Each year, it seems that certain products make headlines – but for the wrong reasons. Last holiday season, trendy hoverboards caught fire in mall kiosks and family homes, endangering children. And this year, Samsung recalled its Galaxy Note 7s and halted the manufacture of them for exploding in cars, homes, even in airplane cabins. The problem in the hoverboards and smartphones traced back to their lithium-ion batteries.
These are just the latest examples of product liability snafus – they’re hardly unprecedented. We’re counting down the most famous product liability cases in recent history.
Philip Morris Tobacco Products
A woman from Missouri sued the tobacco behemoth in 2002, saying it was responsible for her lung cancer. In her lawsuit, she claimed her tobacco addiction was Phillip Morris’ fault because it failed to warn her of the risks associated with smoking. A judge ordered the company to pay $28 billion in punitive damages and an additional $850,000 in compensatory damages. The tobacco firm appealed the case and eventually settled for $28 million.
Takata Airbag Recall
We’re currently in one of the largest-scale airbag recalls in history. The National Traffic Highway Safety Administration estimates that more than 100 million airbags have been affected by a faulty propellant canister that can explode through an airbag upon impact, sending fiery shrapnel at passengers. Covering more than 14 manufacturers, the Takata airbags are linked to 150 injuries and 11 deaths, and a class action suit is pending. Given the fact there is some evidence the airbag giant withheld information, we could see punitive damages.
Owen’s Corning Asbestos Materials
Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate that, with prolonged exposure, can lead to a lung cancer called mesothelioma. In December 1998, building company Owen’s Corning was ordered to pay $1.2 billion in damages associated with 176,000 cases of mesothelioma and death, because of asbestos in its building materials.
The fast food giant made national headlines when a woman, Stella Liebeck, spilled coffee on herself and suffered third-degree burns on her thighs and groin. In the suit, Liebeck’s lawyers argued that most food chains served coffee at a reasonable 140 degrees, while McDonalds kept its at a scalding 180 to 190. A jury ultimately awarded Liebeck $2.7 million in punitive damages and an additional $160,000 for medical expenses.
Dow Corning’s Silicone Implants
A joint venture between Dow Chemical and Corning Inc. went awry when its silicone breast implants reportedly ruptured in patients, causing injury, scleroderma, and death. The companies settled for $2 billion in a class action suit.
For the uninitiated, Ledraplastic makes balancing balls. In 2009, a player with the Sacramento Kings, Francisco Garcia, was balancing on one with weights when it ruptured, fracturing his right forearm. The Kings franchise and Garcia filed a product liability suit for $4 million in lost salaries and an additional $26 million in damages, which they eventually won.
If there’s a quality we want in our guns, it’s that they fire when we want them to … and don’t fire when we don’t. Certain models of Remington rifles had a faulty firing control system, so they fired even when hunters didn’t pull the trigger. A Texas man carrying one of these rifles was shot in the foot in 1994, eventually leading to an award of $15 million.
Product liability cases can be famous for many reasons – because of the amount of the settlement, the scale of the suit, or simply the ludicrous nature of an accident. Manufacturers have an obligation to sell consumers safe products, and when they don’t, they may find themselves in the red.