No matter what the carping critics may claim about the shortcomings of the civil justice system, when Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, and big organizations exploit and harm the vulnerable, lawsuits and what follows may provide a concrete, productive way for the wronged to see remedy and recompense for injuries inflicted on them.
Recent news articles provide more than a billion bits of evidence why, even in terse summaries of what has occurred in big, complex cases:
- The Boy Scouts, for example, have agreed to an $850 million settlement to try to resolve thousands of suits seeking to hold the venerable youth organization responsible for failing to police its ranks to remove sexual predators and prevent the sexual abuse of minors. Lawyers connected with the cases say the agreements they have struck may result in one of the highest payouts in U.S. legal history for sexual abuse claims involving children — and it opens the way to further payouts from insurers that will only add to the whopping costs of the Scouts’ decades of ignoring or trying to cover up grownups’ gross and unacceptable misbehavior. The settlement offers a painful reminder of how many colleges and universities, as well as the Catholic Church have been ripped by costly, terrible scandals involving sexual abuse of the young.
- Juul, the maker and promoter of novel vaping devices, aka one of the most notorious of the so-called e-cigarettes, has agreed to a $40-million settlement of a North Carolina lawsuit. That action accused the San Francisco-headquartered company of targeting young people with aggressive marketing campaigns for a highly addictive and health-damaging product. The company raced to settle the Tarheel State case, even as it faces similar suits by dozens of states and thousands of consumers and other claimants. The wave of legal actions against the company has stoked its fears that the federal Food and Drug Administration will crack down or even shut down the firm’s products, which Juul tweaked to deliver a wallop of addictive nicotine. With social media campaigns featuring glossy imagery of vaping, Juul made its products, briefly, a runaway hit with the young. Federal regulators struggled to prevent a generation of kids from getting hooked on habits that also hospitalized dozens of young people with severe respiratory ills after they turned to less costly, more powerful, but also likely tainted street vaping products.
- Johnson and Johnson agreed to a $240 million settlement with New York state over claims that the famed, family-friendly pharmaceutical giant helped fuel the opioid abuse and drug overdose crisis that has killed an estimated 500,000 Americans in a decade. The opioid menace has only worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. J&J insisted that it has done nothing wrong, and it has denied having a significant role or legal responsibility for the explosion of debilitation and death that has been a signature part of the opioid crisis. The company and other pharma giants are trying to shake free of thousands of lawsuits, just by state and local governments and Indian tribes. The cases all have been consolidated for consideration by a federal judge in Cleveland, Ohio. Big Pharma firms also have pledged billions of dollars to try to resolve opioid suits. A key feature of the New York settlement was J&J’s concession that it will abandon the opioid business.
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also:
It is unacceptable that terrible situations were allowed to explode and drag on to the detriment of large groups of people — whether they were children sexually abused for decades in the Scouts, teens and youths commercially exploited for months by risky vaping products, and, of course, the horrors of the opioid crisis that still are insufficiently addressed.
Listen to doctors, hospitals, and big corporations and organizations — whether Big Pharma, Big Tobacco, or nationwide groups like the Scouts — and the complaints may flow about their annoyance with civil suits. But where are the politicians, regulators, and even prosecutors and law enforcement when conduct with grave consequences is occurring, it is widely public — and not enough is getting done to stop it?
With vaping and the opioid crisis, a fuller accounting is in order about the ineffectual oversight by the federal Food and Drug Administration and other U.S., state, and local regulators. Some officials deserve praise, but the record says too many parties slumbered when they should have been aggressive watchdogs.
Even now, questions are rising about FDA procedures to ensure the safety, effectiveness, and affordability of prescription drugs. Members of Congress and medical experts have frustrated and angry issues most recently with the accelerated approval granted to a costly drug targeted at Alzheimer’s patients — without persuasive evidence of its effectiveness and certainly not for its wide use and sky-high cost, which potentially will be a giant burden for taxpayers. News reports say that the drug’s maker had early and unusual support from a ranking FDA regulator for their product. Really? Why?
We have much work to do to safeguard all of us from harmful drugs and other products and to step up to ensure our kids are not sexually abused at school or in social activities that we consider such an important part of growing up well in this country.