One of my previous blogs mentioned that medical device makers could learn something from frozen food manufacturers who seem more concerned about customer safety than about company brand and damage control. I suggested that two ice cream makers caught up in a Listeria crisis last year exhibited more compassion and common sense than most medical device makers when it came time to pull bad products from store shelves.
Two makers of ice cream and frozen yogurt products issued voluntary recalls of ALL their frozen treats this week amid fears of potential listeria contamination. This has provided a glimpse into the way two different frozen food companies have contemporaneously handled similar product safety crises, and it also offers a chance to highlight how irresponsibly and unprofessionally some medical device companies handle their own product safety disasters. There will undoubtedly be some who will criticize the frozen treat companies for being too slow or not responsive enough to their respective crises, but even those critics would have to agree that medical device companies could learn from following the frozen treat companies’ recall strategies.
When trying to decide on the latest gadget or novelty, it is easy to become overwhelmed with the massive amounts of information (and misinformation) readily available at the click of a mouse. And while buying has become a type of instantaneous gratification, so has the disappointment of learning that your latest purchase may have also been your latest mistake! We are high tech, speed-driven, information-rich, go-getters with in-boxes full of very important distractions and very little time to allow ourselves to become distracted. So stopping everything to find your receipt and complete a complaint form is the last thing on your mind.
My last blog urged consumers to speak up about defective products. Consumers are the ones with the most information, but when faced with the task of actually filing a report, some are understandably hesitant. It’s the same kind of reluctance that keeps many well-minded citizens from voting: “Why bother? My opinion will never make a difference anyway!” But the truth is you can make a difference.
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.
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.
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.
There is a defective products crisis in America today. There are defective products all around us and new ones are constantly entering the marketplace. This crisis is evident in many places with many different kinds of products. There are defective products in our homes, workplaces, hospitals, schools, medical clinics, and on the roads we drive.
For example, there are well over two million General Motors Cobalt motor vehicles with defective ignition switches on our roads today. This defect has already killed at least 13 people. Any one of these estimated 2.6 million motor vehicles could cause an accident today, exposing the driver and everyone nearby to a moving vehicle with no power brakes, power steering, or airbags. General Motors is slowly recalling them for repairs while refusing to issue a public safety “do not drive” or “park it now” recommendation to the motoring public. GM is trying to dodge liability in bankruptcy court, which is undoubtedly the first of many legal defenses it will eventually assert.