Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Is Four Loko To Blame For Wide Awake Drunks?

Alcohol consumption in moderation is legal. Caffeine consumption in moderation is generally assumed as a norm. (Note: one person has apparently contended that it may be an excuse for murder: LINK) So are energy drinks premixed with alcohol dangerous? And assuming it is dangerous, can a plaintiff sue the manufacturer for compensation when a consumer gets involved in a car accident?

Decent questions that Janice Rivera, a Daytona Beach woman, apparently wants answered in the affirmative. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued a warning to Phusion Projects Inc. and three similar manufacturers of energy drinks. The FDA has warned against the high content of caffeine in the drink as well. Consequently, the growing trend is to answer the first question in the affirmative, but is there research to back up the alleged danger?

Four Loko ("blackout in a can") is a caffeinated malt beverage consisting of 12 percent alcohol. (One 23.5 ounce can is the equivalent of drinking five or six beers.) It also contains caffeine which allegedly leads to wide awake drunks. (A similar drink pronounced juice, spelled J-o-o-s-e, also combines alcohol with caffeine.) But are wide awake drunks a recent phenomena?

An October 2007 study by the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at East Carolina University reported that mixing alcohol and energy drinks was fairly popular among college students. In other words, mixing alcohol and caffeine has been around longer than the manufacturing of Four Loko. Furthermore, no study has been presented that finds a cause-effect relationship between alcoholic energy drinks and health maladies. "There are no studies that address physiological changes when someone drinks an alcoholic energy drink," Bruce Goldberger, professor of toxicology at the University of Florida, told the Los Angeles Times.

The FDA and state regulators have cited studies which suggest some potential concerns.
A study published Nov. 12 in "Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research" suggested an association between alcohol abuse and the consumption of energy drinks. However, the study did not find a cause-effect relationship nor did it involve premixed drinks like Four Loko. The Department of Emergency Medicine at Wake Forest University in N.C. found that students who consume alcoholic energy drinks were more likely to take part in alcohol-related incidents according to a 2008 study. However, the chance of such incidents still remained at a low 5 percent.
But even if the scientists are not in complete agreement, what is the response of our legal system?

Four Loco has been a target of recent laws designed to ban energy alcohol drinks. Janice Rivera, age 20, blames the manufacturer of Four Loco for her injuries arising from a serious car accident. She has filed a lawsuit seeking compensation for her injuries sustained when she was ejected from a car on State Road 417 on August 13, 2010 in Seminole County. The driver of the car, Danielle C. Joseph, 20, is also a named a defendant. Danielle apparently drank the energy drink Four Loco prior to the accident. (Danielle's car apparently collided with another vehicle while Danielle was driving at a high rate of speed.) Sammy's, a convenience store in Deltona, has also been named in the suit. The theory against the retailer is not completely clear at this time.

Rivera's attorney, William McBride of Orlando, thinks that these alcohol energy drinks are "dangerous." The opinion is not unprecedented. The family of a young man has sued Phusion because he drank Four Loco drinks before committing suicide. But what is it that makes the combination of alcohol and caffeine so dangerous?

Some experts pontificate that caffeine masks sensory cues that people rely on to determine how drunk they are becoming. The FDA claims consumption of caffeine and alcohol could lead to risky behavior. But how are the ready mixed drinks different then Irish Coffee or Red Bull and Vodka? Does the premixing of alcohol and caffeine make it possible to consume more alcohol then if one mixes the ingredients themselves?

The difference in treatment of premixed drinks from traditional drinks may lie in the legislature. Five states have banned he sale of alcohol mixed energy drinks. Proponents of the law claim that these premixed beverages encourage binge-drinking. Drinks containing the stimulants taurine, guarine and caffeine are perceived to appeal to younger drinkers because it tastes like a soft drink. It is argued that younger consumers will not realize that they are intoxicated when they get behind the wheel.

So will a ban solve the problem of alcoholism in our youth? Brian Dvoret who works in the liquor industry sums up the issue, "The problem is that abuse doesn't happen because it's available. Abuse happens because it's cool to have something that you're not supposed to have. At that point it comes back to parental concern." All of the publicity of the ban has probably promoted great interest in the combination of alcohol and stimulants. As bans become more popular, the result may be the opposite of what was desired. If the ban does become nationwide, do Irish Pubs across the continental United States suddenly have long waiting lines to get in the door?
Note: November 17: The corporation announces it will voluntarily remove caffeine from Four Loko. Further action from the FDA seems unlikely.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Just What Is So Offensive About David Weavering's Counterclaim?

Today's story could easily be slanted to take the popular course of condemning the filing of a lawsuit against a deceased minor. We all know how much anti lawyer sentiment was generated when Attorney Pfahler sued an eight year old boy for a skiing accident. LINK. (Incidentally, Pfahler did get a settlement.) While thoughts of the David J. Pfahler case initially clouded my thinking, a more balanced look at the David Weavering story seemed appropriate. By way of background, 48 year old David Weaving is being slammed in the media for "suing Stephen and Joanne Kenney because when he hit their 14 year old son, he was not wearing a helmet. A disgusting legal action considering Weaver is serving a 10-year sentence for manslaughter.

But is the suit frivolous? Stephen and Hianne Kenney actually sued David Weaving first. His claim is a counter suit for $15,000. Weaving claims that the boys parents should have insisted that the 14-year-old cyclist wear a helmet. If a helmet would have saved Matthew Kenney's life, is it a bad thing to bring the issue of parental safety into the public eye? Doesn't the defense typically plead "contributory negligence" if there is any evidence of fault on the plaintiffs?

Much is being made that David Weaving filed the counter claim while serving his time in jail. Does a person lose all legal rights to represent himself once imprisoned? The counter suit for $15,000 for failure to protect Matthew seems within the realm of reason if Weaving is somehow correct. Yet by being found guilty in December 2008 of manslaughter and other charges, the public sentiment is clearly against Weaving. Weaving can not possibly have a valid excuse for driving at 83mph in a 45mph zone at the time of this fatal Connecticut accident. While not relevant to any finding of guilt, Weaving's driving record reveals five previous occasions where he was caught allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol. (Not a sympathetic defendant by any means.)

Joanne Kenney told the press that the counter suit was compounding the original hurt. "It's a constant reminder. Enough is enough. Can you just leave us alone and serve your time?" Yet, the Kenneys are the one's who initially initiated the civil suit. While the media reports that the Kenneys are incurring legal fees, don't plaintiff's attorneys usually take such suits on a contingency basis? As for Weaving, without free legal services would he have anyone to help defend the civil suit? Connecticut allows free legal representation because he has little or no income. In his handwritten counter claim, Weaving says that had the Kenneys "complied with the responsibilities of a parent and guardian and the laws of this state and not allowed their son to ride his bicycle without a helmet ... this incident and Matthew's death would not have happened".

Clearly my sympathies and sentiments are with the Kenney family. I too would be offended that a convict was trying to deflect the blame for the death of my child. But if it is statistically proven to increase the risk of death or injury, than perhaps it is a valid counter claim. If it is not, let the court strike the counter claim. But in the mean time, the media needs to let the courts try this case and not the court of public opinion.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fishing Is Fun But Phishing Is A Crime!

"Gone Fishing!" That phrase used to trigger pleasant images and lots of smiles. Now, phishing and other Internet scams have left a bad taste in one's mouth, and I don't meant from tainted carp. Phishing is the criminally fraudulent attempt to acquire personal information such as user-names, credit card numbers and passwords by pretending to be a trustworthy person or company. Emails from potential customers, facebook, myspace, auction sites, online payment processors or IT administrators are commonly used to trick people into providing their sensitive information.
Phishing often diverts the victim to a fake website that looks legitimate. Phishing is a serious crime that needs to be punished to the full extent of the law. Until all of the con artists are rounded up and behind bars, what can a reader do to avoid becoming a victim? Arm yourself with knowledge. Read some online training information and always be aware of the potential for fraud. Many Internet providers have phishing and spam filters available. Use them!
For historical information concerning phishing see: History of phishing.

What to look for? A phisher may pose as an employee of a Internet provider. Never respond to any email or instant message that requests your password. Your Internet provider all ready knows that information and will not ask for that information. In other words, your provider does not need you to verify your account because you are already signed in on your account.

Does the IRS contact someone initially by email? Very doubtful. If you receive an email from someone purporting to be from the IRS asking for your sensitive account information, it is likely a phisher. IRS agents usually contact you by United States mail. Phishers, on the other hand, love to initiate contact by email or instant messaging.
Feel dumb because you fell for a scam? Please don't feel that you were targeted because of a lack of sophistication. Phishers don't just pick on the uneducated. In fact, many phishing attacks are often specifically directed to attorneys, senior executives, doctors and other high profile targets.

What makes it so difficult to catch these thieves? Many of the thieves are foreigners and operate through groups like the Russian Business Network. Furthermore, international domain names add to the difficulty in promptly tracing and apprehending the perpetrators.
How can you more easily recognize a fraudulent message? Anti-phishing websites such as FraudWatch International and Millersmiles publish sample phishing messages that should arose your suspicion. Also check for misspelling in any URL (web address.) Misspelled URLs are a dead give away that an impostor is at work. Fortunately, Internet Explorer, Mozilla Foxfire, and Opera present a warning for some of the suspicious web addresses. Also beware of pop up adds on legitimate site. Clicking on such a pop up directs you away from the trusted site.

Is it just computers? Con artists might alternatively direct a victim to call a phone number to correct problems with the victim's bank account. Once the victim makes the call, a computer operator or person requests that the victim enter sensitive account information. Further complicating the detection of such scam artists is that they may have a caller id imitating an authentic bank or agency.

What steps lead to better safety? Stricter legislation and improved technology will aid in the battle against phishing. Anti-phishing software is a must. However educating Internet users to recognize phishing attempts is essential if the problem is to be substantially reduced. When an Internet users is contacted about an account needing to be "verified" (or any other topic used by phishers), be cautious. Try to contact the company directly to verify any email. Be suspicious and scrutinize any hyperlink contained within the suspect message. You can try to research the suspected site or email on services such as

What is the government doing? On January 26, 2004, the U.S.Federal Trade Commission sued a suspected phisher. The defendant allegedly created a web page designed to look like AOL Using the site, the California teen attempted to steal credit card information. In another case, Valdir Paulo de Almeida, was arrested in Brazil suspected of leading a large phishing crime ring. Senator Pat Leahy authored a bill in 2005 which has yet to become law. If the bill passes, fines would be up to $250,000 and prison terms could reach five years. The U.K. has an even stronger law. Fraud Act 2006.

If you are a phisher, hang up your computer and grab an old fashion fishing pole. Otherwise, you will be caught and when you are, you will be wearing stripes for a long time.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Charlie Sheen Is Certainly Not Dysfunctional!

If America loves a bad boy, then Charlie Sheen is a shoe in for President. Charlie's hotel room gets torn up. Charlie's $150,000 watch goes missing. But, it's all good. The "Two and a Half Men" actor isn't concerned. Sheen's New York hotel . "If a guy has one bad night, everybody goes insane and panics," Sheen told Extra.

Sheen rationalizes the missing watch by saying, "The way I look at it -- if you have expensive tastes, you gotta be prepared for expensive losses." Sheen just finished a show and seems to be functioning at his normal level. Work. His attorney indicates that Sheen broke no laws in the hotel incident. He echos Sheen's claim that all is well in Tinsel Town. As for his personal life, Brooke Mueller will soon be Charlie's third ex-wife. The parites have been separated since the knife incident in Colorado last Christmas. Sheen has filed for
divorce and requested joint custody of the couple’s twin boys.

Sheen and Mueller married in 2008. Both have apparently sought rehab during the past year. Sheen has enjoyed full custody of his 19-month-old sons. Mueller has asked for sole physical custody of the boys along with spousal support. A property separation agreement was entered into in May of 2010. Reportedly Mueller will recieve a lump sum payment of close to a million dollars. Sheen may be required to pay Mueller 55,000 dollars a month in child support.

Yet, all is fine...

Am I the only one who is starting to think that Charlie is a natural for Washington D.C.?
Update 1-19-11: Charlie Sheen got into trouble at least once before with his wife: LINK. But things never stay the same. While he broke up with his wife, now it looks like deja vu is about to strike. Charlie and estranged wife Brooke Mueller are reportedly discussing getting back together. The Palm Beach Post. Should we all send gifts?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Can You Name The Top 10 Missing Person Cases? The Criminal Justice Degree Site Thinks It Can...

The Criminal Justice Degree site has published a new article concerning the top 10 missing person's cases. Interestingly enough, D.B. Cooper LINK and Natalee Holloway LINK, both of which were previously featured on Legal Pub, made the list. However, perhaps the most interesting case not covered by Legal Pub is that of Ambrose Bierce. Ambrose was the author of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and "The Difficulty of Crossing a Field". Bierce, while functioning as a journalist, disappeared in Mexico. He was following Pancho Villa’s forces and his fate remains unknown.

While Legal Pub has informed readers concerning recent problems in Mexico LINK, the Ambrose Bierce disappearance is truly worthy of the top ten. As a recommended read, please follow the link to the full article:

Monday, November 1, 2010

Should Four Year-Old Speed Demons Be Held Accountable?

Is it ever too early to learn about our legal system? How about to learn the lesson that street racing kills? LINK. Perhaps that was the dilemma faced by Justice Paul Wooten of State Supreme Court in Manhhattan when he ruled that a six year old girl can be sued for injuring an 87 year old woman with her bicycle with training wheels. The child struck the elderly woman while racing her bicycle on a Manhattan sidewalk two years ago when she was only four. The judges's ruling indicates that the then four year old may be held accountable for negligence. The ruling did not find that the girl was liable, but merely permits the woman's estate to pursue a lawsuit against the child, another boy and their parents.

In April of 2009, Juliet Breitman and Jacob Kohn, were playful four year-old toddlers. Now they, along with their mothers, Dana Breitman and Rachel Kohn, are litigants. How? At some point while racing down East 52nd Street, a bicylce struck 87-year-old Claire Menagh. Claire apparently suffered a hip fracture that required surgery. She died three months later of unrelated causes. The four year old was riding either a small bicycle with training wheels or a tricycle. The estate is pursuing the claim for damages presumably to recoup some of the decedent's medical costs. While such litigation may be possible, is it a good idea? Should kids even younger than four (like the one photographed above and to the right) be held responsible for "getting a little sideways?" Afterall, things can get pretty wreckless around the holidays. You be the judge... and don't forget to vote!