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.