Personal Injury Lawyers: Ambulance Chasers or Crusaders for the Public Good

Though personal injury and accident lawyers take their fair share of heat with regard to what motivates and inspires their work, personal injury lawyers perform many services that are crucial for everyday Americans to be protected against those who would do them harm. And when manufacturers knowingly distribute flawed or otherwise inappropriate products in the marketplace, a valuable tool personal injury lawyers may use to seek justiceon behalf of those who have been injured is the class action lawsuit.

The Purpose of a Class Action Lawsuit

A class action lawsuit allows a group of people to sue when an individual lawsuit would be too small to pursue. For example, let’s say that a person purchased treats for their dog. Let’s say the dog became ill from those treats and died. Though that represents a small financial loss, it is still a genuine loss. After some time, similar stories emerge that the same thing has happened to other dogs that ingested the same treats. It becomes apparent that the manufacturer did something wrong when making or distributing those treats. However, if the person’s financial loss only amounted to $300 of veterinary care, then it isn’t financially feasible to hire attorneys to do the investigative and legal prep work involved to recover such a small amount. However, if 20,000 people and their dogs across the country have suffered the same outcome, then the exponential loss represents a much greater number, and the claims that aren’t worth litigating separately may be aggregated into a much larger claim. Though critics claim that class action lawsuits are fertile ground for unscrupulous attorneys to seek large amounts of money for cases of questionable merit, in reality, a class action lawsuit provides a way for those with small but legitimate claims to have some recourse against those companies and entities that are too large to take on by a “little guy.” Class action lawsuits also serve the greater good in that they sound an alarm to others, ultimately protecting them from harm they might otherwise be unaware of. This awareness not only serves as a deterrent, but often also forces needed change.

Johnson & Johnson Loses Lawsuit Surrounding Risperdal Use in the Elderly

A recent class action lawsuit against pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) was settled with the company agreeing to resolve criminal and civil actions with regard to the marketing of a drug called Risperdal—one of the company’s biggest moneymakers. The agreement involved more than $2 billion—one of the largest health-fraud penalties ever seen in the U.S. As details emerged about the Risperdal case, it became ever more apparent that the punishment was necessary and just, as the fraudulent marketing promoted use of the drug in elderly patients suffering from dementia. Consider that scenario for a moment:Elderly patients who suffer from dementia are medicated with Risperdal, often in nursing homes, where exacerbation of dementia is likely to go undetected due to the nature of worsening dementia itself. Add to that the fact that elderly patients are nearing the end of their lives, and you have a very vulnerable population with little, if any, advocacy. The brazen nature of the company’s willingness to take advantage of this group of people surely contributed to the vigorous judgment against them.

Whistleblowers Crucial to Exposing J&J Tactics

A former Janssen sales representative and a former pharmacist were instrumental in exposing the company’s marketing directives and the kickbacks to physicians and to OmniCare, the largest pharmacy supplier to America’s nursing homes. According to these insiders, J&J’s marketing effort was so finely tuned that a special sales force was created to promote Risperdal specifically to physicians and nursing homes via OmniCare. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that the campaign was “false, misleading, and/or lacking in fair balance.” The campaign, named “Hostile Outside,Fragile Inside,” implied that Risperdal had been found to be safe and effective in treating combative tendencies among elderly patients who suffered from dementia, but the government filings indicate that no such studies or clinical trials had been conducted, which resulted in a criminal charge against J&J’s Janssen unit for misbranding the drug for uses not approved by the FDA. Janssen will pay a fine in the amount of $334 million and forfeit $66 million for the deception.

J&J’s Tarnished Name

Once a well-loved and trusted American brand, J&J has suffered a loud and visible fall from grace as the result of being untruthful about Risperdal.The judgment issued by the U.S. on behalf of patients and families who have endured life-shattering effects of this deception is sure to be heard not only by the public, but also by other manufacturers who have considered engaging in such activities.

“These companies lined their pockets at the expense of the American taxpayers, patients and the private insurance industry,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said. J&J “recklessly put at risk the health of some of the most vulnerable members of our society—including young children, the elderly, and the disabled.”

About the author:

Joseph Macaluso is a Brooklyn accident lawyer practicing at the Bronx law firm of Macaluso & Fafinski, P.C. A graduate of Brooklyn Law School, Mr. Macaluso has been in private practice since 1990 with an exclusive focus on personal injury and medical malpractice. A member of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, he has served on the Legislative Committee of this organization and is also a member of the Bronx County Bar Association and has served on the Board of Directors of Bronx Legal Services.