibly contaminated with peanuts, and one for walnuts possibly contaminated with salmonella.

Here's what consumers need to know:

Almond Recall

On March 12, 2015, Trader Joe's posted a notice on its website recalling its Cinnamon Almonds.

The almonds may contain peanuts which were not mentioned on the packaging. While some people may be able to eat almonds, which are tree nuts, they may be allergic to peanuts, which are legumes.

The company warns customers with peanut allergies to throw the Cinnamon Almonds away or return them to Trader Joe's for a full refund. Even if you do not have a nut allergy, Trader Joe's will still honor the recall and refund your purchase. Trader Joe's has removed the product from its shelves and suspended sales until the problem can be remedied.

Walnut Recall

In a potentially more worrisome issue, Trader Joe's is recalling its raw walnut products due to possible Salmonella contamination.

The company discovered the possible contamination after routine testing. Salmonella can cause fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. More serious infections can also cause arterial infections, endocarditis, and arthritis.

Trader Joe's reports that it has not yet received any complaints or reports of salmonella infection, but decided to issue the recall anyway out of an abundance of caution.

If you've bought Trader Joe's Raw Walnuts, check to see if your bag of nuts are including in this recall. UPC codes, "Best By" dates, and lot numbers can be found on the back of packages of Raw California Walnuts. For packages of Organic Raw Walnuts, the "Best By" date can be found on the front of the package.

The recalled Raw Walnut products include:

  • 00373685 Trader Joe’s Nuts Raw California Walnut Pieces – 16 oz., 12/2015, GU4345
  • 00943338 Trader Joe’s Nuts Raw California Walnut Halves & Pieces – 16 oz., 12/2015, GU4346
    GU4349, GU4356
  • 00519342 Trader Joe’s Nuts Raw California Walnut Baking Pieces – 16 oz., 12/2015, GU4350
  • 00519328 Trader Joe’s Nuts Raw California Premium Walnut Halves – 16oz., 12/2015, GU4343, GU4344, GU4351, GU4352
  • 00586627 Trader Joe’s Organic Raw Walnut Halves & Pieces – 12oz., Oct. 15, 2015 to Dec. 1 2015

If you have purchased any recalled Raw Walnut products, do not eat them. Throw the products away or return them to Trader Joe's for a full refund.

Related Resources:

Beware IRS 'Back Taxes' Scam, 'Largest in History of the Agency'

With tax season comes tax scam season. One scam that's being called out this year is a telephone scam demanding immediate payment of back taxes.

Many people are receiving threatening and aggressive pre-recorded phone calls from someone claiming to be with the IRS saying they owe thousands of dollars in back taxes. 

Potential victims are directed to provide credit, debit, or prepaid card numbers over the telephone. Victims are also threatened with arrest, deportation, having the utilities shut off, or having driver's licenses revoked.

Signs to Look Out For

A Treasury Department investigator told CBS News this is the "largest, most pervasive impersonation scam in the history of the agency." As many as 366,000 people have reported receiving a call, and victims have lost up to $15.5 million.

Common characteristics of this scam include:

  • The caller will give a fake name and IRS badge number.
  • The caller often recites the last four digits of your Social Security number.
  • Your caller ID may show the IRS' toll-free number.
  • The caller gives you a number to call back, and threatens to call the police if you don't.

Is It Really the IRS?

Also keep in mind that the IRS will never call you to demand payment. According to an IRS news release, the IRS will always initiate contact with taxpayers though written communication sent via U.S. mail. The IRS will also never ask you to pay immediately or demand payment information over the phone.

If you do receive a call you think may be a scam, you can call the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at (800) 366-4484 to report the incident. If you think you may owe back taxes and receive a similar call, you can call the IRS at (800) 829-1040 to verify with a real IRS employee. You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at FTC Complaint Assistant. Whatever you do, don't call the scammers back.

Related Resources:

Chrysler, Nissan Recalls: Ignition Switches, Hood Latches at Issue

Chrysler and Nissan have announced recalls affecting some 1.3 million vehicles because of faulty ignition switches and failing secondary hood latches, respectively.

Chrysler is re-recalling over 700,000 minivans and SUVs over a defective ignition switch. Separately, Nissan is expanding a prior 2014 recall to cover another 640,000 Altima sedans to fix a faulty secondary hood latch.

Here's what you need to know about these recalls:

Chrysler Recall

Chrysler's recall covers all 2008-10 Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Town and Country, and 2009-10 Dodge Journey SUVs.

A switch defect in these cars can allow the ignition switch to rotate into the "accessory" or "off" position, causing the cars to stall. Consumer complaints describe loss of steering wheel control and difficulty braking when the cars stall.

Chrysler claims that no fatalities have yet been attributed to this defect. A stall has led to one crash, but it did not cause any injuries, the company reports.

Chrysler previously announced similar recalls in 2011 and 2014, but the attempted fix -- adding a trim ring -- did not work.

All recalled vehicles will now receive a wireless ignition module.

Nissan Recall

Meantime, Nissan is recalling 2013-15 Altima sedans made before December 31, 2014, covering 640,000 cars. This recall expanded a prior recall from last October covering about 230,000 cars.

A defect in the secondary hood latch could cause it to release, allowing the hood to fly up. The secondary hood latch is a backup system. A Nissan spokesman told Reuters, "Altima drivers can be sure their hood will not fly up as long as they don't pull the primary hood release while driving or leave the primary hood release undone prior to driving."

Nissan has not yet found the cause for the problem or determined a remedy.

Recalled vehicles will be inspected, and secondary hood latch assemblies will be lubricated.

Does Your Car Need to Be Fixed?

Car owners can use NHTSA's free online tool to determine whether their vehicle is affected by these, or any other, automotive recall.

If you were injured because of a mechanical defect in a recalled vehicle, a products liability lawyer can help explore your options.

Related Resources:

Hyundai Recalls 200K Elantras Over Power Steering Problem

Hyundai has issued a safety recall over a flaw in the power steering systems of more than 200,000 vehicles.

The recall affects Hyundai Elantra sedans from model years 2008 to 2010, along with Elantra touring hatchbacks from model years 2009 to 2010.

What do consumers need to know about this recall?

Faulty Power Steering Controls

The power steering system at issue in the recall makes it easier to move the steering wheel. An error in a control unit component causes the system to disable power steering assistance.

If a malfunction occurs, drivers will see a warning light and may feel that they have to work harder to maintain control of the wheel. The issue is easily reset by restarting the car. In a report filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Hyundai asserts that the error does not drastically affect drivers' ability to maintain steering control manually.

While Hyundai first discovered the flaw in 2010, the company believed a safety recall was not necessary. The amount of effort required to continue steering the vehicle in the event of a malfunction was well within compliance standards, the company said.

But since automakers and NHTSA have recently been criticized for not issuing safety recalls, Hyundai has decided to voluntarily recall the vehicles to maintain driver safety.

Does Your Car Need to Be Fixed?

Similar to other safety recalls, Hyundai says it will contact owners of affected vehicles. The company will test the vehicles for defects and make the necessary repairs at no cost to the consumer.

Car owners can also use NHTSA's free online tool to determine whether their vehicle is affected by this, or any other, automotive recall.

If you were injured because of a mechanical defect in a recalled vehicle, a products liability lawyer can help explore your options.

Related Resources:

E-Filing Your Tax Return? Top 5 Tips to Protect Your Data

You're already worried about identity theft. And you're probably worried about your taxes as well. As it turns out, if you're planning on e-filing your tax return, you might have to worry about someone stealing your data to file a fraudulent tax return.

If you've already e-filed, you may want to confirm with your tax-preparation company or the IRS that only one return has been filed with your Social Security number on it. If you've yet to file, here are a few ways to protect your personal data when e-filing your return:

1. Secure Your SSN.

Most fraudulent tax returns were filed with a stolen Social Security number, the theft of which is distressingly easy. While the worry with SSNs was having your Social Security card stolen from a wallet or purse, now we use the numbers more frequently and online.

We give out our Social Security numbers to employers, health care providers, and even cable companies, so it's no surprise they would targets for hackers. Hackers stole around 6 million Social Security numbers last year, and fraudsters don't need much more information than that in order to file a tax return in your name.

Give out your Social Security number as little as possible, and only use the last four digits when you can. And you should probably find a safe place to store your Social Security card, rather than carrying it around with you.

2. Protect Past Returns.

It's good practice to keep records of our past tax filings, but these can be another source of personal information that identity thieves can exploit. If you're keeping paper copies of previous returns, make sure they are secure. And if you're tossing out old returns, it's best to shred them to avoid exposing your data.

3. Use a Trusted Preparer.

Admittedly, when one of the largest e-filing companies is facing allegations that it allowed online bandits to file millions of fraudulent tax returns, it's hard to know whom to trust. It may help to keep an eye on the news, but ultimately, the convenience of filing our taxes online comes with the risk that criminals will exploit that ease.

4. Report Fraud.

As noted above, confirm with your tax preparation company and the IRS that no other returns have been filed using your Social Security number. If you do discover that someone else has filed a fraudulent return, report the fraud immediately. The Department of Justice is aggressive in prosecuting identity theft and tax fraud cases.

5. Monitor Your Credit Report.

You can check your credit report for free, and it may be your first indicator that someone has stolen your identity or filed a fraudulent tax return. Even if your tax filing went smoothly, you should be diligent about protecting your identity online.

We all love the convenience and time-saving aspects of e-filing for our tax returns. And while e-filing companies can help us file our taxes, it's up to us to protect our personal data.

Related Resources: Tax Error Affects 800K People: What You Need to Know

The government sent incorrect tax information to some 800,000 people who signed up for insurance plans through last year. The error is expected to delay the tax returns for about one out of every five people who used the federal insurance marketplace to avoid tax penalties for being uninsured.

If you were one of these enrollees, what do you need to know about the mix-up, and how will it affect your tax filing?

What Happened?

The error occurred in calculating the premiums for consumers who signed up for Obamacare via and received subsidies to help purchase insurance in 2014. These tax credits are based on consumers' income and certain insurance premiums. 

The problem: Some of the insurance premiums were miscalculated, leading to incorrect information on consumers' tax forms. As of yet, officials are not sure why the miscalculation occurred.

How Will It Affect My Taxes?

Because the tax credit calculation uses a taxpayer's income, and because incomes vary, some people will owe more and some will owe less. There's no way to know until those affected by the error receive updated and accurate tax information.

What Should I Do?

If you enrolled in health coverage through, you may want to hold off on filing your taxes just yet. The website had this to say:

If your form is affected by this issue, you’ll get a call and email from us in the next few days, and you will get a message in your Marketplace account here on Once you log in, you should select your 2014 application, and then select "Tax forms." You will see a message letting you know if your 1095-A form is being corrected. This is also where you will find your corrected form when it is completed. When the corrected form is ready, we’ll send a message to your Marketplace account.

The department is due to deliver corrected tax data to consumers in the first week of March, and has urged consumers to wait to file their taxes and will provide further information to those who already have.

Related Resources:

Anthem Hack Spurs 'Phishing' Email Scam: How to Stay Safe

Following the Anthem hack attack that potentially exposed the personal information of some 80 million customers, another danger has arisen: "Phishing" emails attempting to scam those same customers of even more personal information.

Ars Technica reports that scammers are using the hacked information to email Anthem customers in the hopes of gaining access to customers' personal data. The extent of this phishing campaign is unknown at this time, but Anthem's press release regarding the scam asserts, "There is no indication that the scam email campaigns are being conducted by those that committed the cyber attack, or that the information accessed in the attack is being used by the scammers."

How the Scam Works

Internet scam artists are sending emails designed to look like they are from Anthem and offer recipients free credit monitoring services. Once a recipient clicks on the links embedded in the email, they are prompted to provide personal information to enroll in the service.

These email scams are known as "phishing," and once scammers have access to a person's identifying information, they can use that data to apply for lines of credit, open fraudulent bank accounts, or even steal a person's identity.

How to Protect Yourself

There are some general rules to avoid phishing scams, like keeping an eye out for suspicious email addresses, being cautious regarding embedded links in emails, and confirming with the sender that the email you received is legit.

In this particular instance, Anthem is advising customers that it is not sending emails regarding this credit monitoring service. Anthem is also "not calling members regarding the cyber attack and is not asking for credit card information or Social Security numbers over the phone." Instead, the company warned customers not to click on any links in these emails, supply any information on the website in the email, or reply to the email in any way.

Anthem will, however, be reaching out via U.S. mail and offering customers affected by the hack its own free credit monitoring and identification protections services.

You can learn more about phishing and online safety by visiting FindLaw's section on Online Scams.

Related Resources:

Which Cars Have the Highest, Lowest Death Rates?

A new report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows that while car safety has continued to improve in most late-model vehicles, some vehicles still have alarmingly high death rates.

According to the IIHS, among 2011 model-year cars or equivalent earlier model vehicles, there were 28 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years through 2012. (A "registered vehicle year" equals one vehicle registered for one year.) This is down significantly from 2008-09, in which there were 48 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years. But while nine 2011 or equivalent earlier model vehicles had a driver death rate of zero, several other models had death rates exceeding 100.

Which cars have the highest and lowest death rates according to IIHS statistics? And what should drivers know when trying to choose a safe car?

Safe, Deadly Cars

The IIHS found that in general, the smallest vehicles have the highest death rates, with the Kia Rio having the highest death rate, at 149 per million registered vehicle years. Most of the vehicles that made the institute's list of safest cars -- those with 6 or fewer driver deaths per million registered vehicle years -- were SUVs or minivans, although several midsize cars also made the list.

The vehicles with the lowest rate of driver deaths include:

  • Audi A4 4WD
  • Honda Odyssey
  • Kia Sorento 2WD
  • Lexus RX 350 4WD
  • Mercedes-Benz GL-Class 4WD
  • Subaru Legacy 4WD
  • Toyota Highlander hybrid 4WD
  • Toyota Sequoia 4WD
  • Volvo XC90 4WD
  • Honda Pilot 4WD
  • Mercedes-Benz M-Class 4WD
  • Ford Crown Victoria
  • GMC Yukon 4WD
  • Acura TL 2WD
  • Chevrolet Equinox 2WD
  • Chevrolet Equinox 4WD
  • Ford Expedition 4WD
  • Ford Flex 2WD
  • Mazda CX-9 4WD

Among the vehicles with more than 46 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years were many small or mini-size vehicles, but also one full-size pickup truck and several SUVs.

The list of vehicles with the highest driver death rates, according to the IIHS, includes:

  • Kia Rio
  • Nissan Versa sedan
  • Hyundai Accent
  • Chevrolet Aveo
  • Hyundai Accent
  • Chevrolet Camaro coupe
  • Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Crew 4WD
  • Honda Civic
  • Nissan Versa hatchback
  • Ford Focus
  • Nissan Cube
  • Chevrolet HHR
  • Chevrolet Suburban 1500 2WD
  • Chevrolet Aveo
  • Mercury Grand Marquis
  • Jeep Patriot 2WD
  • Mazda 6
  • Dodge Nitro 2WD
  • Honda Civic

Vehicle Designs Have Improved Safety

One major factor in improving the safety of automobiles is improving design and safety technology. In particular, the IIHS cites electronic stabilization control (ESC) -- which helps prevent SUVs from rollover crashes -- for taking SUVs from one of the most dangerous types of vehicles a decade ago to now being being the safest of any vehicle type. Generally, the report found that as a car's size increases, the death rate declines.

Learn more about the liability for automobile accidents and injuries at FindLaw's section on Car Accident Liability.

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