FindLaw's Common Law

FindLaw's Common Law

Consumer protection legal news from

August 2015

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31          

FindLaw Blogs

FindLaw Blotter
Free Enterprise
Law & Daily Life

If you're looking for information on common law marriage, please visit the Common Law Marriage section on FindLaw.

Is Your Keyless Ignition Deadly?

A group of plaintiffs have filed a class action lawsuit against ten of the world's largest automakers, claiming the keyless ignition system can be deadly. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Los Angeles, alleges the car companies were aware the systems increased the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and concealed the danger from consumers.

The plaintiffs are seeking money damages and an injunction that would force manufacturers to install an automatic shut-off feature to avoid future fatalities.

Is Your Engine Running?

The danger from keyless ignition systems exists when drivers leave their cars running, assuming the engines will turn off by themselves. This doesn't happen, however, and people may not notice the poisonous gas their cars are emitting whilst still running. The risk is increased when cars have quiet engines and are parked in garages attached to homes.

According to the recently filed complaint, some 13 people have been killed and many more injured by carbon monoxide poisoning. While some vehicles have an alert if a driver leaves a car running, and some newer models come with an automatic engine shutoff feature, the plaintiffs here don't think that goes far enough. The lawsuit also contends, "The automakers had actual knowledge of the dangerous carbon monoxide poisoning consequences of vehicles with keyless fobs that lack an automatic shut-off."

Remix to Ignition

While the other defendant auto manufacturers, including BMW, Mini Daimler's Mercedes Benz, Fiat Chrysler, General Motors Co., Honda, and Acura have yet to comment on the litigation, Ford has said it takes customer safety "very seriously," and contends its keyless ignition system is "safe and reliable."

In order to solve the ignition shutoff problem, car makers may have to issue a recall on the affected models. The Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also has the authority to require manufacturers to recall vehicles with safety-related defects, but thus far the NHTSA has declined to comment on the latest ignition problem.

Related Resources:

Walgreens Settles Consumer Protection Lawsuit

Consultations with pharmacists can save lives. By consulting with patients, pharmacists can ensure they have the right medication for their conditions and that multiple medications won't be harmful.

Apparently, Walgreens pharmacists were shirking that responsibility, and now the chain is paying over half a million dollars to settle a consumer protection lawsuit.

Prescription Pill Parameters

The California State Board of Pharmacy has regulations requiring pharmacists to provide a personal consultation any time a patient:

  • Receives a prescription drug not previously dispensed to that patient;
  • Receives a different dosage, form, or strength of a prescription drug; or
  • Requests a consultation.

Officials note that 150,000 Californians misuse prescription drugs each year, costing the state almost $2 billion in economic losses. (This is probably why the Food and Drug Administration warns against buying medications over the Internet.)

Way back in 2011, the Board alerted district attorney's offices in San Diego, Riverside, and Alameda County to the issue of pharmacists failing to provide required consultations. In response, the counties began running undercover operations in major pharmacy chains statewide to uncover lax consultation practices.

Getting the Treatment

This is the third enforcement act regarding pharmacist consultations (or lack thereof); CVS received an injunction and paid $658,500 in December 2013, and Rite Aid also received an injunction and paid $498,250 in June 2014.

Though it admits no liability, Walgreens will pony up $502,200 as part of their settlement, and is also subject to an injunction forcing its pharmacists to comply with the state Board of Pharmacy's standards for patient consultations. Walgreens operates over 600 pharmacies in the state and must implement a strict internal compliance program to insure it does not violate protocols in the future.

The settlement comes on the heels of a 2012 lawsuit claiming Walgreens overcharged insurance companies for generic drugs.

Related Resources:

Kraft Recalls Cheese Singles After 3 Report Choking

Kraft recalled some 377,000 packages of its Kraft Singles cheese after reports of plastic sticking to the cheese. The announcement is a stunning assertion that there's a difference between the company's pasteurized prepared cheese product and the wrapper.

So what products were affected, and what should you do if you bought some bad cheese?

Singular Danger

Kraft recalled packages of Kraft Singles American and White American cheese. According to the LA Times:

The recalled products have a "best when used by" date of Dec. 29, 2015, through Jan. 4, 2016, followed by the manufacturing code S54 or S55. No other sizes, varieties or code dates are included in the recall.

No deaths relating to the cheese have been noted, but ten people reported plastic remaining on the cheese after the wrapper had been removed, and three people reported choking on the plastic.

In a press release, Kraft warned,

Consumers who purchased this product should not eat it. They should return it to the store where purchased for an exchange or full refund. Consumers in the U.S. and Puerto Rico can also contact Kraft Heinz Consumer Relations for a full refund, at 1-800-432-3101, Monday through Friday, 9am to 6pm Eastern.

Sailing the Seas of Cheese

As choking hazards go, the danger with Kraft's singles is true to its flavor: bland. The cheesy plastic is no Hello Kitty whistle pop, child car seat chest pad, bumblebee slipper sock, toy cell phone antenna, "Little People Animal Sounds Farm" nail fastener, or Build-A-Bear eyeball. It appears the entire world is a choking risk for toddlers, and we will cover that recall when it happens.

In the meantime, be careful with your cheese. Perhaps you can buy the pre-shredded sack of mozzarella or the 2x4 block of cheddar. Or go big and invest in a nacho cheese fountain.

Related Resources:

Possible Salmonella in Spices Sparks Recall

Kroger Co. has issued a recall on four of its spices due to concerns of possible salmonella contamination. The supermarket chain is pulling Kroger Ground Cinnamon, Kroger Garlic Powder, Kroger Coarse Ground Black Pepper, and Kroger Bac’n Buds from its shelves.

The recall affects Kroger and other Kroger systems stores in 17 states.

Something Fishy

Although no illnesses were reported, salmonella was found in a sample of garlic powder from a store in South Carolina. Aiming to be on the safe side, Kroger is pulling the four spices from its own stores, Jay C., Dillons, King Soopers, Fry's, Fred Meyer, Ralphs, Food 4 Less, and Smiths.

And the recall isn't confined to South Carolina -- Kroger is pulling spices in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia as well. The Food and Drug Administration is recommending that customers who bought the recalled spices should not eat them and return them to the store for a full refund.

Food Poisoning and Product Liability

Salmonella is bacteria that can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, and death if consumed by the elderly or even young children with weakened immune systems. Food manufacturers have a duty, known as product liability, to protect consumers from known or potential hazards in the foods they make, especially with something unseen like salmonella.

Food recalls are designed to protect the public from a dangerous product. Often they can be instituted by the FDA, or a manufacturer or distributor can initiate a recall if there are complaints or failed quality control tests.

If someone becomes sick from food poisoning, the manufacturer or seller could be liable for damages. If you or someone you know has gotten sick due to salmonella or some other kind of food product, you may want to consult with a products liability attorney near you.

Related Resources:

Citigroup Will Refund $700 Million for Deceptive Marketing

Citigroup's extra fees for add-on services is now costing the company $770 million.

In an agreement with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Citigroup will pay $70 million in fines and refund $700 million to consumers for illegal and deceptive credit card practices.

Here is what you need to know:

Illegal and Deceptive Practices

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), created by the Dodd-Frank Act after the 2008 financial crisis, is responsible for regulating the credit industry and investigating illegal and deceptive practices. In 2013, the CFPB fined JP Morgan Chase for unfair billing practices for credit card add-on products. In 2014, Bank of America was fined for a similar violation. Citigroup is the CFPB's latest victim.

In its investigation into the company, the CFPB found that, as far back as 2000, Citi charged customers for add-on products such as credit score monitoring or rush processing of payments. The company allegedly signed consumers up for add-on services when it was unclear whether the consumer actually said they wanted it or not. In another case, Citi charged customers for credit monitoring services but did not perform any of the services. Also, the company charged customers a $14.95 expedited payment fee for over-the-phone payments without informing them about free payment options.

These add-on services are illegal because they provide no actual benefit to the consumer.

The Refunds

As part of the settlement, Citi has agreed to issue refunds to 8.8 million affected customers. Most customers will receive a statement credit. Customers who no longer have a Citi account will receive a check in the mail.

Watch out for Deceptive Charges

Citi has reported that it stopped these deceptive practices since 2013. Also, the CFPB's enforcement activities have largely ended the practices among other banks and credit card companies as well.

However, consumer financial advocates warn that payday lenders and so called loan sharks still engage in these deceptive practices. If you believe that your lender or credit card company is engaging in illegal practices, you can make a complaint with the CFPB or consult with an experienced consumer protection attorney for help.

Related Resources:

Military Consumer Protection Day: Scams Targeting Servicemembers

July is the month when service members recognize Military Consumer Protection Day.

While servicemembers protect the country every day, they are often more susceptible to financial exploitation and scams. So, in honor of Military Consumer Protection Day, here are some scams and unfair practices to watch out for:

Affinity Scams

There is a certain shared connection among all servicemembers. So, you're more likely to trust someone who is also a servicemembers. In an affinity scam, fraudsters use that connection to dupe victims.

In one case, a Texas man used his status as an Army Veteran to trick current and former military personnel to invest money with him. In another case, an Army Staff Sergeant ran a Ponzi scheme stealing $500,000 from nearly 100 fellow soldiers

Card Popping Scam

College students and young active duty military personnel are being targeted in card popping scams.

In these scams, the scammers, impersonating USAA officials, create false social media profiles or Instagram or Facebook, offering quick cash, scholarships, or promotions. The scam promises that victims will get a cut of a check that they must deposit into their checking account after they provide the scammers with debit card numbers, pin numbers, and login information. Scammers will then deposit fake checks, and use the victims' debit cards to withdraw large sums of money before the bank discovers the fraudulent checks.

In many cases, the victim ends up being on the hook for the fake check.

Unfair Debt Collection

In another case of unfair exploitation of service members, Freedom Stores Inc. used illegal and abusive debt-collection practices to get money from servicemembers.

Freedom Stores, Inc. is a chain of stores that services military bases throughout the United States. According to a lawsuit filed by the Consumer Financial Protection bureau, the company filed illegal lawsuits to get default judgments against consumers who did not even know they were being sued. The company also made unauthorized withdrawals from the accounts of servicemembers' friends or families to satisfy debts.

In a win for servicemembers, the company will now have to pay $2.5 million in refunds and penalties to victims.

If you have been victimized by a scam or unfair debt collection practices, consult with an experienced consumer protection attorney for help.

Related Resources:

Two Chicken Recalls for Wheat and Salmonella

This week two companies are recalling their chicken products, one for unlisted wheat and the other for possible salmonella contamination.

Here is what you need to know:

Recall # 1: Big Easy Foods - Unlisted Wheat

Big Easy Foods, a Louisiana food company, is recalling its stuffed chicken products because wheat, a possible allergen, was not listed among the ingredients on product labels.

Wheat is a common food allergen. In fact, nearly 90 percent of all food related allergic reactions are caused by wheat, milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, soy, and shellfish. Because of this common condition, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires that foods that contain any major food allergen ingredient must clearly declare presence of the allergen on the products' labels.

According to Big Easy, wheat is a minor ingredient, less than .01 percent of total ingredients, in its chicken base used in the stuffing. While wheat was included in the recipe more than two years ago, the ingredient was not listed on product labels.

So, Big Easy is recalling 93,000 pounds of its stuffed chicken products with expiration dates before June 9, 2017. While the company believes that much of the recalled products have already been eaten, Big Easy reports that no claims of allergic reactions from eating the chicken have been made.

Recall #2: Barber Foods - Salmonella

In a much scarier recall, Barber Foods, from Maine, is recalling 1.7 million pounds of chicken for possible salmonella contamination. The recalled products covers frozen, raw stuffed chicken varieties produced by the company from February 17, 2015 to May 20, 2015.

The products are believed to be contaminated with salmonella enteritidis after several patients in Wisconsin and Minnesota were treated for salmonella consumption. When consumed, salmonella, a bacteria, causes diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, and even death in the elderly or very young children with weakened immune systems.

Salmonella can only be killed by fully cooking chicken. However, if you have any of the recalled products, the company recommends that you do not try to eat the chicken. Just return the product to where you bought it for a refund.

If you are sickened or have an allergic reaction after eating these recalled products, you may want to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your claim for compensation.

Related Resources:

GM Recalls Hummers, Chevrolet Spark, and Chevrolet Sonic

If you still drive a Hummer (although, I don't know how you afford the gas) watch out for car fires. General Motors has just announced recalls of two Hummer models, Chevrolet Spark, and Chevrolet Sonic -- nearly 500,000 cars.

Here is what you need to know:

Recall #1: Hummer Fires

In this first recall, General Motors is recalling almost 200K  Hummer H3 (2006-2010) and  Hummer H3T (2009-2010).

These Hummer models have a faulty connector module in the car's climate control system. The module can overheat when operated for a long time, causing nearby plastic to melt and the car to catch fire. So far, the defect has caused 42 car fires and three injuries, but no fatalities.

If your car is recalled, GM will notify you of the recall by mail. You can then bring your car to a dealership, and GM will replace the faulty module and wiring harness for free.

Recall #2: Radio Software Malfunctions

This second recall applies to about 51K  Chevrolet Sparks (2014-2015) and 2015 Chevrolet Sonics.

GM reported that radio software on these cars can get stuck in the OnStar navigation mode. This will cause the radio screen to go blank and disable all audio functions and notifications. Drivers will not be able to hear any warning for keys left in the ignition or seat belts not being fastened. The malfunction can also drain the battery.

According to GM, no accidents or injuries have been caused by this malfunction.

Owners of recalled cars will be notified in the mail, and the company will reboot and update the cars' radio software to remove the glitch, free of charge.

Injured by a Defect

If you are ever injured by a defect in your car, you may have a products liability claim against the car's manufacturer and the dealer that sold you the car. You may be able to sue on the grounds of breach of warranty or negligence. If the product had an unreasonably dangerous defect that caused you injury while used in its intended purpose, you may also sue for strict liability.

To file a products liability lawsuit, consult an experienced personal injury attorney for help.

Related Resources:

Counterfeiters of Fake 5-hour ENERGY Indicted

Is that 5-hour ENERGY drink just not working for you? You may be drinking a counterfeit.

In a first of its kind case, the U.S. District Attorney's recently charged 11 people with conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods, conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement, and conspiracy to introduce misbranded food into interstate commerce.

Here is what you need to know:

Fake 5-hour ENERGY

The counterfeiting scheme began in 2009 as a legitimate business arrangement between Joseph and Adriana Shayota and 5-hour ENERGY's parent company, Living Essentials.

The Shayotas were supposed to distribute 5-Hour Energy's product in Mexico with Spanish-language labeling. Instead, the Shayotas and others sold the products in the United States at a discount instead. Then, they advanced to making their own versions of 5-hour ENERGY drinks. The drinks were made with unregulated ingredients in unsanitary plastic vats.

Between May and December 2012, the Shayotas and gang distributed over four million bottles of counterfeit 5-hour ENERGY. The products were sold at 7-Eleven, CVS, Circle K, and Chevron stores.

The Investigation

Soon after the counterfeit products hit the market, consumers were complaining of not getting any energy from 5-hour ENERGY products. While the FDA did investigate the drink after consumers made nearly 100 reports of adverse reactions to the drinks, including 13 deaths and 33 hospitalizations, Living Essentials was unsure if the reactions were caused by the counterfeit products.

In 2012, 5-hour ENERGY discovered the counterfeit products and was able to track down where they were made. The company sued in civil court to shut down the counterfeiters' factory and seize the fake products.

According to 5-hour ENERGY, the counterfeit products came in three flavors, regular strength Berry, extra strength Berry, and regular strength Orange. While most of the counterfeit products were rounded up in 2012, if you still have any counterfeit 5-hour ENERGY you can call the company at 1-866-324-7949.

As for the counterfeiters, the U.S. Attorney's office is pursuing the first ever criminal case against food counterfeiters. If convicted, they could each face 15 years in prison.

Related Resources:

Is It Legal to Travel With Large Sums of Cash?

If you have $75,000 in cash, can you stuff it into a suitcase and board a plane with it?

One passenger actually did this. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at Richmond International Airport discovered $75,000 in cash in a passenger's luggage during a security check. The question remains: is it legal to travel with that much cash?

Traveling with Cash

Although it may seem sketchy, it is perfectly legal to travel with any amount of cash -- even very large amounts. You could cram a million dollars into your purse if you wanted. There is no law against that as far as domestic flights are concerned.

If you're flying internationally with more than $10,000, you'll have to declare the amount to customs. Other than that, assuming customs approves your luggage, you can carry as much cash as you want.

Can the Government Take My Money?

While carrying large amounts of cash isn't necessarily illegal, you may run into trouble if the authorities believe the cash may be tied to illegal activity.

Since the TSA routinely finds evidence of criminal activity such as illegal drug trafficking or money laundering, don't be surprised when the TSA pays a little extra attention to your cash stash. TSA officers may question you about where you got the money, where you're taking it to, and why. You are not required to answer these questions, but not answering can result in delays.

If the TSA suspects that the cash may be linked to illegal activity, it will call in a law enforcement agency to investigate further.

In the case mentioned above, a law enforcement agency was called in to investigate the $75,000 found. The cash was seized, as allowed by laws governing civil asset forfeiture, and the traveler was allowed to continue on his flight.

Tips for Traveling

If you do decide to stash stacks of Benjamins in your luggage, here are some tips:

  • Ask TSA officials to screen you in a private location. You don't want everyone in line to know you're carrying a lot of cash.
  • Always keep cash and other valuables with you in a carry-on bag. Never leave such items in checked baggage.
  • Don't forget to declare the cash to customs if you're traveling internationally.

Related Resources:



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: