Category Archives: Consumer Products

Salmonella Illnesses Linked to Foster Farms Chicken

At least 278 cases of salmonella illness have been linked to Foster Farms chicken products from processing facilities in California, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service has announced.

The specific affected products haven’t been pinpointed, but so far federal safety officials have identified raw Foster Farms chicken products that consumers should be on the lookout for. According to the Public Safety Alert from the FSIS, raw products that came from the three facilities in question will have one of these unique identifying numbers inside of a USDA mark of inspection or somewhere on the packaging:

  • “P6137”
  • “P6137A”
  • “P7632”

FSIS also says that the products were mainly distributed to retail outlets in California, Oregon and Washington State. The majority of the 278 reported illnesses have been in California, but NBC News reports that people in 18 states have been sickened.

The strain linked to this outbreak is known as Salmonella Heidelberg. Salmonella-related illnesses are some of the most common foodborne illnesses, but infections can be serious and even life-threatening especially, for the very young and the elderly. According to the FSIS, “the most common symptoms of salmonellosis are diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within eight to 72 hours. Additional symptoms may be chills, headache, nausea and vomiting that can last up to seven days.”

On the legal side, lawsuits over food poisoning aren’t the easiest to win. If you get sick after consuming a certain product or dining in a certain restaurant, it is one thing to suspect that you ate something that was “bad.” Proving it is another story. It usually requires the preservation of evidence (i.e. a portion of what you ate) and authentication of the source (i.e. that it came from a certain manufacturer or restaurant). But when foodborne illness is tied to a public safety announcement (like this one) or to the recall of a certain product, it may make for easier sledding from a potential plaintiff’s perspective.

Get a Jump on Trampoline Safety

If you’ve got a trampoline in your backyard, your first priority is to keep things safe for kids and anyone else who might end up using it. (That includes neighborhood foxes.)

Homeowners need to be particularly mindful of any potential dangers when it comes to the condition of a trampoline and the way it is being used. Otherwise, you could open yourself up to legal liability for any injury that ends up occurring. And even when the liability provision of your homeowners insurance coverage kicks in, it can still end up costing you by way of increased premiums or even a cancelled policy.

The safety-related steps you need to take depend on the law in your state, and especially whether or not a trampoline is considered an “attractive nuisance,” which would trigger a heightened set of precautions for kids visiting your property, even when they are technically trespassing. (Learn more about homeowner liability for trampoline injuries and attractive nuisance laws.)

With that in mind — alongside the reminder that there were over 83,000 trampoline-related emergency room visits in 2011 alone — the U.S. Consumer Production Safety Commission recently offered some Trampoline Safety Tips for parents and homeowners:

  • only one person on the trampoline at a time
  • no somersaults
  • shock-absorbing pads should completely cover the trampoline’s springs, hooks and frame
  • trampoline should be placed well away from structures, trees and other play areas
  • no child under 6 years of age should use a full-size trampoline.
  • do not use a ladder with the trampoline, because it provides unsupervised access by small children
  • always supervise children who use a trampoline, and
  • use a trampoline enclosure to help prevent injuries from falls.

‘Texas Giant’ Roller Coaster Accident: What Does the Law Say?

Over the weekend, a Dallas woman was killed when she fell from a roller coaster car on the 14-story tall Texas Giant ride in Arlington’s “Six Flags Over Texas” amusement park.  (You can get more details on the accident from the Fort Worth Star Telegram article.)

Let’s take a look at a few legal “hotspots” related to this story:

There is Limited Government Regulation of Roller Coasters.  You might be surprised to learn that for fixed-site rides like those at any Six Flags amusement park, there are no federal safety regulations in place. Only about half of U.S. states regulate fixed-site rides and conduct park inspections, and Texas is not one of them (there is no state regulatory agency set up to monitor the safety of amusement parks). Learn more about Amusement Park Accidents and the Law.

Six Flags Could Be Liable for a Park Employee’s Negligence. There has been at least one witness report suggesting that, before the ride departed, the accident victim expressed concern over whether or not the car’s safety bar was working properly. (The Dallas Morning News has detailed some safety and staffing concerns at the park.)

If it is shown that a park employee’s negligence caused or contributed to the accident, then that worker’s carelessness will be imputed to the owners and operators of the park, under a legal theory known as “vicarious liability.” So, let’s say that it is park policy for employees to check that each Texas Giant coaster car’s safety bar is properly engaged prior to the start of the ride, and it’s also shown that a worker failed to do that in this case. Six Flags could be on the financial hook for the victim’s death in that situation, most likely in the form of a wrongful death lawsuit.

The Roller Coaster Car Manufacturer Could Be Liable If the Car’s Safety Features Malfunctioned. If the Texas Giant roller coaster car’s safety mechanisms did not function properly during the ride, and that failure played a role in the accident, then the car’s manufacturer could be held liable under a product liability legal theory. The Los Angeles Times reports that the German company that manufactured cars for the Texas Giant has already sent investigators to the accident scene in Arlington.

Six Flags Could Claim a Number of Legal Defenses. If faced with a personal injury lawsuit over the victim’s death, it’s a safe bet that Six Flags will try to argue a variety of legal defenses that are common in amusement park accident cases, including rider assumption of the risk, and rider non-compliance with park/ride safety rules. Learn more about Legal Defenses in Personal Injury Cases.

Appeals Court OKs Graphic Cigarette Warnings

Graphic images of diseased lungs and other visual warnings on the dangers of smoking don’t violate tobacco companies’ free speech rights, a federal appeals court has ruled, upholding an FDA regulation that would require placement of the new amped-up warnings on all cigarette packs sold in the U.S.

The decision was handed down yesterday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. You can read the full text of the decision here. In upholding the legality of the new warning labels, the court ruled that they “do not impose any restriction on Plaintiffs’ dissemination of speech, nor do they touch upon Plaintiffs’ core speech. Instead, the labels serve as disclaimers to the public regarding the incontestable health consequences of using tobacco.”

Yesterday’s decision upholding the constitutionality of the graphic warnings comes a month after a federal district judge struck down the FDA regulations (we blogged about an earlier preliminary injunction that was granted in that case). It would come as no surprise if the Supreme Court has the final say on the controversial warnings.

Graphic Images on Cigarette Packs May Go Up in Smoke

A federal judge has blocked the implementation of a new FDA rule requiring the display of graphic images on cigarette packaging. The nine controversial photos are set to appear (along with accompanying text) on all cigarettes sold in the U.S. beginning in September of 2012. There’s no subtlety here. It’s a rotating gallery of unpleasant images meant to convey the dangers of smoking — everything from a set of diseased lungs to a man smoking through a hole in his throat. There’s even a post-autopsy sutured chest thrown in for good measure. Under the FDA rule, the warnings and the images must cover the top half of every pack of cigarettes, front and back. (More on Cigarette Health Warnings from the FDA.)    

This week’s granting of a preliminary injunction by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon does not amount to the overturning of the FDA rule itself. What the injunction does do is block the rule from taking effect until the lawsuit over the requirement is resolved; specifically, in Judge Leon’s words, until “the constitutionality of the commercial speech that these graphic images compel” can be evaluated.

Judge Leon’s granting of the preliminary injunction means that, here in the early stages of the lawsuit, the tobacco companies have made a strong argument that the FDA rule violates free speech. That argument goes like this: by requiring the display of these new graphic anti-smoking images on all cigarette packaging, the federal government is essentially — and unconstitutionally — forcing commercial speech on the part of the tobacco companies. The granting of the tobacco companies’ request for a preliminary injunction is obviously a win for R.J. Reynolds and friends. At the very least, it’s an early indication of which way Judge Leon is leaning on the larger issue of the rule’s constitutionality; an injunction like this is only issued when the party requesting it shows a “likelihood of success” on the merits of the lawsuit.

For now, when it comes to scaring smokers straight, it looks like the old standby Surgeon General’s Warning will just have to do.

Is Your Kid’s Car Booster Seat a Good Fit?

Parents who are shopping for the right car booster seat for their kids have better (and safer) options to choose from than ever before, according to testing and new ratings issued by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

When it comes to car booster seat safety, finding the right fit is the name of the game. And after its most recent comprehensive study of 62 booster seat models, IIHS has named a record 31 seats as “Best Bets.” According to the group’s press release on the study, a booster seat qualifies as a “Best Bet” when it “correctly positions a vehicle safety belt on a typical 4 to 8 year-old in almost any car, minivan, or SUV.”

Since a vehicle’s seatbelts are designed for adults, a booster seat is needed to elevate the child into a position where the belt can properly restrain the child in case a car accident happens or a sudden stop is necessary. IIHS advises parents to make sure that the lap belt lies flat across a child’s upper legs, and that the shoulder belt comes down over the middle of the shoulder — not up close to the child’s neck, and not down closer to the upper arm.

Read the IIHS press release on the study, and check out the complete ratings.

The IIHS website has a lot of useful information on child passenger safety, including this Q&A.

Ground Turkey Recalled Over Salmonella Link

Over 36 million pounds of ground turkey is being pulled from stores — and hopefully, from consumers’ fridges and freezers too — in one of the country’s largest-ever meat recalls.

The fresh and frozen ground turkey is produced by Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation, and affected products include well-known brand names like Honeysuckle and Shady Hill Farms.

The recalled turkey has been linked to dozens of salmonella cases. At least 76 people have been sickened, and one person has died. Federal safety officials are still trying to pinpoint the exact source of the problem, although right now attention is being focused on a Cargill production plant in Arkansas, a facility that has been shut down as part of the investigation.

To learn whether any of the recalled Cargill turkey products may be hanging around in your fridge or freezer, check out this full list of products affected by the turkey recall, from the USDA. And if it turns out you’ve got them, toss them.

Although the problem seems to be limited to Cargill’s Arkansas facility, the affected products have been distributed nationwide, and the list of people who have been sickened so far includes residents of at least 25 states.

To learn more about the health and legal issues related to food poisoning outbreaks and recalls like this one, check out Nolo’s articles Food Poisoning and Foodborne Illness and Lawsuits Involving Food Poisoning.

The Fourth of July and Fireworks Laws

The Fourth of July is here, and it’s probably best to leave fireworks to trained professionals, so you can focus on other things — hey, how long has that potato salad been sitting out? But every year more than a few Americans wonder what their state and local laws have to say on the purchase and use of fireworks (from sparklers to M-80s) because nothing says independence quite like flaunting the freedom to suffer third degree burns in your own garage. Luckily, there are a number of reputable websites that sum up each state’s fireworks laws quite nicely. Two of the better state-by-state collections come from the American Pyrotechnics Association and the National Council on Fireworks.

While these resources will give you the do’s and don’ts of buying and using fireworks at the state level, to get the most accurate and up-to-date understanding of fireworks laws where you live, you might want to start by contacting your local law enforcement agency or fire department (at the city, county, or town level). Local laws on fireworks may be stricter than those at the state level, so what’s legal in other parts of your state may actually be against the law where you live.

On the safety side of things, for everything you ever wanted to know about the risks of using fireworks (and let’s face it, a few horror stories can come in handy when you’re trying to educate kids) check out the 2010 Report on Fireworks-Related Deaths and Emergency Department-Treated Injuries, from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The U.S. Fire Administration offers these warnings and tips on fireworks. CPSC also reminds you that fireworks big and small can pose risks and provides this online fireworks safety portal.

New Crib Safety Standards Take Effect

New federal safety standards for cribs are in effect as of June 28, 2011. After dozens of high-profile crib recalls and infant injuries linked to defective crib hardware, the new crib safety rules — which include a ban on all drop-side cribs — seek to establish “a new generation of safer cribs” and provide clear guidelines for parents and caregivers.

The new federal crib requirements (detailed by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission here) can be broken down into five key provisions:
1. Drop-side cribs can no longer be manufactured, sold, or re-sold in the U.S. (parents and caregivers are instructed to either look into getting an immobilizer for a drop-side crib, or to disassemble and discard any drop-side cribs they own.)
2. Mattress supports must be stronger and more durable
3. Slats must be made of stronger wood to prevent breakage.
4. Crib hardware must be more durable, including incorporation of anti-loosening devices to keep hardware from coming loose and falling off.
5. Safety testing that is more rigorous, to better establish a crib’s durability over time.

If you’re in the market for a new crib, or if you’re wondering whether a crib you already have is in line with the new federal standards, you’ve probably got plenty of questions. Hopefully, CPSC has the answers. Check out The New Crib Standard: Questions and Answers and CPSC’s Crib Information Center for more information.

Portable Pools Pose Real Safety Risks, Study Says

Portable pools have been capable of turning any ordinary backyard into a summertime paradise for generations. But a new safety study provides a somber reminder that water is water — whether it’s six inches in an inflatable pool or six feet in an in-ground model — so parents, caregivers, and kids need to take heed: “Every five days a child drowns in a portable pool during the summer in the U.S.”

The report, prepared by the Center for Injury Research and Policy of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, looked at over 200 accidental drowning deaths of children under the age of 12, linked to different kinds of portable pools, from 2001 to 2009.  A press release from the Center quotes the senior author of the study, Dr. Gary A. Smith, on what may be the key disconnect when it comes to understanding the safety risks inherent in even the smallest portable pools: “Because portable pools are generally small, inexpensive and easy to use, parents often do not think about the potential dangers these pools present.” So precautions that have become standard protocol when it comes to larger in-ground pools — like the use of safety fences and gates surrounding the pool — may not even be considered for smaller, portable pools.

Portable pools run the gamut from $100 inflatable models (really more like small ponds) in which the water level doesn’t get more than a few inches deep, to larger and more sturdy pools that can hold thousands of gallons of water. What all portable pools seem to have in common, according to the study, is that under the right (or wrong) circumstances, they can pose the same risk of drowning and submersion injuries as larger in-ground and stationary pools. You can read a free online version of the study, Submersion Events in Portable Above-Ground Pools in the U.S., 2001-2009, from Pediatrics, the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

To learn more, check out this Press Release and Portable Pool Safety Fact Sheet from the Center for Injury Research and Policy of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.