A car swerves out of control without warning, killing the driver and seriously injuring the passenger. A grandfather relying on his implanted defibrillator abruptly collapses from a heart attack. A child playing with a brightly-colored toy is suddenly choking, and suffers irreversible brain damage.
Tragic accidents, we say. Circumstances that happened by chance rather than design, that could not have been foreseen.
Too often, what we call accidents are not a matter of chance, and could have been – should have been – foreseen. Dangerous defects can originate in the design of a best-selling automobile, a grandfather’s defibrillator leads, a child’s harmless-looking toy. Some product defects are built in, the result of manufacturers’ poor quality materials or shoddy workmanship. In still other cases, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers fail to warn consumers about potential dangers and inappropriate product use.
Greedy corporations caught designing, manufacturing, or distributing defective products often have known all along the dangers their products posed. But they are so busy looking at their own bottom line that they don’t even see the men, women, and children whose lives have been lost or ruined. That’s why Congress legislates product safety standards, why federal agencies act to enforce these regulations, why states pass consumer protection laws . . . and why Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley stands up for the rights of victims and families devastated by defective products.
Unfortunately, defective design and manufacturing are far too common, resulting in countless injuries and deaths to consumers each year. The list of potentially defective products runs the gamut from A to Z, from asbestos and baby bouncers to pharmaceuticals such as Yaz and Zyprexa. Some of these products make national headlines, but others go relatively unnoticed until the tally of deaths or a widely-publicized jury verdict catches public attention.
Forewarned is forearmed. Here are some product defects that can threaten your health or safety.
One of the most common and most lethal consumer risks is posed by defective design and manufacture of automobiles and other motor vehicles.
- In its 2009 Traffic Safety Facts annual report, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notes that SUVs accounted for almost a third (32.8%) of rollover crash fatalities. Yet, despite passage of federal roof crush standards and ongoing safety advocacy by consumer groups, big auto companies continue to market SUVs with design and manufacturing defects that can kill.
- Beginning in early 2010, more than eight million Toyotas were recalled because of sudden acceleration problems with gas pedals. A 10-month NHTSA investigation completed in February 2011 traced the problem to two mechanical safety defects: sticking accelerator pedals, and a design flaw that trapped accelerator pedals in the floor mats. Toyota has paid $48.8 million in civil penalties, but it remains unknown how many drivers and passengers were killed or injured.
Perilous product defects are commonly found, as well, in pharmaceuticals and medical devices.
- Painkillers appear all too often on the FDA’s recall lists, as shoddy and sometimes downright deceptive research influences the agency’s approval process. Vioxx, for example, once marketed as the “silver bullet” for arthritis pain, was reluctantly withdrawn by maker Merck because of mounting evidence that the drug was causing heart attacks. The long list of hazardous pharmaceuticals also includes hormone replacement drugs, birth control pills, and medication such as Digitek digoxin, prescribed to treat heart failure.
- Potentially dangerous medical devices include several commonly used during surgical procedures. For example, pain pumps employed to deliver pain relief directly into joints during shoulder or other joint surgery have been found to lead to cartilage destruction. Fentanyl pain patches, ostensibly designed to deliver pain medication gradually, can lead to overdose. And cracked or broken Medtronic leads implanted to connect defibrillators to the heart can fail to pace the heart appropriately or produce dangerous shocks.
Still other defective products include toys and baby products that cause tragic death or injury to infants and children. Many of these defective products are manufactured in foreign countries, where American corporations bypass health and safety measures in the name of profit.
- Major toy manufacturers, including big brand names like Fischer Price and Mattel, have been subject to recall and negative media exposure because of life-threatening dangers such as lead content in their toys. Other toy hazards unmasked by the Consumer Product Safety Commission include fire hazards, risk of choking due to too-small or breakable parts, and poisonous paint. Just two examples: During the 2010 holiday season, recalls included Kindermusik Zoom Buggy cars with wheels that detached to become choking hazards, and toy military figures decorated with toxic lead paint.
- Cribs, strollers, car seats and other products made to keep children safe have proven, instead, to invite harm. Common design defects in cribs create space where a baby can become wedged in and suffocate, and drop sides that can come down unexpectedly on infants. A recent recall of name-brand strollers cited unexpected collapsing that had seriously injured children’s hands and fingers.
- In February 2011, the CPSC recalled a staggering 1.7 million video baby monitors manufactured in China by Summer Infant, Inc., a Rhode Island company. When placed too close to a cradle or crib, electrical cords to the monitors proved a choking hazard to children, and were responsible for at least two infant deaths.
Charged with enforcing safety standards, federal watchdog agencies have the power to recall defective products.
While individual states have their own consumer protection laws, such as “lemon laws” related to automobile defects, a handful of federal agencies are charged with promulgating regulations and enforcing federal health and safety legislation. Here are agencies whose job is to protect consumers from defective products:
CPSC upholds mandatory government safety standards related to products for children (such as strollers, cribs, etc.), toys, household goods, outdoor products, sports and recreation products, and others.
Potentially dangerous products under the EPA’s jurisdiction include pesticides, rodenticides, and fungacides.
The FDA is charged with researching, approving, and regulating foods, drugs, cosmetics, radiation, medical devices, and veterinary medications.
The NHTSA, under the US Department of Transportation, conducts research, writes regulations, and educates the public on issues related to motor vehicles – including buses, cars, motorcycles and trucks – and the performance of motor vehicle equipment.
The US Coast Guard handles regulations and enforcement related to boats and boating equipment such as life vests.
But for innocent victims of accidents caused by product defects, consumer protection efforts are too little, too late.
Government agencies charged with enforcing federal safety legislation do not always act aggressively to remove defective products from the market. The NHTSA has been accused of dragging its feet during the Bush Administration, but current Secretary Ray LaHood is proving more proactive. For example, proposals advanced in the wake of the Toyota recall investigation include requiring brake override systems, standardizing operation of keyless ignition systems, and installing event data recorders in all passenger vehicles.
The US Food and Drug Administration has been under attack for relying on research conducted by the very pharmaceutical companies they regulate, basing their decisions on insufficient research, and being quick to approve but slow to remove potentially lethal products from the market. Yet government officials continue to turn a blind eye. For example, a bill setting stricter standards for medical devices was introduced into Congress in 2008 and again in 2009. But the Medical Device Safety Act remained on the back burner, languishing in committee where many bills die without ever being voted on in the House and Senate.
If a loved one is killed or you are injured in an accident caused by a product defect, you may be able to hold the manufacturer, retailer, or distributor liable through the civil justice system.
Attorneys at Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley have more than 40 years experience with product liability cases, representing victims of accidents caused by automobile design defects, faulty medical devices, and defective household products.
If you would like to discuss the potential merit of your case with an attorney at Searcy Denney, fill out the Contact Form or call us at 800-780-8607 and a staff member will phone you to schedule a free initial consultation.