The year 2020 will of course be remembered for the coronavirus pandemic, and the highly divisive upcoming presidential election. Another big story from 2019, which has carried over to this year is the staggering amount of product liability lawsuits.
LexisNexis, a provider of legal and business news, recently revealed its annual updated product liability report. (If you want to order a copy, you can do so here.) Although the findings are for 2019 (after all, we’re only halfway through this year), the report shows the number of product liability cases increased approximately 25% from 2018.
In 2018, there were 43,567 product liability lawsuits. Last year, the number rose to 56,041. The bulk of the lawsuits involved multidistrict litigation (MDL). MDL cases refers to a large number of similar cases being tried at the same time to speed up the process. (And hopefully reach a settlement instead of having to try every single case individually.)
But even without MDL cases, 2019 witnessed the highest number of product liability filings in a decade (2010 marked the report’s initial data findings.)
The dubious winner of the most product liability cases filed against it: Johnson & Johnson, which recently announced it was discontinuing sales of its iconic talc baby powder.
The pharmaceutical and consumer goods giant decided to discontinue sales of its controversial best-selling baby powder in North America, in large part because of punitive damages that juries awarded to talc-powder plaintiffs, who claimed that years of using talc caused their cancer.
According to the report, J & J faced nearly 71,000 lawsuits from 2015-2019. In addition to talc cases (some batches of talcum powder may contain the cancer-causing chemical, asbestos), J & J faced numerous lawsuits over its blood-thinning medication, Xarelto, which caused internal bleeding, wound leakage and infections in thousands of people. In 2019, J & J, along with two other manufacturers of Xarelto, settled for $775 million.
Another titan of industry hit with thousands of lawsuits that made headlines was Bayer AG. In 2018, the German multinational pharmaceutical company acquired Monsanto, maker of Roundup weed killer. Any day now, Bayer AG is expected to formally announce an agreement to settle Roundup cases for $10 billion. Thousands of plaintiffs allege that glyphosate, the main active ingredient in Roundup, has caused various types of cancer.
In addition to talc baby powder, Roundup and Xarelto, the biggest product liability cases involved Volkswagen and Boeing. Volkswagen cases involved the German car maker’s fudging emissions data, while cases against the airplane manufacturer stemmed from faulty design of its 737 Max 8 aircraft. The Max 8 crashes collectively killed 346 people.