Top Five Product Recalls in American History

by | May 10, 2021 | Products Liability

At one time or another, there has been a dangerous product in your medicine cabinet, garage, or pantry. As a matter of fact, there might be one there now.

From a legal perspective, there are basically two kinds of product defects. Sometimes, manufacturers take shortcuts during the design process. They usually calculate that the money they save outweighs the potential risk to consumers. Other manufacturers take shortcuts during the manufacturing process. Cheap materials might save the company money, but they could also transform a safe product into a dangerous one.

Manufacturers are strictly liable for both kinds of defects. To obtain compensation, injured victims must only prove cause.

This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Jurors typically award significant punitive damages in these cases as well. Punitive damages must be very high because most of these companies are very wealthy. A low amount would not get their attention.

Takata Air Bags (2008 and counting, $24 billion and counting)

This one leaves all other product recalls in the dust. The initial recall covered 37 million vehicles and 50 million defective deflators. That’s just in the United States. Regulators believe that recalls will continue until at least 2023. The most recent one was in February 2021.

Beginning around 2000, the company replaced a stable, yet expensive, chemical repellent with ammonium nitrate. This cheap, unstable compound is the same substance Timothy McVeigh used in the Oklahoma City truck bomb. This replacement, which clearly placed profits before people, is the quintessential manufacturing defect.

In January 2021, the death toll from defective airbags in the United States reached nineteen people. Hundreds of other people were seriously injured.

Volkswagen Diesel Engines (2015, $18 billion)

The German car maker with a reputation for quality and customer service systematically filed false reports with regulators. These reports showed that its diesel engine emissions were safe. In fact, the actual emissions levels were up to 40 times higher.

But most people have a fairly short memory. The company’s stock price immediately rebounded. It has increased over 65 percent in less than six years.

Merck Vioxx (2004, $9 billion)

An estimated 20 million Americans took this arthritis drug, which many hailed as a breakthrough, between 1999 and 2004. Researchers connected Vioxx consumption with over 140,000 heart attacks. About 88,000 of them were fatal. 

According to this research, Vioxx caused 20-hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid fat levels to rise dramatically. 20-HETE causes blood clots and heart attacks.

Merck first learned about this problem in November 1999, about six months after it hit store shelves. So, the company had a golden opportunity to voluntarily stop selling this drug, which obviously had a design defect. But Merck chose to keep selling Vioxx anyway. If attorneys and victims hadn’t filed suit and forced the company to pay big money, there’s a good chance Vioxx would still be in American pharmacies.

Firestone/Ford Tires (2000, $5 billion)

Ford and Firestone blamed each other for a tire tread defect which caused thousands of car crashes worldwide. In the United States, 270 people died and hundreds more were seriously injured. Ford absorbed about $3 billion of these costs. The company also settled a $600 million lawsuit. Both companies survived, but there are no more Firestone tires on any Ford vehicles.

In general, lawsuits protect people and recalls do not. Regulators only recall dangerous products very reluctantly. And, a recall provides no compensation for victims and no financial incentive for these companies to change.

Samsung Galaxy Note (2016, $5 billion)

Each year, smartphone technology advances by leaps and bounds. The iPhone 12 makes the original iPhone look like tin cans connected by a string. Unfortunately, battery technology doesn’t always keep up. Regulators fielded about a hundred reports of Galaxy Note 7 batteries which seriously overheated and caught fire. The company recalled this smartphone before anyone was seriously injured.

That fact makes this recall somewhat rare. Generally, by the time manufacturers recall a dangerous drug or other product, many victims have already been affected.

In pursuit of the almighty dollar, many companies knowingly sell dangerous products. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these situations. #goodelawyers