For 10 years, there were no jury verdicts of $1 billion or more in cases involving defective products. In 2014, that trend stopped with several verdicts exceeding that total. Some have tied the absence of large verdicts from 2004 to last year to extensive lobbying efforts by "tort reform" groups. Others suggest that the gap was due to the settlement of the major class action lawsuits against the tobacco industry. Whatever the reason, the return of larger jury verdicts has an impact on the makers of consumer goods and the victims of injuries and illnesses caused by product defects.
By June of last year, it became clear that the total number of vehicles recalled in 2014 would be an all-time record. The final tally is in and just shy of 64 million vehicles were recalled for safety defects, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The number of vehicles recalled last year was greater than the sum of 2013, 2012 and 2011 recalls. The massive increase led to calls from NHTSA leadership that more resources and more authority were needed to keep auto makers and the makers of automobile products in line.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children be placed in car seats until at least the age of 5. All children less than 57 inches tall should use a car seat or a booster seat. Having your child secured in the right seat, installed in the correct manner, is not always a simple matter. One study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 72 percent of car and booster seats are misused in a way that increases the chances that the child will die in a car accident. The NHTSA recently released a new tool that could help parents address their car seat concerns.
The chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee has announced his intention to propose new auto safety legislation later this year or early next year. The announcement joined several other proposals intended to combat the problems demonstrated by the General Motors ignition switch failures and subsequent recall. The proposal would overhaul the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act, passed in 2000. The TREAD act was originally passed as part of the response to nearly 300 fatalities linked to defective Firestone tires on Ford SUVs.
Toyota recently announced a second worldwide recall of vehicles with defective airbags. The problem is that the passenger-side airbag has a defective inflator that, if cracked, could allow metal fragments to get into the compartment, potentially causing injuries when the airbag inflates. The defect could also leave the instrument panel with "thermal damage." Toyota said that the company had not been notified of any injuries or deaths linked to the defective airbags.
Much has been said in the last few years about the dangers posed by magnets in toys and other products available to children. As we discussed in a previous post, children have ingested these powerful magnets, which can become connected in the body and cause serious tissue damage. According to federal regulators, various kinds of small magnets have been swallowed by more than 1,000 children, many of whom required major surgery.
As consumers and patients, we rely on product manufacturers and distributors to ensure that products are reasonably safe and properly labeled. Unfortunately, when companies fail in this regard, defective products can have devastating consequences. People who have been affected by a dangerous product need to be aware of their right to hold the responsible party accountable.
Legislators want to know why General Motors declined to fix deadly auto defects that were allowed to go to market for a decade. So far, an ongoing investigation has linked 13 deaths to defective ignition switches in a variety of GM models.
The contaminated syringes that led to more than 750 cases of fungal meningitis and 60 fatalities were produced by a compounding pharmacy. Such pharmacies existed largely outside of the regulatory authority of the Food and Drug Administration. The tragic outbreak and massive recall of the contaminated products caused legislators to seek ways of monitoring these types of drug manufacturers. President Barack Obama signed the Drug Quality and Security Act last Wednesday. The bill is intended to help prevent similar problems from occurring in the future.
For some, receiving a new medical device leads to a vastly improved quality of life. For those who receive defective medical devices, the results can be painful or even fatal. The problems involved with faulty medical devices have long been complicated by the difficulty in identifying which patients received devices that ended up failing. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has released new rules that are intended to make it easier to track defective devices and get in touch with patients who have received potentially dangerous implants.