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Fight Back Against Bad Products: Let Your Voice Be Heard

My last blog pointed out that safety and health products are, all too often, deceptively dangerous. In combination with automobiles, the US has had a total of more than  fifty million faulty products recalled in just the first 7 months of this year. That’s more than 200,000 a day! How can anyone say this is not a defective products crisis?

Some would view this as a sign that our system is broken. Others might view it as a sign that things are getting better – after all, fifty million hazardous products are off the streets, right? Either way, the common thread is that consumer complaints were the impetus that forced manufacturers’ hands. When smart shoppers raise their collective voices and demand safe, quality products, big businesses have no choice but to listen.

Many of this year’s recalls were due to products not meeting expectations or merely creating a potential for personal injury. Still, dissatisfied consumers took the time to report their concerns, laying the foundation for future complaints from others one at a time so that a pattern could develop. Most will never receive financial compensation. They will never see how their quiet voice started the momentum that may have alerted the authorities or the manufacturer to a danger. Nevertheless, they made their concerns known and became part of the solution, perhaps preventing someone else’s injury.

In my 30 years as a personal injury attorney, I’ve handled thousands of cases. Each one has its hero: the scientist who was a bit more diligent, the administrator with a penchant for taking notes, the nurse who was unafraid to speak the truth, or the doctor who cared for his patients more than the drug companies. 2014 is the year for the consumer hero. I applaud those who made their voices heard by documenting defective products, filing thorough complaints, and then not giving up.

Consumers have it within their power and their rights to demand safer, healthier, more effective products. Contact the appropriate authorities using the information below, and your complaint will be added to a consumer safety database. Do you have one to add or have a question about where a product fits in the list below? Contact me using our convenient online form. Consumer safety is everyone’s concern, and it is a community effort. Each person who remains silent adds to the problem, while those who demand better, safer, and more effective products contribute to the solution. You can make a difference!

COMPLAINT INFORMATION

It is never easy to file a formal complaint, but it is worth it. If you cannot find what you need below, check out the new “Consumer Corner” on my website’s home page, or feel free to contact me directly.

BAD CONSUMER PRODUCTS: Contact the Consumer Products Safety Commission for bad consumer products at (800) 638-2772 or at saferproducts.gov.

BAD DRUGS AND MEDICAL DEVICES: Contact the Food and Drug Administration for bad drugs or devices at 1-800-FDA-1088 or online at fda.gov.

BAD ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTERS: Report environmental polluters to the Environmental Protection Agency on their website epa.gov. For an emergency including oil or chemical spills you can contact the National Response Center at (800)-424-8802.

BAD CARS AND TRUCKS: Report bad cars, trucks, and equipment through the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration at (888) 327-4236.When filing a vehicle complaint, you can submit an online form to NHTSA ONLINE, or for problems with equipment you can file an online form at NHTSA FORM.

My next blog (coming soon): “Wonder if it’s worth complaining? How seven complaints in Fargo, North Dakota resulted in the largest and most expensive bad drug disaster and product recall in American history.”

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“Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” – dangerous safety and health products

My last blog discussed automobile recalls, a hot topic because vehicles are increasingly important to our survival. They connect individuals to their jobs and livelihoods, provide access to active lives, and they are convenient. Drivers spend years paying off pricey loans so they can drive shiny status symbols.

Yet, a car can also be a 4000-pound weapon hurtling amongst other 4000-pound weapons if a driver, through no fault of his own, loses the ability to control it. This has been the case in many automotive recalls, including the many millions recalled this year alone involving faulty GM ignition switches. Loss of life can be tremendous, leaving survivors and their families wanting answers. Could this have been prevented? What did the manufacturer know, and when did they know it? What prevented them from making it right before my loved one was injured or killed? These are questions we all ask when companies are caught doing the unthinkable; rarely will the answers provide peace.

While automobiles are a convenience, it is also no secret they can be dangerous or even deadly. That is why the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration regulates the industry and also why so many rules and regulations exist to maintain automobile and highway safety. On the other hand, safety and health products should be just that: safe and healthy. Still, the news is rampant with stories about how they instead put users at risk, harm them, shorten their lives, or damage their property.

In today’s news, baby monitors, which are supposed to provide security, are instead catching fire. Bed rails, which are supposed to prevent minor falls, are instead taking lives. Child car safety seats, intended to restrain infants and toddlers, are becoming inoperable when their harness buckles get stuck. And guardrails on highways, which were intended to save crash victims, are now impaling them at an alarming rate. In the first 6 months of 2014, millions of medical devices, drugs, and other safety and health products were recalled due to the potential for death or serious injury. These are all products meant to improve or sustain health and welfare, and their safety shouldn’t need to be questioned at the consumer level – yet, they are.

In fact, one of the largest recalls ever of a child safety product occurred on July 1, the day my last blog was posted. That was when Graco, a child safety seat manufacturer, announced a recall of a million or so devices in addition to 4.2 million toddler seats that met the same fate earlier in the year for similar malfunctions. For more information, see http://www.wfaa.com/news/local/Graco-gives-in-agrees-to-recall-infant-car-seats–265450341.html#.  Despite the fact that there have been no reported injuries, the probability was concerning enough to convince Graco, at great expense to themselves, to do the right thing. May their selflessness be a model for other manufacturers to take responsibility for their consumers’ safety before the price becomes lives instead of dollar signs.

Prescription medicines and medical devices are also the subjects of daily recalls, so commonplace that dozens of websites and consumer newsletters have sprung up, tasked with keeping the public informed. I have personally been suing large corporations for making bad products for more than 25 years, and while I would like to report that conditions have improved, we still have a long way to go.  There are more dangerous products in our midst today than ever before. Hopefully, blogs like this will empower consumers to report product problems and hold manufacturers accountable for their failures.

One of the most notorious, recent medical recalls involves women who received treatment for mild to severe urinary incontinence, or pelvic organ prolapse. The product known as transvaginal mesh (or TVM) is a “sling” of sorts that assists in the support of internal organs. But sadly, many women are experiencing painful adverse reactions. Their injuries are complex, and they are embarrassing due to their private natures. Many women have suffered in silence for years, confused by their conditions and too timid to talk about painful sex, worsening incontinence, and constant bleeding. However, as more and more sufferers have come forward, taking the first step has become easier for others. Finally, the FDA could no longer ignore victims’ combined voices, and investigations followed. Lawyers have since stepped in, databases have been created, and many thousands of women have begun receiving compensation and additional assistance for their suffering and injuries. But some have also lost their legal battles, and there are thousands more waiting for their day in court. Regardless, the media exposure and nationwide litigation have undoubtedly led to greater diligence in the area of women’s health products.

My personal involvement in the massive TVM litigation has been on behalf of a close family member, one of the worst-known cases of its kind. She has suffered for years with a Johnson & Johnson “sling” device malfunctioning and decaying inside her, working its way through her flesh and attempting to exit her body in a slow and painful tissue-destroying crawl. Yet another family member has a similar device. While hers appears to be working more properly, she also experiences problems. They will both need ongoing medical treatment while living in fear of what the future may hold.

Fear is often the driving force behind massive recalls, but courage is also a common thread, especially in women’s cases. In 1990, a young reporter named Connie Chung interviewed a few brave women who had previously been silenced by the private nature of their defective devices, doctor recommended silicone gel breast implants. Fear wormed its way through the country by way of media exposure, and women began speaking up. Chung’s story unleashed a chorus of complaints from women who had previously been unable to connect the dots.

I started seeing women with defective breast implants inside their bodies’ just days after Chung’s story was aired. Once their voices were heard, our firm, alone, received four favorable jury verdicts.

The one thing almost every single successful product liability verdict has had in common was detailed, convincing documentation. Each complaint, filed one at a time, was eventually used to compile a database, from which patterns began to emerge. Those patterns are nearly always the key to making a case in a defective product case. It only takes one complaint to start the process.

If you only take away one thing from this blog, I hope it is this: if you suspect a product, device, or medication is defective, do not hesitate. File a complaint. Yours could be the missing link that connects the final dot. Your voice could be what encourages a responsible company like Graco to step in, possibly preventing the first injury or death. Your voice could be the one that forces a company in denial to wake up and take action. Or yours could be the voice that comforts someone who had previously felt alone in his or her suffering. But first, you have to speak up.

You will find more about the complaint process in my next blog. It is not that difficult, and it is well worth the effort.

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America’s Defective Products Crisis is Getting Worse

Two months ago I wrote about “America’s defective products crisis,” but new information, as well as products liability developments since my last blog, have made it clear the problem is bigger than I anticipated. In the past two months alone, millions of additional motor vehicles and dozens of other defective products have been recalled for public safety reasons. GM is in survival mode, playing the blame game at Congressional hearings, in Grand Jury proceedings, and in dozens of far-reaching and legally challenging lawsuits.

But while GM pleads for understanding and points fingers, consumers and fellow drivers like you and me are left wondering if it is safe to get back behind the wheel. GM has managed to fix only a couple hundred thousand faulty vehicles, while they and other manufacturers have added millions to the recall list. We consumers are clearly losing the defective motor vehicle battle.

The GM scandal will probably result in another GM bankruptcy. There will be threats of criminal penalties, but they will be just that: threats. Our nation simply doesn’t have a track record for making big businesses accept criminal responsibility, and the current maximum civil penalty of just $35 million is little more than an economic nuisance for a company its size. More likely, the GM ignition switch defect scandal will go down in history as one of the worst examples of a corporate giant getting away with murder for years before again going bankrupt.

It seems Americans have become unwilling, unknowing participants in a series of after market laboratory tests. Rather than paying for proper testing in controlled studies prior to sale, the manufacturers unleash questionable products on consumers, keeping their fingers crossed that no one is injured or sickened or that no damage occurs to personal property. Usually the public only hears about these defects when they make the evening news, at which point quiet settlements are reached. It’s a gamble, and the fact manufacturers are willing to take it says a great deal about how much money is at stake.

We are a nation of smart consumers who know that there is no avoiding an occasional disappointing product. We understand that the products we purchase are going to wear out, break, malfunction, or even just disappoint. But too many are defective from the moment they are sold. What do we do when a supposedly harmless product hurts a user or makes them sick? How bad and numerous do the injuries have to be for the product to be labeled dangerous? And at what point does a recall become imperative? Unfortunately, the answers to these questions are not what we as consumers want to hear. The laws requiring corporations to act reasonably are unwieldy. The under-resourced agencies charged with their interpretation lack the authority to order recalls, except in the most egregious situations. Quite simply, our system for evaluating bad products is broken.

The question, then, is what can consumers do about this crisis? Write to your Congressman or Congresswoman, and demand change. Urge them to vote pro-consumer while setting higher standards for big businesses. The “GROW AMERICA Act” calls for stiffer penalties for the most outrageous, repeat transgressors like GM. Next, demand a system in which manufacturers pay for improved enforcement proceedings and enhanced pre- and post-market regulatory oversight. Then raise your consumer protection expectations: complaints must be simplified, and communication between consumers, companies, and the government must be improved. Finally, demand answers. How could such long-running mismanagement happen? What can your Congressional leader do to ensure that the loopholes that permit such disasters are permanently closed?

Big business and their lobbies want you to believe everything is fine in America’s marketplace, but the facts show otherwise. The combined voices of American consumers can be louder and more powerful. It is time to stop playing politics and stop labeling products liability lawsuits as frivolous. Your safety and health are not frivolous! We need to continue to fight to make companies accountable for the products they unleash on consumers. Demand safe and healthy tested products as well as accountability when products fail, injure, or sicken consumers or damage property. Do not hesitate to report a defect; when enough complaints are reported, patterns emerge that allow officials to connect the dots and take appropriate action. Historically speaking, consumer safety only exists today because of people like you who maintained the highest expectations before the purchase, during a product’s lifetime, and following a product’s defect.

In my next blog: Silent Killers. Unlike automobiles that cause dramatic accident scenes that can be visually investigated, prescription drugs and medical devices are more enigmatic in their defectiveness. Pharmaceutical companies have become experts at manipulating the regulatory system, allowing the continued pedaling of bad drugs and faulty devices. They knowingly and intentionally violate food and drug laws, while smugly holding out their rich, profitable wrists for governmental slaps. New records are established every year for civil penalties these companies pay, and there is no end in sight. It’s a tough pill for consumers to swallow!