Federal Officials Investigating Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable Cars for Sudden Acceleration

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is launching an investigation into 310,000 older model Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable vehicles after reports of unintended sudden acceleration. According to an article in the Detroit News, the federal auto safety agency is conducting a preliminary investigation on 2000 and 2003 Taurus and Sable models and has so far received 50 complaints regarding incidents involving stuck throttles. The defect is apparently due to the failure of a plastic bracket that holds the speed control cable in place. The vehicles that are a part of this probe are equipped with 3.0L V6 Duratec engines.

The fractured bracket in these vehicles allows the cable to move, which may cause the throttle to stick. A number of these failures occur in vehicles that have more than 100,000 miles on the odometer. So far, no car accidents or injuries have been linked to this potential vehicle defect.

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Rudi’s Bakery Recall of Organic Breads

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October 29, 2012—Los Angeles, California—The Federal Food and Drug Administration has issued a voluntary product withdrawal from Rudi’s Organic Bakery of certain bread products that the company states may contain metal contaminants.

According to the recall announcement, “metallic foreign objects” may be in the sealed products or packaging of Rudi’s Organic Bakery Multigrain Oat Bread, Rudi’s Organic Bakery Colorado Cracked Wheat Bread, and Rudi’s Organic Bakery Cinnamon Raisin Bread.  The company has asked that consumers who have these products cease using them immediately and return them to the store for a full refund.  The company has also asked that stores return any supplies they may have on their shelves.  The assumption is that the “metallic” objects could pose a choking or poisoning hazard if ingested.

Why Does The FDA Sponsor Voluntary Recalls?

Voluntary recalls are not ordered by government agencies.  Instead, they are voluntarily issued by manufacturers who become aware of a problem with a product.  The FDA and other government agencies provide recall awareness as a service to these companies who are attempting to spread the word about a defective product because it is easier for the agencies to get the word to a large number of potential victims.

The FDA and other government agencies also issue non-voluntary recalls when companies refuse to cooperate.  However, this is a major step and the government does not use this tactic unless there is a very serious problem with a product or a very good reason to warn the public about danger from using a particular item.

What Are The Liability Issues for Defective Products?

Companies are liable for defective products they sell to the public.  If those products cause death, illness, or injury, the companies may have to pay damages to the victims who are affected.

For this reason, companies are quick to recall products if there is a hint that the product may cause harm to consumers.  However, this does not relieve the company from the responsibility of paying for damages that may already have been caused by the defective product lawsuit.  Recalls are not a way of avoiding liability; they are an attempt to limit a company’s exposure to liability that has already occurred.

Product defect attorneys  can help a victim who has suffered from some type of product defect, whether it is contaminated food, defective drugs with dangerous side effects, or a power tool that has caused injury.

Nissan Recalls Altima Vehicles for Incorrectly Torqued Bolts

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Nissan has issued a vehicle defect recall for about 13,919 of its 2012-2013 Altima sedans because they may have been equipped with incorrectly torqued transverse link bolts and power steering rack bolts. According to an article in Consumer Reports, the bolts could become loose and fall out leading to loss of vehicle control and increasing the risk of a car crash. This recall involves Nissan Altima vehicles made between May 10 and July 26, 2012. When the recall begins at the end of the month, Nissan will notify owners and dealers will tighten the bolts to the proper torque specifications at no charge to car owners.

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Kellogg Issues Massive Recall of Mini-Wheats Due to Contamination

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Kellogg has issued a defective product recall for its Frosted and Unfrosted Mini-Wheats cereal because the products may be contaminated by metal mesh fragments. According to a CBS News report, the recall involves nearly 2.8 million boxes of the cereal including Frosted Mini-Wheats Bite Size Original and Mini-Wheats Unfrosted Bite Size products. The “use by” dates for these products range from April 1, 2013 to Sept. 21, 2013. Kellogg had posted the recall information on their web site on October 8, 2012.

However, consumers were not made aware of the potential problem until three days later, on October 11, 2012. Kellogg officials say the public is not at a high risk as a result of the contamination. So far, no injuries or illnesses have been reported due to these recalled products. Anyone with questions or concerns is asked to contact 1-800-962-1413.

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GMO Food Fight Heats Up Over “Organic” Designations

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October 10, 2012—California–The Business Journal reports that the argument between growers and distributors is growing over genetically transformed foods as the California legislature considers a bill that would inform consumers if their food has been scientifically altered.

Genetically engineered food is nothing new. Plants have been infused with desirable genes since the technology became widely available in the mid-1990s.  However, with the current focus on “organic” or “natural” foods, organic growers argue that consumers have a right to know if their food is being modified.  Proposition 37 would require processors to label their products to indicate genetic alteration and would prohibit the use of the word “natural” on such products.

Pros and Cons of Proposition 37

The measure is widely supported by organic farmers, who are prohibited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture from using synthetic seeds or pesticides.  The battle has long been raging between organic farmers and their non-organic neighbors, whose use of pesticides may affect seeds and pollen that can then contaminate nearby organic crops.   Supporters of the bill cite fears about genetically-altered food such as risk of cancer and birth defects.

However, opponents say there is no proof of such a risk. In fact, they applaud GE crops for bringing costs down and making wholesome food available to the population at a reasonable cost.  They believe that if the proposition is passed, organic foods may become the problem because of germs and insects that are not killed by regular pesticides and could infect those who ingest these foods.

The Food and Drug Administration

The FDA routinely regulates or deregulates crops that can be grown in the United States.  For example, the FDA recently deregulated a genetically-altered strain of alfalfa and approved it for growth in California.  However, the FDA has been reluctant to get involved in the organic argument inherent in Proposition 37, possibly in light of opposition by major companies such as Monsanto and DuPont, who provide much of the research that goes into genetically-altered seeds and plants.

Impact on Lawsuits in California

One of the strongest arguments made against Proposition 37 is that it would open the door to innumerable lawsuits regarding labeling on food.  Theoretically, any company that did not have the proper labeling could be sued for product defects if the food caused allergies or other health problems.

However, proponents of the bill argue that people have the right to know what they are eating and make informed choices about their food consumption.  They argue that the bill would actually reduce grounds for lawsuits since people who bought food without “organic” or “natural” packaging would know that the food might contain genetically-altered material.

Personal injury attorneys should keep a close watch on the progress of Proposition 37 and its possible repercussions for product defect lawsuits.

 

California’s Senator Boxer Joins with Colleagues to Make Vehicles Safer

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October 1, 2012—Sacramento, CA—Senator Barbara Boxer joined forces with Senator Charles Schumer of New York and Cally Houck, the woman whose two daughters died in a defective rental car, to sponsor legislation to make rental cars safer, according to the USA Today.  The legislation sprang from Houck’s efforts to hold rental car dealers accountable for their vehicles and prohibit them from renting recalled cars.

Raechel Houck, 24, and Jacqueline Houck, 20, died in a 2004 crash when a defective power steering hose in a PT Cruiser the girls had rented from Enterprise caused a fire.  It turned out that the car was under recall for that defect but had never been repaired.

Houck was shocked to learn that no legislation existed that required rental car companies to comply with recalls or prevented them from renting unsafe cars.  She immediately began to lobby for such laws.  So far, Enterprise, Hertz, Dollar, Thrifty, Avis, and National car rental companies have all supported the legislation.  These companies handle about 93 percent of all rental car business in the United States.  The American Auto Association, or AAA, has also endorsed the legislation as a “common-sense” measure.

The bill will be considered in the lame-duck session of Congress at the end of the year and is expected to pass relatively easily.

My congratulations go out to Ms. Houck and her supporters on sponsoring this landmark legislation.

Legal Issues For Rental Car Retailers

Because rental car companies are the largest purchasers of new vehicles in the United States, and because they trade their cars so frequently, many of the issues that plague other industries regarding company-owned vehicles seem to bypass rental car companies.  The present legislation highlights the fact that many of these companies have ignored the implications that others are required to consider, such as safety recalls.

Recalls are made because vehicles may be unsafe.  However, car rental companies could pad their bottom line by using the reasoning that they could ignore these recalls due to the fact that they would be rotating the vehicles out so soon that the next owner could easily take care of the problem.  Unfortunately, in the case of the two Houck girls, this decision had deadly consequences.

A California accident injury attorney can help victims of accidents resulting from a company’s negligence by allowing them to recover damages for injuries or wrongful death.