The Worst of the Worst: Corporate Misconduct in 2017

The early months of the year are often a time when people implement steps to improve upon mistakes made in the past. While this can be an important exercise for individuals, it is also critical in the field of law and politics – as changes to old policies or certain conduct can improve the lives of all Americans. That’s precisely what the American Association for Justice (AAJ) has done with the release of their annual report.

In the AAJ’s report, which you can view in full here, the world’s largest trial bar organization details what it refers to as the Worst Corporate Conduct of 2017. The nine events and issues included in the report received extensive coverage over the past year, and speak to the troublesome continuity of corporations prioritizing profits over people. While different, these issues commonly impacted public safety, civil justice, and the rights of American consumers.

Some of the most noteworthy examples of the past year’s worst corporate conduct as identified by the report include:

  • Monsanto’s Ghostwriting of Scientific Studies – Monsanto, which was recently sued by the state of Ohio in connection to concealing dangers associated with harmful PCBs for decades, make the list in 2017 for ghostwriting scientific studies that ultimately mislead government regulators from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine that the chemical glyphosate (used in Roundup weed killer) was not carcinogenic. Emails between company executives, however, showed the company knew of its dangers and ghostwrote studies to misinform and mislead the public and the government. International researchers from the World Health Organization determined that glyphosate was indeed a probable cancer-causing chemical in 2015.
  • Rollback of CFPB Rule on Forced Arbitration – As we have discussed in a previous blog post, big banks and financial institutions scored a win when they successfully pushed for the repeal of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rule that banned banks, lenders, and other financial services from including clauses requiring arbitration in consumer contracts. Mandatory arbitration has been called out as a significant blow to consumer rights, as it unfairly tips the scales in favor of corporations, keeps patterns of misconduct out of the public eye, and creates distinct disadvantages for consumers to form class action litigation, secure justice, and obtain financial relief when they are mistreated. Forced arbitration has also been a significant issue in relation to nursing homes, especially in cases where residents voice grievances or seek justice following nursing home abuse.
  • Johnson & Johnson’s Dangerous Products – Johnson & Johnson, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical and health care product corporations, faced thousands of lawsuits in 2017 over dangerous products. This includes claims over dangerous drugs like Xarelto and Risperdal, as well as claims involving defective pelvic mesh, the DePuy artificial hip replacement, and talcum powder. Among other claims, these lawsuits allege Johnson & Johnson manufactured unsafe drugs and products that harmed and killed numerous consumers across the country.
  • Takata’s Defective Airbags & Cover-Up – Japanese auto parts manufacturer Takata has faced civil and criminal liability stemming from defective airbags that can implode with too much force and send metal shrapnel at vehicle occupants. After years of cover-ups, Takata finally admitted in 2017 that its airbags contained deadly defects – defects that have been linked to at least 19 deaths and numerous injuries. Unfortunately, the scope of the issue means that it may be years before all defective airbags are replaced. Takata has also faced scrutiny over possible defects with replacement airbags.
  • Drug Manufacturers Profiting from Opioid Crisis – 2017 saw America’s long-running opioid crisis become a national public health emergency, with roughly 90 Americans dying from opioid overdose every day. With prescriptions for painkiller medications nearly quadrupling since 1999, advocates have pointed to the unsavory practices of pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors (including aggressive marketing and doctor gifts) as one of the most concerning problems behind the crisis and what has now become a $13 billion / year industry. This includes market-leader McKesson Corporation making billions of dollars at the expense of real human lives. In the past year, however, more local jurisdictions and states, including Ohio, have fired back against the industry with federal lawsuits.

These are only a few examples of corporate misconduct in the past year. Aside from other issues identified in the report (including Equifax profiting from its massive data breach and Fox News paying millions of dollars to settle sexual harassment claims) corporate misconduct, lobbying, and profit-driven motives continue to threaten public health, civil rights, and the American civil justice system. By raising awareness about these issues, AAJ hopes to illustrate the importance of being involved in the democratic process, and why increased advocacy efforts are the only way to fight back.

At Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLP, our Ohio-based civil trial lawyers are often on the front lines of these issues – representing consumers and victims who have been harmed by corporate greed and misconduct. We understand the value of informing the public to issues that can and should be changed, and are committed to not only providing a voice to clients when they need it most, but also ensuring they can maintain the right to do make their voices heard despite corporations that want to strip away that power to shield themselves.


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