General Motors Dismisses Steering Defect as Minor Issue

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Many popular models of General Motors trucks and sport utility vehicles are liable to lose their power steering as drivers make slow turns in parking lots, according to an Associated Press news report. The reporter apparently looked at court testimony and company documents, which reflected those steering defects. The problem, the report says, has forced GM to settle numerous lawsuits and led one state police force to label the condition as a “hazard.” But GM is simply calling this a “normal characteristic” of their vehicles.

Several drivers have complained that they have problems with the power steering especially while parallel parking or navigating into tight spots. GM told its technicians that the steering problem can occur when drivers apply the brakes and turn the steering wheel at the same time. That is exactly what happens when drivers try to park. What’s worse? This problem was never disclosed or made public to consumers. In November, a Wisconsin jury awarded $120,000 to a plumber who was unable to steer his GMC pickup truck and was refused a refund or a new vehicle even after he had complained. GM has also been ordered to pay an additional $259,000 in attorney’s fees in that case.

Attorneys who are representing plaintiffs in this auto product defect case also accuse the auto maker of deceptive marketing. GM advertises a lot of these vehicles as the safest and best vehicles available. According to an internal company bulletin, the affected models include the Chevy Avalanche, Tahoe, Suburban, Silverado Classic, GMC Sierra Classic, Yukon, Cadillac Escalade and Hummer H2. A GM bulletin also states that the condition can be aggravated by worn tires, low tire pressure and tires larger than stock size.
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Home Heating Equipment Cause Hundreds of Deaths during the Winter

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The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is warning consumers about carbon monoxide hazards that occur especially with winter home heating products. According to this news alert issued by the CPSC this week, there have been more than 150 residential fires in the United States that resulted in more than 200 deaths just since Thanksgiving. Apparently, this has been the deadliest year in terms of residential fires in recent history!
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Woman Killed but Children Spared in Bakersfield Train versus Car Collision

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Lourdes Ruiz, 41, died in a train versus car accident in Bakersfield, but managed to save the lives of her four children and two nieces, according to this news report. California Highway Patrol officials say Ruiz’s car stalled on the tracks at a railway crossing for an unknown reason. Ruiz and her 15-year-old son apparently tried to move the car, but both were struck by the train. Ruiz died but her son escaped with moderate injuries.

CHP officers say they don’t know why Ruiz’s car stalled on the tracks. They also say it is not clear whether the car stalled before the crossing arms came down or if Ruiz drove through the arms. The fatal train accident occurred when a passing freight train slammed into Ruiz’s car. Officials have also said that it does not appear as if the car became “high-centered” on the tracks.
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TV Anchorwoman’s Family Sues Ford in Connection with Fatal Explorer Rollover

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The family of Las Vegas anchorwoman Polly Gonzalez, who was killed in a fatal Ford Explorer rollover in California in 2005, has filed a product liability lawsuit against Ford Motor Co. alleging that the sport utility vehicle’s roof was not strong enough to withstand the crash and the seatbelt failed to protect her as well. The lawsuit states that the Explorer’s roof was “buckled and bowed” after the rollover and the seatbelt was found partially extended. Gonzalez, who sustained head injuries, died of blunt force trauma. Our source for this blog was this news article in the Las Vegas Review Journal.

Apparently, 43-year-old Gonzalez’s two young daughters, who were also in the 2000 Ford Explorer, were injured but survived the horrific crash. The family was traveling on SR-127 to Las Vegas at the time and the accident occurred in Death Valley. This lawsuit was brought by Gonzalez’s ex-husband, Allan Mota, and her two daughters – Sabrina and Gabriella Mota.

In my opinion, this lawsuit rightly claims that Ford Explorers are affected by the problem of weak roofs. Independent studies that our firm conducted have consistently shown that the Ford Explorer (especially the model year in question) is one of the most unstable SUVs in the market, prone to rollovers on our highways especially when a driver is trying to take evasive action.
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Obama Administration Freezes Rule Changes that Could Block Product Liability Lawsuits

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This week, in the middle of an inspiring and historical inauguration, President Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, issued a memo to all federal agencies to halt all pending regulations from the Bush era until the new administration can review them. This memorandum was the first of several actions requested of the new administration by the American Association for Justice (AAJ), a group that had done admirable work in the area of consumer rights.

Why was this important or urgent? Because the Bush administration had formed a partnership with corporate lobbyists to use a wide array of rulemaking to reduce or altogether eliminate consumer rights especially with regard to dangerous and defective products. These rules have been used by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to shield manufacturers of defective drugs and medical devices; by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) with regard to vehicle roof crush in rollover accidents; and by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission with regard to the issue of mattress fire safety.

Each of these agencies has issued at least one ruling, which states that as along as a product meets the requirements spelled out by these rules, consumers have no rights to sue the product manufacturer, even if people have been injured or killed as a result of their defective products. The Obama administration has taken that important first step to block these rules authored by the Bush administration to pre-empt product liability litigation. These include about 50 federal rules that govern a variety of products from motorcycle brakes to pain medication.
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Peanut Butter Products Recalled In Connection With Salmonella Outbreak

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More companies are pulling peanut butter products from their shelves as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is advising consumers to eat peanut butter only from jars because of a nationwide salmonella outbreak. The FDA has issued a warning asking consumers to avoid products containing peanut butter and peanut butter paste including sauce, crackers, cookies, cookie dough and ice-cream. Our source for this blog is this news report in HealthDay.

So far, 470 people have been sickened by this outbreak in 43 states. Six deaths have been linked to this food-borne illness. California has the highest number of cases so far in the country. FDA officials say that the peanut butter in jars is the only kind that is safe to eat. Products and brands included in the salmonella recall include:

  1. Clif Bar & Co. (Luna brand bars made with peanut butter)
  2. ZonePerfect bars
  3. Private Selection Peanut Butter Passion Ice Cream
  4. Food Lion and Wal-Mart Bakery brands of peanut butter cookies, peanut butter no-bake cookies and peanut butter fudge no-bake cookies.
  5. Meijer Inc.’s crackers and two types of ice cream
  6. The South Bend Chocolate Co. is recalling assorted chocolates, valentine hearts, peanut butter fudge and peanut butter chocolate fudge.
  7. General Mills recalling Larabar Peanut Butter Cookie and JamFrakas Peanut Butter Blisscrisp snack bars
  8. Perry’s Ice Cream recalled products containing peanut butter sauce
  9. Kellogg’s peanut butter crackers

Kellogg also issued a major peanut butter recall last week for 16 of its products made with peanut butter including Keebler cheese and peanut butter sandwich crackers and Keebler and Famous Amos peanut butter cookies. U.S. health officials confirmed the presence of salmonella in a packet of Austin Quality Foods Toasty Crackers with Peanut Butter.
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Chrysler Recalls Dodge Pickup Trucks for Steering Problems

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Chrysler is recalling 32,865 of its 2008-09 Dodge Ram 2500, 3500 and 3500 cab chassis pickup trucks because of a steering defect that could result in loss of steering control and pose the risk of a crash. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the trucks affected by this recall are equipped with Powers and Sons steering linkages. The steering linkage drag link inner tie rod to the Pitman arm ball stud may fracture, federal officials say. Also the steering linkage damper attaching the bracket may yield and shift on the linkage leading to loss of steering control. Our source for this blog is this news report in Edmunds.com.

What officials are warning consumers is that this loss of steering control and the limited ability to turn the vehicle in one direction could increase the risk of an auto accident without warning. The recall is expected to begin later this month. Dodge dealers will replace the defective steering linkage and the drag link inner tie rod end assembly and inspect the steering linkage damper bracket, free of charge. Owners of the affected pickup trucks may call Chrysler at 1-800-853-1403.
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Man Killed in San Diego County Rollover Crash

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A 50-year-old San Marcos man identified as Michael Quinn was killed in an Escondido rollover accident on January 18, 2009. According to an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune. Quinn died after his car veered off the highway onto the median and then rolled down a steep embankment.

Quinn was also ejected onto the Interstate 15 when his car overturned, California Highway Patrol officials said. However, CHP officials also say Quinn was wearing his seatbelt at the time of the rollover accident. He was taken to an area hospital where he died an hour after the crash.

I offer my deepest condolences to the family of Michael Quinn. Please keep them in your prayers.

What concerns me the most about this news report is that Quinn was buckled up, but he was still ejected from his Scion. If I were a member of Michael Quinn’s family, I would definitely want to know how his seatbelt failed at the time of the accident. Quinn’s family would be well-advised to contact a nationally-renowned auto product defect attorney, who has specifically dealt with seat restraint failures.
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Defective Simplicity Play Yards Pose Fall and Entrapment Hazard

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Fisher-Price is recalling about 200,000 Simplicity Rainforest portable play yards after the company received numerous complaints of the product’s rails collapsing and posing a fall and entrapment hazard to young children. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s product safety alert issued January 15, 2009, Fisher-Price is apparently taking the action voluntarily although it did not manufacture the play yards. The companies that manufactured these defective products — Simplicity Inc. and SFCA Inc. — have apparently not even responded to the consumer complaints. Our source for this news blog was this report in this consumer safety and advocacy web site.

According to the CPSC, there have been at least 1,350 complaints of one or more rails collapsing in these play yards. There were also numerous reports of children suffering bumps and bruises when the side rail collapsed. There were five reports of injuries, which included a broken nose, a broken wrist, a concussion, a cut to the hand that required stitches, and a chipped tooth.

These recalled play yards are portable and were sold with a bassinet, changing table and other mobile features. These products were sold at retailers and specialty children’s stores nationwide from January 2007 through January 2009 for about $100. Consumers are advised to stop using these play yards right away. Those who own these recalled play yards with the Fisher-Price logo should contact the company to replace their play yards. For more information, please call Fisher-Price at 1-800-432-5437.
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Nissan Recalls 240,000 Trucks for Airbag Defects

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Nissan Motor Company is recalling more than 240,000 trucks in Iowa and 19 other cold weather states to fix an airbag defect, according to the Associated Press article.The glitch involves a problem that could prevent the vehicles’ front air bags from deploying in a crash. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Web site, the recall affects the Frontier, Pathfinder and Xterra from the 2005 to 2009 model years.

In cold-weather states where winter time road salt is used, a mix of snow, water and salt could get into a crash zone sensor area of the airbag system causing rust and interrupting the signal. Nissan officials say that could prevent the front airbags from deploying in the event of an auto accident. They also say the glitch was discovered through warranty claims. However, officials say, there were no crashes, injuries or fatalities linked to this particular airbag product defect. Apparently, the red airbag warning light in the vehicle will illuminate indicating a problem.
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