Even giants fall. Corporations in the United States seem infallible. They have billions of dollars at their disposal, they employ an army of top lawyers to protect them, and still have a budget to repair their reputation. Suing them for causing harm to you and your loved one, when you are merely a consumer sounds like an impossible task.
However, it has happened before and people have been successful. Despite having experts under their command, as well as huge amounts of money and influence, consumers have won suits against massive corporations.
There are a few reasons why a consumer can sue a corporation, and one of which is the malfunction of a product that may or have caused an injury or death. There have been a few cases where corporations have to face product liabilities in the United States. Here are some of the biggest in history.
GM: a Faulty Ignition Leads to Expensive Settlement
Being involved in a vehicular accident is not just life-threatening. It is also very expensive. The driver loses their car and, if they sustained injuries during the event, they will have to shell out more money for hospital bills, medications, and therapy. If the accident has prevented them from going to work, they might lose months-worth of wages, too. In addition, if they believe that they are not at fault, and they want to demand compensation for damages from the perpetrator, they will need to work with an experienced car accident lawyer to represent them in court.
So, when several models of vehicles from General Motors were found to have faulty ignition switches that automatically turned the engine off and prevented airbags from deploying, people were enraged. The car manufacturer recalled the affected vehicles, but the damage was done. Drivers got into the accident. Many people lost their lives.
As a result, several lawsuits were filed against GM, two of which were class-action lawsuits. In 2017, the car manufacturer settled the cases filed against it for $120 million which will be paid to claimants across dozens of states.
Dow Corning: the Case of Exploding Implants
Women get breast implants for a variety of reasons, all of which are valid. When they do, they expect to suffer from health consequences because of it. Yet, in the ‘90s, numerous women came forward to accuse Dow Corning, a manufacturer of silicone products, of causing a long list of complications, including implant rupture.
In one case, a woman claimed that her ruptured breast implants caused her mixed connective-tissue disease, a rare condition in which the patient experiences a combination of symptoms from multiple disorders such as lupus, scleroderma, and polymyositis. It can cause muscle and joint pain, skin rashes, swollen hands, numb fingers and toes, and increase fatigue.
Thousands of individual lawsuits were later filed against Dow Corning because of the unexpected health consequences of their breast implants. In the end, the company settled and offered to pay $3.2 billion to plaintiffs.
Philip Morris: Smoking is Bad for the Health
Philip Morris, now Altria Group Inc., was once sued by a woman who claimed that she developed lung cancer for smoking cigarettes. She also said that the tobacco brand did not do enough to warn consumers about the serious health risks of cigarette smoking.
In 2001, a jury demanded that Philip Morris pay over $3 billion in punitive damages, the largest every award given to an individual.
Over the years, tobacco companies have been sued over the health risks that come with cigarette smoking. In one class-action lawsuit, the plaintiffs were awarded by a jury with more than $140 billion in compensation.
Johnson & Johnson: Unknowingly Exposed to Asbestos
For years, Johnson & Johnson, and its supplier Imery’s Talc America, faced thousands of lawsuits from plaintiffs who claimed that exposure to the baby powder, which is made of talc, has led to serious health consequences, including different types of cancers.
It was found that the product is tainted with asbestos, a natural mineral and widely-known carcinogen, is often found in proximity with talc in the earth. Cross-contamination, therefore, happens a lot. According to internal memos, Johnson & Johnson knew that the baby powder had traces of asbestos, but kept the information from regulators and consumers.
In 2018, a jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $117 million to a man who has been using the baby powder since they were a child and, later on, developed mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer that affects the tissue that lines body cavities.
Corporations have a responsibility to consumers to ensure that their products are safe. If a product defect causes injuries or death, they can bring the corporation at fault to court and possibly collect damages.