When companies fail to do the right thing, lawsuits play an important role in holding them to account.
Johnson & Johnson paid $2.5 billion in damages to a group of women who claimed they developed ovarian cancer for using the company’s talcum powder. Stryker Corp. paid $1.425 billion to cover the costs of settling claims it was peddling defective metal hip replacement parts. Hyundai Motor America agreed to a settlement worth up to $1.3 billion to settle a consolidated class of claims that it sold vehicles with defective engines that could catch fire.
These are just three examples of actions in an arena in which corporations are held accountable for causing harm to their customers: product liability lawsuits. These kinds of court cases are the latest category of class-action and multi-district litigation to be added to Good Jobs First’s popular corporate misconduct database, Violation Tracker.
- Get the details of the settlements here.
The database now contains entries covering 120 of the most significant product lawsuits of the past two decades in which corporations paid substantial damages or a monetary settlement to large groups of plaintiffs. The total paid out by the companies in these cases is more than $54 billion.
“Product liability class action and multi-district cases—like similar litigation involving issues such as toxic chemicals, wage theft and privacy violations—are reminders that the courts are an important complement to the regulatory system in addressing corporate misconduct,” said Good Jobs First Research Director Phil Mattera, who leads the work on the database.
Violation Tracker also contains 500,000 cases brought by more than 300 federal, state and local regulatory agencies. The administrative cases and the litigation combined amount to $774 billion in penalties.
Fourteen of the product liability cases involved payouts of $1 billion or more, the largest of which was the $9.6 billion Bayer agreed to pay to resolve tens of thousands of suits alleging that the weedkiller Roundup, produced by its subsidiary Monsanto, causes cancer. Bayer, which produces pharmaceuticals as well as chemicals, was involved in five other cases on the list, bringing its aggregate payout to more than $12 billion, the most for any corporation.
Next in line are Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, each with payout totals of about $5.5 billion for cases involving harm caused by products ranging from diabetes drugs to heartburn medication. These two companies and other pharmaceutical and medical equipment producers account for one-third of the cases on the list and half of the payout total.*
The motor vehicle industry also features prominently, with 32 cases and total payouts of $9 billion. The largest portion of that is linked to Toyota, with $5.3 billion in payouts in cases involving issues such as unintended acceleration, defective airbags and premature corrosion.**
Among the remaining cases are a $1 billion settlement by the German company Knauf involving drywall that emitted noxious odors and a $500 million settlement by Sears Roebuck of allegations that it sold stoves that had a tendency to tip over.
*The giant settlements involving opioid producers and distributors are not included here, since they are treated as matters of illegal marketing rather than defective products—and because those cases are most often brought by state attorneys general rather than as private litigation.
**Volkswagen has actually paid out much more in class action settlements due to its emissions cheating scandal, but Violation Tracker categorizes those as environmental rather than product liability cases.
See how the non-profit consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen analyzed Violation Tracker to find that 111 known U.S. Chamber member corporations have violated state and federal law at least 15,895 times and racked up penalties totaling over $154 billion since 2000.
Read the report here.
Good Jobs First, founded in 1998 and based in Washington, DC, is a non-profit, non-partisan resource center promoting government and corporate accountability. In addition to Violation Tracker, it also maintains Subsidy Tracker, Tax Break Tracker, Amazon Tracker, and Covid Stimulus Watch.