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Wal-Mart recalls dolls due to burn hazard

The circuit board in the doll's chest can overheat

By James Limbach of ConsumerAffairs
March 26, 2014

PhotoWal-Mart Stores of Bentonville, Ark., is recalling about 174,000 My Sweet Love / My Sweet Baby cuddle care baby dolls.

The circuit board in the doll's chest can overheat, causing the surface of the doll to get hot, posing a burn hazard to the consumer.

The retailer has received 12 reports of incidents, including two reports of burns or blisters to the thumb.

The My Sweet Love / My Sweet Baby electronic baby doll comes in pink floral clothing and matching knit hat. The 16-inch doll is packaged with a toy medical check-up kit including a stethoscope, feeding spoon, thermometer and syringe.

The doll’s electronics cause her to babble when she gets “sick,” her cheeks turn red and she starts coughing. Using the medical kit pieces cause the symptoms to stop. “My Sweet Baby” is printed on the front of the clear plastic and cardboard packaging.

The doll is identified by UPC 6-04576-16800-5 and a date code which begins with WM. The date code is printed on the stuffed article label sewn into the bottom of the doll.

The dolls, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at Walmart stores nationwide from August 2012, through March 2014, for $20.

Consumers should immediately take the dolls from children, remove the batteries and return the doll to any Walmart store for a full refund.

Consumers may contact Wal-Mart Stores at (800) 925-6278 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. CT Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. CT on Saturday, and from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. CT on Sunday.


Nissan recalls nearly a million vehicles with airbag software problems

The software may incorrectly classify the passenger seat as empty when it is occupied

By James Limbach of ConsumerAffairs
March 26, 2014

PhotoNissan North America is recalling 989,701 model year 2013-2014 Altima, LEAF, Pathfinder, and Sentra, model year 2013 NV200 (aka Taxi) and Infiniti JX35 and model year 2014 Infiniti Q50 and QX60 vehicles.

In the affected vehicles, the occupant classification system (OCS) software may incorrectly classify the passenger seat as empty when it is occupied by an adult. If the OCS does not detect an adult occupant in the passenger seat, the passenger airbag would be deactivated.

Failure of the passenger airbag to deploy during a crash (where deployment is warranted) could increase the risk of injury to the passenger.

Nissan says it has not received any reports of accidents related to the problem, and that the recall affects only vehicles sold in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will update the OCS software, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in mid-April 2014.

Owners may contact Nissan at 1-800-647-7261.


Who pays when a power surge ruins your appliances?

In most cases, you do. Surge suppressors are essential.

By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs
March 27, 2014

PhotoMarch 19, 2014 was a quiet, ordinary day on Vickie's street in Michigan Center, Mich. Then suddenly the lights began to flicker.

“The walls started popping, my kitchen filled with smoke due to the stove being hit, and my furnace was hit,” Vickie writes in a ConsumerAffairs post.

Vickie and her neighbors called the fire and police departments. Consumers Energy, the local utility, sent trucks to the scene. The problem was traced to a power surge that caused damage to appliances in Vickie's house, as well asappliances in the homes a few of her neighbors.

“I called the furnace repair company the next day and the cost was $404.00 to replace the transformer in my furnace,” Vickie writes. “It ruined my stove, at a cost of $550. My neighbor lost his TV, stereo, microwave, amplifier. Not sure what the other neighbors lost.”

Damage claim denied

Vickie filed a claim with Consumers Energy, assuming it was responsible for the problem and should pay for her damage. But she says she received a letter from the company, telling her the claim was denied.

“They are stating they are not at fault,” she writes. “How can they get away with this?”

Terry DeDoes, a spokesman for Consumers Energy, was familiar with the incident when we contacted him. He told us a tree fell on power lines, causing an outage that produced a power surge before the lights went out.

“We do not discuss damage claims activity on an individual’s account due to customer privacy issues, but in general terms damage claims are typically denied unless there was negligence on the part of Consumers Energy,” DeDoes said.


Avoiding future damage

While Vickie and the power company may disagree over who is at fault here, the fact remains that Vickie and her neighbors suffered some real damage from the incident. What recourse do they have and how can they prevent similar power surges from causing damage in the future?

To compensate for their current damage, DeDoes says customers are encouraged to contact their home insurance provider for damages that are not the result of negligence on the part of Consumers Energy. Beyond that, he says the company encourages all customers to have surge protection for their homes.

Standard homeowners insurance policies typically do not cover damage to appliances from a power surge, though such coverage is available as an option. Renters insurance policies usually don't provide this kind of coverage, meaning tenants must get compensation from their landlord.

Power surge suppressors

Nationwide Insurance offers coverage against equipment breakdowns due to power surges as part of its business insurance policies. It also suggests installing a surge protector is a prudent defensive measure.

A good point-of-use surge protector many consumers use to power their PCs and other electronic equipment are inexpensive, usually costing between $10 and $20. But these devices have their limitations and tend to lose their effectiveness over time.

An alternative is a whole-house surge suppressor installed at the main service panel. Service panel surge suppressors are designed to deal with large power surges as they enter the property, reducing the impact on equipment down the line.

These suppressors are more expensive – as much as $700 – and must be installed by a licensed electrician and inspected from time to time.


GM-style delayed recall can't happen again, Senators vow

Senator warns that GM may try to escape responsibility under terms of its 2009 bankruptcy

By Jennifer Abel of ConsumerAffairs
March 26, 2014

GM's long-delayed recall of Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other cars with defective ignition switches may lead to an overhaul of the nation's auto safety system, long derided by safety advocates and slow, secretive and too often ineffective.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, both Democrats, have introduced legislation that would require auto manufacturers to promptly provide the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) with more information regarding fatalities.

The bill would also require the NHTSA to make this information available to the public. 

In February, General Motors took the rare step of issuing a public apology, after news broke that the company had known for years about potentially fatal problems with its ignition switches yet did not recall the affected vehicles, while dealers shrugged off complaints from customers plagued by the faulty switches.

The company also admitted it knew of at least 13 people who died after their ignition switches (and thus their air bags, brakes and power steering) cut off without warning.

GM should not escape responsibility

Besides the legislation, Blumenthal has written to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting that the Department of Justice intervene on behalf of those injured and killed and all who suffered damages as a result of the faulty ignition switches.

"I was appalled and astonished by GM’s recent admission that it knew of these disabling defects and their disastrous effects well before the 2009 reorganization," Blumenthal said in his letter. "Their deliberate concealment caused continuing death and damage, and it constituted a fraud on the bankruptcy court that approved its reorganization. It also criminally deceived the United States government and the public."

Blumenthal wants GM to be required to set up a fund to compensate all victims and wants the Justice Department to intervene in pending civil actions to oppose any effort by GM to evade responsibility for consumer damages.

As Connecticut's Attorney General in 2009, Blumenthal led seven other state attorneys general in fighting against a bankruptcy court restructuring that shielded the “new GM” of any liability for defects in vehicles built prior to its 2009 bankruptcy.

Blumenthal’s petition was declined, meaning that the new GM may now avoid liability for the deaths — by some counts over 300.


Study: Don't shop for leisure travel while working

Travelers were happier when they paid in advance and planned travel from home

By Truman Lewis of ConsumerAffairs
March 26, 2014

PhotoPlanning your next vacation? Great, but don't do it from your desk. That's the advice from researchers who studied the quality of the hotel consumers chose and how satisfied they were with their stay.

Using data from a major hotel reservation site, researchers at Rice University and Iowa State University found that consumers who traveled farther and made reservations during business hours were more likely to select higher quality hotels but were less satisfied after their stay. More than 35 percent of those studied made purchases during business hours.

“We were interested in understanding when people make more expensive purchases and their satisfaction afterward,” said Ajay Kalra, a marketing professor at Rice. He co-authored the paper with Wei Zhang at Iowa Sate. The paper will be published in the Journal of Marketing Research.

The researchers looked at three major factors:

  • the time between purchase and the hotel stay;
  • the distance between the city from where the reservation was made and the city where the hotel is located; and
  • time of purchase (business or nonbusiness hours).

They found that consumers who traveled farther and made reservations during business hours were more likely to select higher quality hotels but were less satisfied than those people who stayed at the same hotel, but traveled less, and people who booked during nonbusiness hours.

“We speculate that occurs because people are either more fatigued at work and tend to buy more expensive items or that vacations seem more appealing while people are at work,” Kalra said. “This kind of preliminary data indicates that people should not be making purchases when they are working.”

The authors also found that consumers who book and pay earlier are more likely to select higher quality hotels and are more satisfied than those who wait til the last minute.

“So the reasoning, not originally ours, is that if you pay earlier, the ‘pain-of-paying’ — which is the pain you feel when paying for something — diminishes with time, leaving people happier during their vacation,” Kalra said. “This tells us that people will enjoy the vacation more if they pay before.”

In addition, if the service in the hotel is bad, then the pain felt at the point of purchasing probably comes back, making people less satisfied, the authors found.

The study consisted of a random sample of 4,582 consumers who made hotel reservations between January 2008 and October 2009. All the consumers who were studied paid for their hotel stay at the time of reservation.



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