One of the Deadliest Product Recalls in History Was Ignored by the Manufacturer
We all screw up — companies, too. When you make a mistake at work or say the wrong thing to your significant other, it can eat at you. You’ll stew on the mistake and think of ways to make it right. Even if the other party (or parties) are unaware, guilt and the wish for a clear conscience will force you to come clean. But if you’re a company and you screw up, your strategy is probably a little different. You don’t necessarily want to admit fault and open yourself up to lawsuits. And you don’t necessarily want to issue a recall and lose millions in sales.
Recalls, though, are issued all the time. Often, they aren’t very consequential. But there are times where they are an issue of life and death. And when a company knows about a fatal flaw or defect and chooses to keep it under wraps? That’s a big problem — especially if the cover-up becomes known later.
Here are some of the biggest and deadliest recalls in history, including some in which the company at fault decided to ignore or cover up their products’ flaws rather than eat the cost of fixing them.
15. Ikea dressers
- One of the most recent high-profile recalls, Ikea’s MALM dressers have killed eight children.
Ikea furniture is a staple in many homes around the country, and most of it is perfectly safe. But the company’s MALM dressers don’t fit in the “safe” category. The dressers have a tendency to tip over and fall, and if children happen to be in their way, they could become trapped and suffocate. So far, eight children have been killed, and Ikea has issued a mass recall for the dressers.
Next: Toyota’s “mystery acceleration” issue.
14. Toyota foot pedals and floor mats
- The phantom acceleration in certain Toyota vehicles killed 89 and injured 57.
Several years back, a strange phenomenon was happening with certain Toyota vehicles — they were accelerating on their own, and couldn’t be stopped. Scores of people were killed in resulting accidents, and many more injured. Toyota eventually conceded that it had misled consumers about the issue, and paid a $1.2 billion fine to avoid prosecution.
This podcast, however, is worth a listen if you want to dig more into the Toyota case. Could it actually have been user error?
Next: Poisonous peanut butter?
13. Peanut Corporation of America’s peanut butter
- A massive peanut butter-related salmonella outbreak sickened people in 46 states.
You don’t typically worry about food poisoning when eating something as quaint as peanut butter. But back in 2008 and 2009, a salmonella outbreak sickened more than 700 people, putting peanut butter on the radar for risky foods. The outbreak was traced back to a Peanut Corporation of America facility in Texas, and specifically, King Nut creamy peanut butter.
Next: Dangerous toys.
12. Mattel’s lead paint
- Lead paint from Chinese manufacturers forced Mattel to recall 19 million toys.
Mattel, a toy manufacturer, got itself into trouble in 2007 after lead paint was found in millions of its products. This prompted a recall, naturally, as millions more of its toys were recalled for having dangerous magnets in them which posed a choking hazard. We don’t have any firm numbers in terms of injuries or deaths from the tainted toys (thankfully), but it was a struggle for the toymaker to regain parents’ trust.
Next: Pet food dangers.
11. Menu Foods’ recall
- 150 brands of dog and cat food were recalled in 2007.
We’ll cover another recall related to pet products in a minute. But first, the Menu Foods recall of 2007 deserves some attention. Tainted foods sickened and killed pets all around the country, as the food was sold under dozens of brand names all around the U.S. Dogs and cats experienced kidney failure, with nearly 4,500 total animal deaths officially linked to the recall.
Next: An industry-wide problem having to do with a popular safety feature.
10. Takata airbags
- One of the largest recalls in recent history, Takata airbags needed to be replaced in tens of millions of vehicles.
Airbag manufacturer Takata allegedly knew about issues with its products as far back as 2004. But the company covered it up or at least didn’t bother to do anything about it, until at least 2008. And as a result, as many as 20 people have been killed and many others injured. It’s a case that is still playing out as the airbags are still installed in millions of vehicles.
Next: Bad hot dogs.
9. Sara Lee meat products
- Sara Lee has a history of recalls — including foodborne illness outbreaks and broken glass in its products.
Recently, Sara Lee has had to deal with cases involving metal and glass found in its products. But less recently, the company has dealt with issues related to foodborne illness. Back in the late 90s, the company pled guilty to selling tainted meat products that led to deaths in at least 15 cases.
Next: People aren’t the only victims.
8. Deadly dog and cat treats
- Tainted “bone” treats have killed dozens of pets in recent months.
The FDA’s mission is to protect people from harmful foods and drugs, but that mission extends to our furry friends, too. Recently, the FDA has come down hard on dangerous dog and cat treats, which have killed dozens of pets and sickened more. Large-scale pet food and treat recalls are nothing new, and this recent recall shows that the FDA is still looking out for your furry buds.
Next: A threat from within.
7. Abbott heart pumps
- 26 people have died trying to change components of their heart pumps.
The HeartMate II left ventricular assist device — or a heart pump, in layman’s terms — has been linked to the deaths of 26 people as of mid-2017. This has led the manufacturer, Abbott, to recall the device, as people have been killed attempting to swap out components, called controllers, on their own. It’s recommended that the controllers be changed at a hospital, where it can be done fast and efficiently, but patients have been doing it by themselves, leading to malfunctions and increased risks of injury or death.
Next: A recent, high-profile recall.
6. Samsung Galaxy devices
- Samsung seems to have overcome the public outcry about its exploding Galaxy devices — somehow.
If the danger is literally in your pocket, you’re more likely to pay attention. That’s exactly what happened with the infamous exploding Samsung Galaxy Note 7, smartphones that were repeatedly bursting into flames in people’s pockets, on airplanes, and everywhere else. As it turns out, the issue was with an overheating battery. Luckily, there were no deaths attributed to the Note 7, but Samsung wasn’t exactly quick to recall the millions of devices that had been sold.
Next: A whistleblower spilled the beans on these car companies in early 2017.
5. Hyundai and Kia defects
- In early 2017, a whistleblower led to the recall of 240,000 Kia and Hyundai vehicles.
Kim Gwang-ho, a Hyundai engineer who had worked at the company for more than a quarter-century, blew the whistle on his company in early 2017. As a result, the South Korean government started looking at five key defects that affected 12 models — all allegedly covered up by the company. The main issue concerned a flaw that caused the engine to stall, which could lead to accidents.
Next: Deadly medication.
- Vioxx, an arthritis drug, may have caused heart attacks in as many as 27,000 people.
Merck, the maker of the arthritis drug Vioxx, had a mess on its hands in the early 2000s. As it turned out, Vioxx could cause heart attacks. Merck knew, but Merck also decided to take its sweet time solving the problem and recalling the drug. While it tested remedies, it continued to push the drug, leading to more heart attacks and deaths.
Next: Another recent, high-profile recall. With a body count.
3. General Motors ignition switches
- GM’s faulty ignition switches led to 124 deaths and 274 injuries — all while the company covered it up.
Another fairly recent and large-scale recall, General Motors’ faulty ignition switches led to the deaths of 124 people, and 274 associated injuries. The company knew about it, too, for as long as a decade. They decided against taking action at the time, and as a result, people were killed when their vehicles unexpectedly shut off while they were driving. Victims’ families received settlements and millions of cars needed to have the faulty parts replaced.
Next: Deadly tires.
2. Firestone Tires
- As many as 200 deaths have been blamed on Firestone’s defective tires.
Back in 2000, tire company Firestone has a huge problem on its hands: 6.5 million of its tires were faulty and had led to crashes which killed dozens. All told, hundreds of people may have been killed in accidents associated with the faulty tires, which involved the tire tread being literally peeled off the main body of the tire.
Finally: A Ford death trap that killed hundreds.
1. Ford Pinto
- It’s estimated that 400-900 people were killed due to the Pinto’s fire issues.
It’s the ultimate recall foul-up: The case of the Ford Pinto. Hundreds of people died as a result of the Ford Pinto’s penchant for exploding or catching on fire — and the worst part is that Ford knew it was an issue, and decided against taking action. In fact, Ford actually calculated out the cost of a settling for a human life in court and weighed that against the cost of fixing its cars.
In the end, Ford decided it would save more money by simply settling with the victims rather than take the necessary steps to fix its vehicles.
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