CPSC Finds New Target With Inflatable Bounce Houses

Last month, two boys in New York were injured after falling 20 feet from an inflatable bounce house swept into the air by a gust of wind. Last week, two children in Colorado were injured when the inflatable bounce house in which they were playing rolled across a field due to heavy winds. Now, our good friends at the Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) are launching their own investigation into the fun that is the casa de aire. In a statement given to USA Today, CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson stated:

We’re going to look into what were the conditions prior to the incident, what led to the incident itself. . . [T]he fact that we are focusing on these two show that we are making it a priority.

The inflatable house industry might want to ask Buckyballs what it is like to be number 1 on the CPSC’s hit list.

We here at Abnormal Use are traditionally not big fans of the CPSC. This latest investigation is likely not going to alter that status. The CPSC has a useful purpose – to regulate product safety. Apparently, that focus has extended into regulating the weather itself. If these were cases of children injured because the inflatables posed a strangulation or similar-type hazard, then the CPSC has its role. But, that is not the case. Both of these incidents are freak accidents resulting from extreme gusts of wind. The problem is not with the product itself, but rather with the use of the product in certain weather conditions.

We do not know what product warnings the inflatable bounce houses may possess. If they haven’t already done so, we imagine the manufacturers will add a “Do not use in heavy winds” warning as a result of this investigation. Certainly the warning would be useful to those unaware that a product filled with air could be carried away by the wind.

(Editor’s note: We blogged on bounce houses way, way back in 2010. For that post, please see  here.).

Bad Cinnamon Rolls Bring Out The Worst In Us – A South Carolina Tale

Recently, we here at Abnormal Use lamented the tales of those who elect to air their defective food product grievances over 911 calls rather than more traditional methods. As much as we may detest the use of 911 in non-emergency, defective food situations, such things are  preferable to a recent incident at a South Carolina Burger King. According to a report from the Post and Courier, a Burger King customer threatened to shoot employees over a stale cinnamon roll. Guns and breakfast food. You can only imagine our disbelief upon hearing that this incident occurred in our home state. If your were thinking that there must be more to this story, you would be mistaken. Apparently, the woman complained that her BK-made cinnamon roll was served at less than its optimal freshness, only to be told that the roll was the only one left. She then left the store, only to return later with her hand stuffed in her purse, threatening to “shoot everyone.” Employees called 911 (appropriately), and she fled the scene.

Like this woman, we, too, are fans of cinnamon rolls. There is no better way to start your day than with cinnamon and cream cheese frosting. We understand the woman’s frustration upon discovering stale dough has ruined her breakfast. Violence, however, is not the answer. Apparently, this woman has never seen Falling Down, as this approach didn’t work out so well for Michael Douglas.

If you receive food that is not served to your exact specifications, complain if you must. Just leave guns – and 911 – out of it.

Porsche Faces New Suit Arising Out of Death of “Fast and the Furious” Star

Late last year, Fast and the Furious star Paul Walker passed away when the 2005 Porsche Carrera GT in which he was a passenger left a roadway and crashed into a light pole and three trees. Using surveillance footage and the car’s computers, Los Angeles County investigators determined that the vehicle was traveling 80 to 93 mph – up to twice the posted speed limit – when it crashed and burst into flames. The investigators found no evidence of mechanical failure; however, they believe 9-year old tires may have contributed to the crash. Kristine Rodas, widow of the car’s driver, Roger Rodas, has a different theory. Rodas has filed suit against Porsche, alleging that the car crashed and caught fire as a result of a failure in its suspension system and a lack of proper safety features. The suit claims that the vehicle was only traveling 55 mph, but Porsche “designed and manufactured the Carrera GT defectively, causing it to fail to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect when used in an intended or reasonably foreseeable manner.” In addition, Rodas claims that the Porsche lacked a properly functioning crash cage and a proper racing fuel cell.

While it is too early to determine whether it is Rodas or the L.A. County investigators who are correct, several aspects of this case are intriguing. First, Roger Rodas was an experienced race car driver. On the one hand, his experience could be a sign that the vehicle would not have crashed but for some defective condition. On the other, it could also explain why he felt he could drive the vehicle in a manner far too aggressively for normal road conditions. Second, the suit alleges that the vehicle was originally designed to be a Le Mans race car before being turned into an ultra-high performance super-sports car. We have to wonder whether these were post-manufacture modifications which could effect this product liability suit. Interestingly, this suit focuses on alleged deficiencies with parts fit for a race car, rather than recreational vehicle. Had this accident happened during Le Mans, then maybe we could more easily understand the alleged problems with the racing fuel cell or crash cage. We question whether those parts would have come into play if the vehicle had been traveling the posted speed limit.

We here at Abnormal Use, like many others, consider the Fast and the Furious franchise one of our guilty pleasures. As such, the news of Walker’s death was particularly troubling. This is a lawsuit we to which will be paying close attention.

Let’s Leave 911 Out Of Our Food Complaints, Shall We?

Product liability suits involving food products are not uncommon. In fact, one of the most famous product cases of all time, Stella Liebeck v. McDonald’s, involves a familiar beverage. (Don’t worry, dear readers, this is not another post about the Liebeck case.). While we here at Abnormal Use may not always agree with the outcome, we at least respect a plaintiff’s right to litigate legitimate matters in court. On the other hand, we have  little use for claimants who choose other means to air their grievances. Case in point: North Carolina woman Bevalante Hall recently used 911 to complain about her Subway order. According to a report from the Gaston Gazette, Hall called 911 after a Subway employee allegedly made her flatbread pizza with marinara rather than pizza sauce. In the 911 call, Hall stated that she wanted to make a report so she could call investigators with a local television news station. Hall didn’t get quite what she requested. As a result of the call, Hall was jailed for three minutes before being released on a $2,000 bond.

Had Hall taken to the court system, her claim undoubtedly would have been criticized (rightly) as frivolous. A marinara-sauced pizza is not exactly a defective product. After all, Subway clearly advertises its “flatizzas” as being made with marinara sauce. If suit had been filed, however, our focus would have at least been on the merits of the claim (or lack thereof). Unfortunately, Hall’s claim appears to be more about garnering publicity than resolving a grievance. Leave it to us to oblige.

Powdered Alcohol: A Topsy Turvy History

Recently, Arizona-based Lipsmark, LLC announced plans to begin marketing alcohol in powdered form under the name “Palcohol.” Since that time, the product has been on a roller coaster ride. Several weeks ago, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”) approved the sale of Palcohol. Several days thereafter, the TTB reversed course and claimed that the approval was issued in error. Now, Senator Charles Schumer (NY-D) is asking the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) to make certain that the product never finds itself on store shelves, claiming it would become the “Kool-Aid of teen binge drinking.”

So, what is Palcohol, and why has it caused such a fuss? According to the company’s website, Palcohol is a powdered version of vodka, rum, and four cocktails. With the addition of 5 ounces of liquid, Palcohol allegedly becomes a standard mixed drink. The process is nothing new. A U.S. patent was issued for molecular encapsulated alcohol way back in 1974. While the product may seem harmless, Sen. Schumer fears that because it may be sprinkled on food, snorted, and easily concealed, it may appeal to underage drinkers much like Four Loko. We here at Abnormal Use appreciate the concerns. Nonetheless, we think that they may be premature. If it hits the market, Palcohol will be regulated and controlled the same as liquid alcohol. Even if it can be eaten, snorted, or concealed, we fail to see how this will have a significant effect on underage drinking. Whether it is breaking into a parent’s liquor cabinet or sprinkling Palcohol on a bowl of Fruity Pebbles, teens will find their way to alcohol if they want it bad enough. The problems and dangers remain the same. We do not know if Palcohol will make its way to stores. However, Lipsmark claims the TTB’s about-face was due to a labeling error rather than a change of heart on the product. Only time will tell. We expect the day will eventually come when we can all enjoy a shot of rum powder.

McDonald’s Gets A New Face

imageLast week, McDonald’s unveiled a new look for Ronald McDonald, the face of its vast fast food franchise. After sporting the same hair, makeup, and clothes for the past 51 years, Ronald has been given a much needed makeover. According to a report from by Yahoo! Finance:

The yellow jumpsuit Ronald’s worn for so long will be replaced with cargo pants and a vest, along with a red-and-white striped rugby-type shirt. That’s going to be the standard uniform. For “special occasions,” he’ll sport a red jacket, bowtie and yellow pants, the company says. At the same time, he’ll also get involved with the corporate office’s social media efforts.

While we here at Abnormal Use are fans of McDonald’s (and write about it often), we must admit that Ronald has always given us the creeps. As clowns go, his looks have always been more “Pennywise” than “Bozo.” Unfortunately, the new Ronald doesn’t look much better. Giving Ronald a bow tie and a rugby shirt can’t mask the fact that he remains a creepy clown. On the positive side, Ronald has decided to ditch one-piece jumpsuit. So, there’s that.

As excited as everyone is about the update, we are more interested in hearing new Ronald’s position on hot coffee. Under the leadership of the former Ronald, McDonald’s held strong in the midst of much coffee litigation, including the infamous Stella Liebeck suit. Much to the delight of millions of customers, Old Ronald followed the basic principle that coffee is meant to be served hot. In this regard, old Ronald emerged as a pillar of the coffee community regardless of his unfortunate appearance. We only hope the new Ronald can display the same strength and fortitude, but fear he may face challenges with the bow tie and Craig Sager-esque jacket. Only time will tell.

Gasp! Cheese Dogs Accidentally Find Themselves in the Marketplace

Not wanting to be outdone by Hebrew National, Kraft has seized its opportunity to corner hot dog related legal news. According to a CNN report, Kraft has recalled 96,000 pounds of Oscar Mayer hot dogs due to a package labeling error. On April 18, a consumer opened his package of Oscar Mayer Classic Wieners only to discover that the package contained cheese dogs. In a statement issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, the classic label is said to “not reflect the ingredients associated with the pasteurized cheese in the cheese dogs.” In other words, milk is not a standard ingredient in the average dog.

This recall comes just in time. We here at Abnormal Use can not imagine the horror of discovering that our hot dogs had been replaced by those horrid cheese dogs. Not even an April Fool’s joke could be that cruel. Cheese has no place inside of a hot dog. On top, maybe. Inside, never. Thankfully, we have governmental agencies like the Department of Agriculture to facilitate swift remedies to these types of ills.

In all seriousness, we understand the purpose of the recall. For business purposes, Kraft obviously does not want mislabeled products in the stream of commerce. For legal reasons, we assume the company wanted to protect itself from claims arising out of the accidental ingestion of milk, a known allergen. Or, from angry consumers who accidentally took a bite of such vile food products. The latter is a failure to warn claim even we could get behind.

Casino Loses Millions, Sues Card Manufacturer

Recently, we wrote about a man suing a Las Vegas casino after he lost $500,000 gambling while intoxicated.  As ridiculous as that suit may be, the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa in Atlantic City is now vying for silliest casino lawsuit of the year.  In a new suit filed in federal court, the Borgatta is suing Phillip Ivey, Jr., a big time professional gambler, and Gemaco, Inc., a card manufacturer, claiming Ivey won $9.6 million in a baccarat card-cheating scheme.

We imagine the nearly $10 million in winnings was  against the house edge.

The real kicker is not that Ivey won such a large amount of money but, rather, how he was able to do so.  According to the complaint, Ivey exploited a defect in the cards that allowed him to improperly sort and arrange them using a technique called “edge sorting” – illegal under the New Jersey casino gambling regulations.  The cards, manufactured by Gemaco, were allegedly defective in that the pattern on their backs was not uniform.  Where the cards were supposed to have a row of small white circles designed to look like the tops of diamonds, some of the cards apparently only had half or quarter diamonds.  Allegedly, Ivey was able to sort desirable cards from undesirable ones after observing the defect.

We have to wonder when the Borgatta discovered this alleged defect. In an industry so heavily controlled and regulated, we find it hard to believe that any deck of cards would ever see the light of a casino floor without first being inspected and approved by the casino.  With so much money on the line, casinos have never been shy about self-policing.  If this “defect” was an obvious one, we imagine these cards would have been sent right back to Gemaco.  If there actually was a defect, then it was most likely so slight that it was undetected by even the most careful inspectors.  The fact that Ivey was able to notice the flaw is impressive. Sure, it is easy for the Borgatta to point the finger at Gemaco.  After all, its alleged flaw may have cost the casino nearly $10 million.  But, why did Borgatta use a card with a decorative card backing in the first place?  It seems like such cards would be more susceptible to non-uniformity and enable these types of situations.

We suppose a simple solid design would have been too tacky for the Borgatta.  A casino’s extravagance is what draws the gamblers in to throw away their money.  Unfortunately, this time it backfired.

Hot Dogs: New Standard for Food Purity

When we here at Abnormal Use think of “pure” food products, we think of mountain spring water or fresh fruits and vegetables.  Never do we think of hot dogs. Never (despite our love of hot dogs). However, the Hebrew National brand of hot dogs claims to be just that. Kosher beef. No fillers. No byproducts. No artificial flavors. In other words, Hebrew National claims to be as “pure” as a hot dog can get. We have nothing against the brand, but we still are skeptical about placing “pure” and “hot dog” in the same sentence. A class of consumers has taken such skepticism a step further and filed suit against ConAgra Foods, Inc., the manufacturer of the Hebrew National brand, claiming that these hot dogs were not, in fact, “kosher.” Last year, a federal district court in Minnesota dismissed the suit on the grounds that the First Amendment barred him from addressing the underlying religious questions. Recently, the Eighth Circuit nixed the dismissal and remanded the case back to the Minnesota court. The case is captioned Wallace v. ConAgra Foods Inc., No. 13-1485 (8th April 4, 2014).

It will be interesting to see what becomes of this suit now that it has gained new life. As we discussed above, we understand the skepticism surrounding claims of hot dog purity. But, these plaintiffs have taken things beyond mere skepticism and actually challenged the religious nature of the process. Here, the plaintiffs take issue with whether ConAgra followed proper religious procedures, despite packaging that claims to “meet a higher standard,” being made by people who “answer to a higher authority.” Interestingly, according to the Chicago Tribune, the plaintiffs do not claim to eat kosher themselves. We guess they are just looking out for those that do. Or, just want a better hot dog.

We are no experts on kosher foods and do not know exactly which part of the hot dog-making process to which these plaintiffs object.  We do know that these issues are to be taken seriously. Had these plaintiffs actually followed kosher practices, then we would find some merit behind the claims and understand the trial judge’s reasons for dismissing the matter on religious grounds. But that is not what we have here. What we have are plaintiffs that must have some other standard for their hot dogs. Even if Hebrew National’s claims are not 100 percent accurate (and we have no reason to believe they are not accurate, despite our general hot dog purity skepticism), where have these non-kosher practicing plaintiffs been damaged? Certainly, a 75 percent kosher hot dog must be better than any other hot dog. When it comes to hot dogs, standards are low, anyway, right?

We imagine the plaintiffs are claiming that they paid a premium for the kosher hot dogs. Even if they did, let the plaintiffs tour any other company’s hot dog making plants and they will see that they still got a bargain.

Music Re-Recordings: Inferior or New Classics?

Most of us consider music to have reached its prime during the days of our youth.  Be it the 60′s, the 70′s, or even the 80′s, music of one’s formative years is arguably the best a person will ever hear.  Today’s music just doesn’t cut it.  Instead, we download the songs of yesteryear on iTunes or have our Sirius/XM radios perpetually set on the 90′s channel.  (Those were the days.). Others go so far as to purchase “as seen on TV” compilations like “We Love the 80′s” or, better yet, “Monster Ballads.”  After all, who could ever complain about having the world’s greatest music in one accessible CD?  Believe it or not, there is actually a proposed class of angry music-lovers who have filed a new lawsuit in a New Jersey federal court against Tutm Entertainment (d/b/a Drew’s Entertainment), the producer of the monumental “Hits of the 80′s” and “Hits of the 90′s” albums. Why is the proposed class so angry? According the the complaint filed by Celeste Farrell, the named plaintiff for the proposed class, purchasers of these albums aren’t getting the classics they grew to love but, rather, “poorly re-recorded songs.” Specifically,Farrell alleges:

Instead of conveying the source of the recording to allow the consumer to make an informed purchase decision, Tutm provides no information on the Albums’ cover or back label to indicate to the consumer that the songs are not the original songs.

We here at Abnormal Use have not listened to these albums, so we cannot comment on the quality of the re-recordings and cover versions contained on them. But, we don’t see how anyone could really complain about any recording of “Ice, Ice Baby,” whether it be the original or a new version? That said, when people fall in love with a song, they fall in love with a particular version of that song (usually the first version of it they ever heard which, of course, is typically the original version). Anything else might as well be “new music.” We can understand purchasers hoping to get the same when buying these compilation albums.

Whether Tutm’s conduct in selling these albums without a disclosure is fraudulent, however, is another question. Sure, Tutm may have known purchasers would expect the original recordings. But, they also may have thought people could be equally as excited about new recordings of the classics? After all, isn’t Motley Crue still touring? Whatever the case, we’re not sure that covers of “Jessie’s Girl” or “Take on Me” should be litigated in federal court.