Nothing is more tragic than losing a family member; except possibly finding out that it could have been prevented but someone CHOSE to let it happen. What if you learned that there was a company responsible for your child or parent’s death and that it had decided against spending $11 to prevent the tragedy? That’s what happened with the infamous Ford Pinto scandal but it’s happening today on a much larger scale and on a much more secretive basis.
In addition to being on television, I practice law; primarily in cases involving corporate greed resulting in serious injuries. The cases I see and the lessons I’ve learned would keep you and your family up at night.
In the 1970’s, Ford produced the Pinto automobile as a breakthrough of the “2,000 barrier” in purchase cost and gas efficiency. It weighed less than 2,000 pounds (gas efficiency) and cost under $2,000. To get the weight below 2,000, Ford sacrificed on construction, including replacing the traditional bumper with what amounted to a decorative one. Offering little if any protection, it was soon discovered that a rear end collision, even at a low rate of speed, could rupture the gas tank and spew gasoline into the passenger compartment, underneath the vehicle, or cause the car to explode on impact. Moreover, because of changes made to the frame in order to reduce the weight, the car doors could become jammed in the collision, turning the car into a “deathtrap” in which the passengers were burned alive.
Disgustingly, Ford knew all about this and yet it went forward with the sale of the unmodified Pinto and later, as burning deaths started to mount, didn’t recall the vehicles. An internal memo surfaced which revealed that because of the large numbers of Pintos sold and which would have to be recalled, the company estimated that the cost of making the necessary corrections to protect their customers and their passengers would be approximately $137 million. However, they calculated that if they allowed the cars to remain on the road in their dangerous condition they could settle all of the expected lawsuits, from burn victims who survived and next of kin of all who didn’t, for only $49 million; a savings of nearly $90 million if you don’t consider the tragic loss of lives. After all, only a certain percentage of the cars would be involved in accidents, only a certain percentage would be rear end collisions, only a certain percentage would result in a ruptured or exploding gas tank and only a certain percentage would involve death or serious bodily injury, and only a certain percentage would win at trial. So why fix ALL the cars, right? As a result, after this simple cost/benefit analysis, the defective vehicles were allowed to remain on the road.
That’s right. Families were incinerated in their cars because it saved Ford about $11 per car (and that’s Ford’s estimate; other expert estimates were as low as $1 per car). That should tell you all you need to know about how large corporations think. It’s all about the bottom line. Naturally, when this came to light there was a public uproar and Ford paid heavily, in lawsuits and reputation. It’s unlikely that people will ever forget the horrific callousness that is the “Ford Pinto Case.”
But while PEOPLE may never forget, corporations seem to have a much shorter memory. Last year we learned that some models of General Motors vehicles from 2003 to 2011, including Chevy’s, Pontiac’s and Saturn’s, had a defective ignition switch that could cause the car to turn off while driving—resulting in loss of power steering, power brakes and airbags. Imagine losing power suddenly on the expressway or on a winding road. Predictably, people were seriously injured and killed in the accidents that followed. More predictably for those of us who know corporate greed, GM knew about the defect and the dangerous condition it created for OVER A DECADE before it was discovered by an attorney representing an injured party. For more than 10 years they allowed people to be involved in possibly fatal accidents to save the cost of recalling and fixing the ignition switch; a replacement part estimated to cost .57 cents per vehicle. That’s right. Fifty seven cents.
But lest you believe that the auto business is the only money hungry, soulless industry out there, in walk the pharmaceuticals.
You can’t turn on the TV for any period of time without being bombarded with ads designed to influence you to ask your doctor for Lipitor, , Xarelto, Zofran, or any other number of prescription drugs. And it is a VERY effective strategy. Back in 1986, one of the first drugs to advertise direct to consumers was Seldane, an allergy medication, and it saw its sales skyrocket from $34 million a year to over $800 million. Drug manufacturers were hooked.
Were this simply an issue of “Big Pharma” trying to get through to doctors by using their patients as a “back door,” it wouldn’t be much of an issue. Doctors are still responsible for knowing whether the drug requested is appropriate for the condition being treated.
But in their quest to increase their profits as much as possible, manufacturers often rush their drugs to market, overlooking signs that their medication has dangerous or often fatal side effects. Could they have known? Should they have known? Were they putting profits ahead of patients by exposing them to unnecessary risks? These are all questions that eventually get answered in court.
But what about the companies that know their products are dangerous and keep encouraging you and your family to take them? Take the drug Xarelto, a blood thinner. The manufacturer of Xarelto realized there was a market for customers who didn’t want to constantly monitor their blood through routine blood tests, a requirement when on Warfarin or Coumadin, to properly prevent blood clots and to avoid the blood becoming too thin. In order to acquire those customers, the manufacturer developed Xarelto and put out commercials promising consumers that you can just take it and “go on with your life.” No blood monitoring necessary. The problem is it’s not true. You have the same risks if you don’t monitor your blood with Xarelto as you did with Warfarin or Coumadin. In fact, Xarelto is even worse: if your blood gets too thin, there is no “antidote” to stop bleeding. So if you fall and start bleeding, get in a car accident, or cut yourself, with Warfarin or Coumadin you are given Vitamin K to stop the bleeding. With Xarelto, there’s not much that can be done to keep you from bleeding to death.
Then there’s Lipitor, a very popular and heavily advertised drug used to lower cholesterol. Lipitor belongs to a class of drugs called statins and it is widely prescribed. In fact, Lipitor was the top-selling prescription drug in 2011 and remains the best-selling prescription drug of all time. More than 29 million people in the U.S. have been prescribed the pill. But while the manufacturer was racking up sales, many older women taking Lipitor were being diagnosed with debilitating Type II diabetes. Despite the fact that clinical studies for many years had shown an increased risk of diabetes for patients taking Lipitor, the manufacturer failed to warn U.S. doctors or the public of the connection between Lipitor and diabetes, although it had done so years before in other countries.
Drug manufacturers have been sued by hundreds of thousands of victims because they have been seriously injured or their family members were killed by their drugs, and yet the manufacturers keep advertising them on television, sometimes right alongside commercials from lawyers warning of the dangers of the same drugs. And this happens over and over again with different drugs.
So why would they keep advertising and selling a drug when they are paying millions and millions of dollars to the injured victims who took their drugs? And here is where the Ford Pinto rears its ugly head. In 2013 alone, Xarelto’s global sales totaled about $2.1 BILLION. That’s just in one year! It is expected to peak at around $3.5 billion per year. Settling all their lawsuits for even $1 billion dollars still leaves them a massive profit. If Ford was willing to let people suffer horrible deaths to save $90 million, what do you think a greedy corporation will do for a recurring yearly profit of $2 or 3 billion? And most people wouldn’t know to investigate or have an attorney look into whether their parent’s hemorrhagic stroke was caused by their medication. They would just say “my mother died of a stroke” and be none the wiser; something the pharmaceutical companies are counting on.
It’s the same cost/benefit analysis that incinerated families in the Pinto except that instead of being burned alive, friends and family die from internal bleeding (Xarelto blood thinner), stroke or heart attack (testosterone therapy Androgel, Axiron, Androderm), or their baby is born with a heart defect or cleft palate because the mother was prescribed Zofran, an anti-nausea drug intended for the extreme and severe nausea of chemotherapy but which was, in an effort to increase profits, also marketed to expectant mothers for treatment of morning sickness, resulting in babies with birth defects.
But the profits keep climbing so the ads go on.
If you find this post to be of interest or have any questions, follow me on Twitter at @JudgeAlexFerrer where I routinely discuss legal topics with followers.