Monday

Who files the most lawsuits?

A lot of folks seem to think that most of the lawsuits in the US are filed by professional litigators who cruise the drive thru at McDonalds looking for that perfectly hot cup of coffee that will make them rich. Well, not only is the original McDonalds coffee cup lawsuit rumor just a load of hooey (that's technical talk for baloney), but do you know who actually files most of the lawsuits in the US? Big business.

That's right. Study after study has shown that when you look at who the person is that files lawsuits in the US federal court system, most of the time it isn't a real person at all. It's usually just one corporation suing another.

In fact, pretty often it is actually one big business suing a small upstart business, trying to run them out of business. Here's an example.

Enter Jimmy Winklemann. He's in college at University of Missouri. Like any kid in college, he doesn't have a lot of money. Like any parents of a college kid, his parents also are looking at supporting their son through his college years. Even in a good economy that wouldn't be easy.

Meanwhile, Jimmy sees lots of probably-well-off school mates wearing the trendy North Face clothing line. So he decides to take a bit of an "anti" North Face point of view and he starts up his own little clothing business and calls it The South Butt, a parody of The North Face in every way.

You have to admit that it's a clever play on words, but other than that, the two couldn't be more different.

North Face sells athletic apparel and gear for runners and rock climbers and the like. Jocks and wanna-be jocks. South Butt, on the other hand, isn't after the jock crowd at all. They sell jackets and t-shirts, etc.

North Face's motto is "never stop exploring" while South Butt proudly proclaims "Never stop relaxing." Jimmy doesn't want to climb rocks or race on the track. Heck, he's just a college freshman trying to get by and scrape up enough money for college books and tuition next year.

So billion dollar North Face hears about Jimmy and his South Butt and what do they do? They sue.

North Face claims trademark infringement "and dilution" and claims that North Face and South Butt are so similar as to possibly cause "consumer confusion as to the source, sponsorship or affiliation of particular promotions and services that could dilute or tarnish the distinctive quality of the famous and distinctive marks." Some might think that's 3-piece lawyer suit talk for "we want to make all the money just for us." They might be right.

Sounds to us like someone just wants to run the little guy out of business because he is making fun of the big guy and maybe making a buck or two in the process.

To help clear up any confusion, Jimmy even put on his web site, http://www.thesouthbutt.com/, a disclaimer that explains that "We are not in any fashion related to nor do we want to be confused with the North Face Apparel Corp. or its products sold under 'the North Face' brand. If you are unable to discern the difference between a face and a butt, we encourage you to buy North Face products." We like that part, especially.

And just who is The North Face? It's a billion dollar clothing conglomerate called VF Corporation which owns 25 big name clothing brands, Wrangler, Lee, Nautica, and more. They loudly, if not proudly, proclaim themselves to be the world's largest apparel manufacturing company and "a seven billion dollar plus powerhouse," according to South Butt's website notice about the lawsuit. And Jimmy? Well, he made about $5,000 last year off his t-shirts, etc.

So little Jimmy talks to his dad, who talks to a friendly lawyer, and they decide to fight back.

Folks, this ain't no McDonalds coffee fight either. The blogs are churning out commentary and North Face is getting the mud slung in its own direction as a result. While the Judge so far is somber like all federal judges seem to be when they write something, the levity of the case can't help but (pun intended) be sticking out there in everyone's face (north or otherwise).

According to the DuetsBlog, North Face has what looks like a valid legal argument about trademark "dilution." But we think that by the time it's over with, North Face will regret all the bad publicity far more than what little they get from trying to run Jimmy out of business, even if they win.

Sometimes a little humor may be better than a lot of lawsuit. Too bad the suits at North Face can't figure that out.

Burdge Law Office
www.OhioConsumerLaw.com
Helping consumers every day.

Thursday

Top 15 Fuel Efficient Cars and the Model T

Good Magazine is out with its list of the 15 most fuel efficient cars on the road. And the most remarkable thing about it? After over 100 years of US automotive engineering since the 1908 Model T, things haven't gotten that much better.

A couple of years ago we wrote about the fact that the terribly inefficient Model T in 1908 got 21 miles a gallon while then-current industry-wide statistics show average fuel economy for a new car was 17.2 mpg and in 1979 it was 16 mpg. And a couple of years before that we also wrote about how gas mileage in 2005 was the same as 1982. And the 2009 mpg average? The EPA reports it to be just a lousy 21.1 miles per gallon.

While average miles per gallon on the most fuel efficient vehicles on the Good Magazine list are far more than the average car on US roads, when you look at the numbers, there have to be some real gas hogs out there for the overall average to be pulled down to 21.1 mpg.

Here's the Good Magazine list:
15. The Hyundai Elantra Blue (manual)Miles per gallon: 26 city, 35 highwayManufacturer's Suggested Retail Price: $14,145
14. Mini Cooper (manual)MPG: 28 city, 37 highwayMSRP: $19,500
13. Toyota Yaris (manual)MPG: 29 city, 36 highwayMSRP: $12,905
12. Volkswagen Jetta TDI (manual)MPG: 30 city, 41 highwayMSRP: $22,830
12. Volkswagen Golf TDI (manual)MPG: 30 city, 41 highwayMSRP: $22,354 for Golf
10. Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI (automatic)MPG: 30 city, 42 highwayMSRP: $24,615
9. Audi A3 (automatic)MPG: 30 city, 42 highwayMSRP: $27,270
8. Smart For-Two Coupe or Convertible (both automatic)MPG: 33 city, 41 highwayMSRP: $11,990
7. Ford Escape (and Mazda Tribute) Hybrid (both automatic, and both SUVs!)MPG: 34 city, 31 highwayMSRP: $29,175
6. Nissan Altima Hybrid (automatic)MPG: 35 city, 34 highwayMSRP: $26,650
5. 2010 Lexus HS 250h (automatic)MPG: 35 city, 34 highwayMSRP: $34,650
4. Honda Insight Hybrid (automatic)MPG: 40 city, 43 highwayMSRP: $19,800
3. Honda Civic Hybrid (automatic)MPG: 40 city, 45 highwayMSRP: $23,800
2. Ford Fusion (and Mercury Milan) Hybrid (automatic)MPG: 41 city, 36 highwayMSRP: $27,950
1. Toyota Prius (automatic)MPG: 51 city, 48 highwayMSRP: $22,800

Read more: http://www.good.is/post/the-15-most-fuel-efficient-cars-for-2010/#ixzz0hG4k0uW9

Of course, that Prius may be the recalled one with brakes that don't work when you first hit them, giving you that extra thrill of terror while you get those really good mpg's.

The reason the overall average mpg for US cars being so low is that there are an awful lot of fuel inefficient vehicles on the road and very fuel efficient ones. I guess that clunker program didn't work so good after all.

Burdge Law Office
Because life's too short to drive a lemon.
Even a really old one.

Is This Toyota's Tora Tora Tora Recovery Plan?

Picture this. It's early Sunday morning. Somewhere in Japan, uniformed suits and ties gather quietly in a small room, plotting how to solve their industrial and economic problem, caused by foreigners, the US. They decide to strike the Americans hard when they least expect it. And with military precision they hatch the plot that will unfold in the days to come, a plot to bring glory and riches back to the land of the rising sun. "The Zero," someone calmly asks, "how many Zeros can we afford to lose in this battle and still survive?"

Oh, I'm sorry. This is supposed to be about cars, isn't it? It is.

In an effort to win back the loyalty of some of its fleeing customers, Toyota has decided to throw in zero rate financing and 2 years of free maintenance if old owners will buy a new Toyota, Lexus or Scion. So they want people to buy a new one? That's the plan?

How nice of Toyota to help Americans get deeper into debt in order to solve Toyota's recall headlines nightmare. Forget about the recession-depression. Forget about your job worries. Forget about the foreclosure rates. Oh, and forget about those shimmed up gas pedals and the Prius brakes that don't. "Let's all take out a loan and get a new Toyota" is the company's battle cry.

Toyota took a sales beating after January's public relations fiasco where millions more cars and trucks were recalled for serious safety issues like runaway racing cars and trucks that wouldn't be stopped and brake systems that have to think about it before they work. Is this any way to build a car?

To rebound, the Japanese maker has decided to launch a pre-emptive strike on American pocketbooks. The Zero percent financing and leasing will cover about 80 percent of its lineup. Zero rate has been tried before and US News reported in fall 2008 how they might not be such a good deal after all. That may be especially true right now, with reports surfacing that the Toyota gas pedal shim may not be the answer to its run-away cars after all.

While Toyota seems to be betting that money will matter more to American consumers than safety (is that a Japanese trait?), the reality is that the interest rate on your car loan won't matter a lot when you pass that 100 mph mark with both feet on the brake pedal.

The company is desperately trying to regain customer confidence in the face of 8.5 million vehicles recalled worldwide and suspended sales of eight of its top selling models in January and February over safety problems. Most of those recalled vehicles have gone back on the showroom floor for sale now, but the reputation of the company has soured across the globe.

So, if you want a new Toyota-built car, the Japanese are plotting on how to get you back into one. On the other hand, if you already own one of the millions that were recalled, what are they doing for you? Apparently that part of the plot hasn't been hatched yet.

Meanwhile, maybe it really is time to buy American again. We've been helping consumers get rid of defective cars and trucks since 1978 and we have never seen American quality this high. And we've never seen Japanese quality this low. Maybe American manufacturers have learned their lesson. Let's hope so.

Burdge Law Office
Because life's too short to drive a lemon.

Wednesday

Federal Safety Investigators Hide Recall Again?

So what did federal safety investigators learn from the public spotlight's glare on their cozy relationship with Toyota? Apparently not much.

On Jan. 22, 2010, CF MOTO, the US company that imports Chinese made motorcycles, reported to federal safety investigators that the rear brakes system on its CF250T motorcycles failed to comply with federal motorcycle safety requirements because they were designed for "scooters" instead of motorcycles. CF MOTO's lawyers sent to letter to Stuart Seigel in NHTSA's Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance in Washington. We have a copy of that letter.

NHTSA received all the proper documents to commence a recall to protect the safety of several thousand motorcycle owners nationwide. They even posted the recall in their online "NHTSA Recall Database" where the public could find it.

Buried in the recall's smaller print was the statement by CF MOTO that it was not going to tell current owners of the recalled motorcycles of the defect for another few months and that it also had no intention of even telling the company's own dealers about the safety recall for another couple of months too. What? You admit to the need of a safety recall and then want to keep it secret? You don't want even your own dealers to be told about it?

Of course, not telling CF MOTO dealers would allow dealers to keep selling the recalled motorcycles without the dealers or the public knowing that the rear brake systems on the motorcycless are the wrong kind.

Then a funny thing happened at NHTSA. The recall disappeared. Gone. Taken off the web site. Poof. Why?

Is NHTSA falling prey to more overseas undue influence? Did CF MOTO decide to get cozy with federal regulators, like Toyota did in order to save itself millions of dollars? Did they pick profits over safety? Did the federal safety investigators at NHTSA decide they had their hands full with Toyota troubles right now, so they would let this one slide? Were they "encouraged" to drop it by the motorcycle's builder, CF MOTO?

At first, no one was explaining it. Then, in response to our repeated inquiries, NHTSA said that it might have been removed because basically they wanted to check it out first and be sure it was a motor vehicle recall. One can guess that maybe NHTSA investigators are still "investigating" but if the manufacturer admits the motorcycles were built wrong, what is there to investigate? Why the stall and delay? Why remove it from the online recall database, which is the one place the public would expect to find it?

And in the meantime, how many owners are riding around thinking they have the right kind of brakes when they don't? There's a reason for federal safety standards about brakes on motorcycles. Ignoring any safety standard is just plain stupid. And it could be plenty dangerous. Whose side is NHTSA on here? The taxpayers whose safety it is entrusted with? Or the industry queens who sell millions of unsafe and dangerous motor vehicles to US consumers and whose mantra lately seems to be "trust me" and "buy me" and little else?

Maybe the recall is a big deal. We're sure CF MOTO would say it is not. That raises the question though. Since when did a recall become a "not-recall"? Since when did federal safety standards become "maybe" standards?

There's a reason the recall agency's name is the National Highway Traffic SAFETY Administration. Apparently someone in Washington has forgotten that.

If you own a CF MOTO, you might want to be very careful out there on the street. Oh. And you might want to email NHTSA and ask them why they are keeping the CF MOTO recall a secret. You can do that by clicking here. Or going to the safety agency's website here: http://www.nhtsa.gov/.

Burdge Law Office
Because life's too short to ride a bad motorcycle, no matter who makes it.