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Being asked to give up claims right is sickening


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 2, 2001

It just so happens that June was National Turkey Lover's Month.

It just so happens that June was National Turkey Lover's Month.

The average American gobbles nearly 18 pounds of it each year. Neil Armstrong ate it in his first meal on the moon. New Port Richey resident Derrick Collier often prepares it for the special Sunday dinners he makes for his roommates.

But not last week. When one of Collier's roommates reached inside a Butterball Turkey, instead of finding giblets, she found the rest of the turkey: full head and spinal cord. Beak and all.

"Butterball prides itself on having a top product," Collier said. "It had to be an act of sabotage."

Collier called me, afraid there was a public health risk. I called the National Turkey Federation, the Department of Health and the state Department of Agriculture.

There was a chorus of "eeews" up and down our country's East Coast, but state Agriculture Department officials said there was no public health risk.

Collier called me back when Butterball picked up the bird. For the $19 tainted turkey that his roommate bought, she received a $20 Butterball coupon and a $60 certified check. But on the back of the check, it was written that the endorser would give up rights to make any claims against the company.

Now that's the part that grossed me out.

Butterball spokesman Bob McKeon said Friday that this was a very rare occurence, and stressed that there was no health risk. He said the company had the bird and was investigating, and that conversations with consumers were confidential.

"Requesting a release of all claims is generally regarded as a standard business practice when paying out money to settle complaints," he said. "When we provide compensation, it's in good faith and we ask the consumer to acknowledge that this payment resolves the issue, allowing us to get written confirmation that the consumer is satisfied."

He went on to say that because two consumers were involved in this case -- Collier and his roommate -- Butterball deviated from standard practice. But he couldn't say how or why.

Dr. Steven Feldman, a corporate ethics professor with Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, says writing a check with this caveat is common practice in big business. It makes simple financial sense: Whatever the company offers the consumer in compensation will probably be less than court costs and a court settlement, should the complaint get that far.

Call me squeamish, but for some reason, the whole corporate no-claim check just makes my stomach turn.

* * *

If you're anything like most human beings, you're tired of being so special: special enough to be pre-qualified and pre-selected for the special offers for credit cards, warranties, catalogs, credit cards and more credit cards that crowd your mailbox.

About 3.5-billion credit offers are mailed out annually, according to the Public Interest Research Group. That's about eight offers per house per month. (That sounds shockingly low: it seems 3.5-million offers end up in my mailbox alone.)

At any rate, relief is on the way. In fact, it might be in one of those envelopes you've already thrown away.

Banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions had until Sunday to send out privacy disclosures to customers that spell out how they collect, use and safeguard their information.

Not all banks share information. You can tell your bank not to share your information with an unaffiliated company for marketing purposes.

You can also tell your bank not to share your information within its "family" of companies. Banks have morphed into conglomerates of brokerages, credit card and servicing units, which share information among themselves.

Many banks have provided response forms or special phone numbers through the mail.

If your form got lost in the white noise of "special offers," you still can opt out any time. Call your bank and just say no.

But be patient: It will take 30 to 45 days for them to process the request.

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