The New York Times reports that, as early as the fall of 1999, SmithKline Beecham, maker of a popular diabetes medicine called “Avandia”, found out, through studies it conducted, that the drug posed significantly greater cardiac risks than other leading diabetes medicines. So what did they do about it? Let’s see how smart you are with this multiple choice test: Did SmithKline Beecham: (a) stop production of Avandia; (b) call the FDA and informed them; (c) do more studies to make sure; or (d) bury the study, tell no one, and continue to churn out huge profits on the sale of the dangerous medicine.
If you guessed “d”, you get a gold star, not only for getting the right answer, but for understanding how corporate America, with its single-minded profit-lust, works.
The risks to the heart from Avandia did not become public knowledge until eight years later, in May 2007, when the company was forced by a lawsuit to make public its data. During those eight years, the company did some other studies, but not on the drug itself. Rather, they studied how much money they stood to lose should the truth about Avandia become public knowledge. Those studies, which projected lost profits of more than $600 million, spurred the company to undertake a massive cover-up of the drug test results, and thus to put thousands of diabetics (whose health is already at risk) at even greater risk of early death or serious health deterioration.
My experience as a New York product liability and defective consumer goods lawyer has taught me that hiding the results of negative studies, and the dangers of consumer goods generally, is not only widespread in the drug industry, but in every industry across the board. I have said it before and I will say it again: We the people have only two weapons at our disposal for curbing big business’ appetite for building castles of wealth on the corpses of our citizens: (1) tight federal regulation and (2) tort lawsuits.
As for number (1), government regulation, when vigorously enforced and fairly applied, is the people’s watchdog. It is our way of looking over the shoulder of the producers of potentially life-saving products to make sure they are not producing life-threatening ones.
As for number (2), that’s what I, and my fellow New York product liability lawyers, are here for: Good product liability lawsuits are, arguably, even more effective than government regulation at preventing dangerous products from reaching the store shelves. Product liability lawsuits force corporations and manufacturers to factor into their profit equations the high cost, (i.e., a slew of big-verdict lawsuits) of producing dangerous products. It gives them pause — not always enough pause, but some at least, — before they embark down that road of putting safety last, instead of first, where it belongs.