5 Public Health Lawsuits That Shaped the Way We Protect Health

Did you know that preventable causes lead to several thousands of deaths in the US each year?

The CDC believes that smoking itself is to blame for over 480,000 deaths each year. This number also accounts for 40,000 deaths due to second-hand smoke exposure. Smoking kills about 1300 people every day and is responsible for about one in five deaths in the US each year.

As for drinking, over 176,000 people die from excessive alcohol consumption each year. Whereas, when it comes to drug overdoses, since 2021, over 100,000 people have lost their lives per year. Public health lawsuits highlight these issues, as they play a critical role in defending your right to a healthy environment.

These lawsuits shine a light on dangerous practices and hold powerful corporations accountable. Thus, leading to changes that protect us all. This article explores five significant public health lawsuits that have shaped how we protect our health.

Tobacco Litigation: A Watershed Moment

In the 1990s, major tobacco companies faced landmark lawsuits that exposed their deceptive marketing practices and the adverse health effects of smoking.

These cases revealed how the industry concealed evidence for over 50 years about the addictive nature of nicotine and the link between smoking and various diseases. The multibillion-dollar settlements that followed led to the establishment of tobacco control programs and increased public awareness about smoking-related risks.

The Master Settlement Agreement in 1998 resulted in billions of dollars paid by tobacco companies, along with bans on certain advertising and funding earmarked for anti-smoking efforts. Major tobacco companies ceded to forty-six US states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories. This led to one of the biggest consumer litigation settlements in the country’s history.

This landmark case shifted public awareness of the tobacco industry’s harmful practices.

Asbestos Exposure: Holding Industries Accountable

Asbestos, a natural mineral, was once commonplace in construction and manufacturing due to its insulating and fire-resistant nature. However, asbestos fiber exposure has been known to cause major health concerns, including mesothelioma and pulmonary cancer.

Key legal cases brought against asbestos companies exposed their knowledge of the risks and their failure to protect workers and the public. These cases led to stricter asbestos regulations, more effective occupational safety protocols, and compensation for victims.

AFFF Lawsuits: Contamination and Health Concerns 

Aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) were extensively used in firefighting and military applications due to their effectiveness in suppressing liquid fuel fires. 

However, these foams contained per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which have been associated with various health concerns. Studies have linked PFAS exposure to various health issues, including cancer, thyroid disorders, reproductive problems, and immune system deficiencies.

Following these studies, the individuals affected by AFFF exposure filed lawsuits, seeking compensation for their health issues. AFFF lawsuit settlement amounts have been substantial in some cases, providing financial relief to those impacted by PFAS contamination.

However, according to TruLaw, some individual cases are still ongoing, with the plaintiffs hoping for fair but similar compensation.

Opioid Litigation: Battling the Epidemic

The opioid epidemic has ravaged communities across the United States. And, pharmaceutical companies played a key role in downplaying the addictive nature of the drugs.

States, cities, and individuals have filed lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors, holding them accountable for their deceptive marketing practices and failure to monitor suspicious orders. These cases have led to policy changes related to opioid prescriptions, increased funding for addiction treatment programs, and financial penalties for companies found responsible.

Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder: A Controversial Case

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) faced numerous lawsuits alleging that their talc-based baby powder products contained asbestos, a known carcinogen. These lawsuits claimed that prolonged use of the company’s talcum powder products led to ovarian cancer and other health issues in women.  

The landmark verdicts sent shockwaves through the industry and forced Johnson & Johnson to stop selling its talc-based products in the United States. As of January 2024, J&J had agreed to a tentative settlement worth $700 million, following an investigation involving Washington, DC, and 42 other states. Moreover, this amount does not involve the tens of thousands of consumer lawsuits that are supposed to go to trial this year. For these claims, J&J set aside an extra $400 million just last year.

This case underscored how even seemingly familiar products might harbor hidden risks. While the company denies the allegations and continues to market the products as safe, the lawsuits have raised concerns about the potential health risks associated with talc-based powders and the need for greater transparency from manufacturers. 

In conclusion, public health lawsuits have been instrumental in driving positive change and holding negligent parties accountable. 

The public health lawsuits mentioned here highlight the power of seeking justice. They remind us that industries must be accountable for the safety of their products. While the fight for a healthier world continues, staying informed about potential risks is crucial. 

By advocating for transparency and supporting legislation that protects public health, you can play a role in making a difference.