News & Notes

Thursday

Court Orders Unmasking of ‘Company Doe’ in Consumer Product Safety Case

Ruling requires disclosure of the name of a company waging a secret legal battle. A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the arguments of a company that sued to keep a complaint about one of its products out of a public U.S. database. The court said the public’s right to access to judicial records trumps any possible damage to the company’s reputation. The court returned the case to a U.S. judge in Maryland with orders to reveal the company. As FairWarning has reported, the complicated dispute — which has been cloaked in extraordinary secrecy — began with a complaint filed with SaferProducts.gov, a website launched in 2011 to let consumers report and learn about hazardous products. The targeted company went to court to keep the matter private, saying the complaint was inaccurate and damaging. Thanks to sealed records, closed-door hearings and a 73-page ruling with large sections blacked out, even the most basic details have been concealed. The Associated Press, Reuters

General Mills seeks to impose “forced arbitration” on consumers. The giant food business, which makes cereals including Cheerios and Chex, has quietly added language to its website to alert consumers that they give up their right to sue if they download coupons, “join” it in online communities like Facebook, enter a company-sponsored sweepstakes or contest or interact with it in various other ways. Instead, anyone who has received anything that could be construed as a benefit and who then has a dispute with the company over its products will have to use informal negotiation via email or go through arbitration to seek relief. “It’s essentially trying to protect the company from all accountability, even when it lies, or say, an employee deliberately adds broken glass to a product,” one arbitration expert said. The New York Times

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Wednesday

U.S. Appeals Court Upholds EPA’s Limits for Mercury and Other Pollutants From Power Plants

Ruling rejects challenges to first-ever U.S. standards to cut power plants’ hazardous emissions. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s limits on mercury and other pollution. In doing so, the court denied arguments from states, utilities and industry groups that the rules came out of a flawed regulatory process and illegally imposed exorbitant costs on power producers. The decision, which also shot down arguments from environmental groups that the curbs are too weak, involved rules first mandated by Congress in 1990 but delayed by litigation, lobbying and legislative battles. The rules are due to take effect next April. They require utilities to cut at least 90 percent of their emissions of mercury, a neurotoxin linked to brain damage and other health problems. PoliticoThe Wall Street Journal

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The GM Renaissance Center in Detroit, Michigan. Photo courtesy Carlos Osorio, AP Photo.

GM Ignition Switch Scandal Echoes Infamous Fire-Prone Pickups Case

The recent disclosures about the ignition switch defect in millions of General Motors cars–and the company’s early and secret knowledge of the hazard–are disturbing by themselves. But they are also an eerie echo of the terrible carnage from an even bigger scandal involving millions of fire-prone GM pickup trucks, writes Joe McCray. Thanks to a bailout from American taxpayers, GM emerged from bankruptcy and has rebounded from financial failure while boasting of its new leadership and culture. But taken together, McCray says, the ignition switch and pickup scandals suggest a company that is rotten somewhere near its core.

Consumer Advocates Urge Banning ATVs From Roadways, Citing Crash Hazards FairWarining Reports

Consumer Advocates Urge Banning ATVs From Roadways, Citing Crash Hazards

A leading consumer group is warning that the increasing use of all-terrain vehicles on the nation’s roads poses a “growing public health crisis” and is calling for immediate action by U.S., state and local officials. “ATVs are not designed to be on roads,” said Rachel Weintraub, the Consumer Federation of America’s legislative director and the co-author […]

A man operating a table saw in a woodworking shop. (iStockphoto) FairWarining Reports

Power Tool Makers Accused in Lawsuit of Thwarting Adoption of Finger-Saving Device

Leading power tool manufacturers have conspired for years to thwart adoption of a safety device that could prevent thousands of finger amputations and other disfiguring injuries in table saw accidents, according to a federal antitrust lawsuit filed by the developer of the safety technology. Using a hot dog as a proxy for a finger, SawStop […]

Jacob Helvey. (The Helvey family.)

Elevator Safety Flaws Persist Despite History of Tragic Accidents

A type of elevator increasingly found in townhouses and single-family homes has been involved in rare but horrific injuries to small children, and the manufacturers have long been aware of the problem. But the companies, which set their own voluntary standards through an industry-dominated committee, have yet to address the hazard.

(iStockphoto) FairWarining Reports

Stunning Loss for Lead Paint Makers in Lawsuit by California Cities and Counties

Lead paint makers suffered a landmark defeat Monday when a state court judge in San Jose ordered the industry to create a $1.1 billion fund to eliminate lead hazards to children in hundreds of thousands of California homes.

(iStockphoto) FairWarining Reports

Labor Department Investigating Pay Practices of 2 Major League Baseball Teams

Two Major League Baseball clubs–the San Francisco Giants and Miami Marlins—are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor for possible federal wage law violations. The investigations come amid wider concern about questionable pay practices throughout professional baseball, according to interviews and records obtained by FairWarning under the Freedom of Information Act.

FairWarning Investigates

Despite High Death Toll, Push Is On To Open More Public Roads to ATVs

Despite High Death Toll, Push Is On To Open More Public Roads to ATVs

Last Mother’s Day, Jaret Graham, 14, climbed on the back of an all-terrain vehicle driven by his 12-year-old cousin. As they sped down a paved stretch of country road in west Texas, the 12-year-old lost control, went into a ditch and fell off the vehicle, injuring his leg. Jaret was thrown off and hit his […]

Legal Battles Smolder Six Decades After 'the Greatest Health Protection in Cigarette History'

Legal Battles Smolder Six Decades After ‘the Greatest Health Protection in Cigarette History’

It’s hard to think of anything more reckless than adding a deadly carcinogen to a product that already causes cancer — and then bragging about the health benefits. That’s what Lorillard Tobacco did 60 years ago when it introduced Kent cigarettes, whose patented “Micronite” filter contained a particularly virulent form of asbestos.

Cigarette vendor in Indonesia. (iStockphoto)

Protest by Tobacco State Politicians, Business Groups May Snuff Out Obama Administration Trade Move

Tobacco companies are using free trade agreements to challenge countries that adopt tough anti-smoking rules, charging them with violating treaty obligations.

Contractors clean up lead paint in a contaminated building in Providence, R.I. (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

After Flicking Away Lawsuits, Lead Industry Goes for a Final Knockout

Despite powerful evidence showing that paint makers knew for decades about the risks of household use of lead paint, the companies have scored dozens of courtroom victories and could be on the verge of a final victory in a California trial.

Delivering vaccines in Chittagong, Bangladesh.(UNICEF/BANA2006-00055/SHEHZAD)

Global Treaty to Curb Mercury–Except When It Comes to Children’s Vaccines

Mercury is considered such a dire health threat that delegates from more than 140 nations have drafted a global treaty to minimize mercury emissions. But there’s one form of mercury the treaty won’t touch.

A hog confinement farm in Missouri. (Socially Responsible Agriculture Project)

As Factory Farms Spread, Government Efforts to Curb Threat From Livestock Waste Bog Down

Large livestock farms, which can generate as much waste as people in a large city, have been growing in size and number for the last 30 years. In many areas, they pose a serious threat to water supplies.

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FairWarning Reports

Consumer Advocates Urge Banning ATVs From Roadways, Citing Crash Hazards FairWarining Reports

Consumer Advocates Urge Banning ATVs From Roadways, Citing Crash Hazards

A leading consumer group is warning that the increasing use of all-terrain vehicles on the nation’s roads poses a “growing public health crisis” and is calling for immediate action by U.S., state and local officials. “ATVs are not designed to be on roads,” said Rachel Weintraub, the Consumer Federation of America’s legislative director and the co-author […]

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Commentary

FairWarining Commentary

GM Ignition Switch Scandal Echoes Infamous Fire-Prone Pickups Case

The recent disclosures about the ignition switch defect in millions of General Motors cars–and the company’s early and secret knowledge of the hazard–are disturbing by themselves. But they are also an eerie echo of the terrible carnage from an even bigger scandal involving millions of fire-prone GM pickup trucks, writes Joe McCray. Thanks to a bailout from American taxpayers, GM emerged from bankruptcy and has rebounded from financial failure while boasting of its new leadership and culture. But taken together, McCray says, the ignition switch and pickup scandals suggest a company that is rotten somewhere near its core.

FairWarining Commentary

Like Them or Hate Them, Injury Lawsuits Sometimes Expose Health and Safety Hazards

The scandal over General Motors’ concealment for more than a decade of dangerously defective ignition switches in some of its cars highlights an often-overlooked fact: Injury lawsuits sometimes reveal health and safety hazards that would otherwise remain secret. As Ben Kelley notes, the deadly ignition defects were not exposed by engineers for GM or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but by an engineer for plaintiffs in a wrongful-death suit.

American gun use is out of control. Shouldn’t the world intervene?

Last week, Starbucks asked its American customers to please not bring their guns into the coffee shop. This is part of the company’s concern about customer safety and follows a ban in the summer on smoking within 25 feet of a coffee shop entrance and an earlier ruling about scalding hot coffee. After the celebrated […]