Pharmaceutical companies are responsible for the effects of their products. Because almost all pharmaceutical products will cause at least some form of unintended negative side effects in at least some users, companies are often able to avoid liability by placing disclaimers on their medications, giving users the ability to make an informed decision about whether or not to take a given drug. However, in many cases, the full range of side effects which a medication may cause do not become known until years after it has been released onto the market, leaving companies liable to lawsuits for the consequences that their products have had.
A recent case in Boston is an illustrative example of the ways in which pharmaceutical companies can be held liable for negative consequences of their products years after the release of a medication. Four sisters filed a suit against Eli Lilly and Co., a pharmaceutical firm based in Indianapolis, alleging that the breast cancer which all four women developed within a six-year span of each other occurred as a result of medications taken by their mother while she was pregnant with the women.
The medication, diethylstilbestrol or DES, was prescribed to pregnant women in the 1950s and 60s to help prevent miscarriages. In the 1970s, however, the medication was linked to vaginal cancer and subsequent studies demonstrated that it had no impact on the occurrence of miscarriages. As a result, the medication was removed from the market. However, it has continued to have negative effects on the children of women who used this pharmaceutical product, with more than 51 women currently pursuing lawsuits against the makers of this medication for illnesses that they may have developed as a result.
The pharmaceutical defects attorney representing these four women was able to successfully negotiate a settlement with the pharmaceutical company during the trial, for an undisclosed amount. While the attorney charged with representing Eli Lilly and Co. denied that the medication had caused the sisters’ health problems, he acknowledged that it was in the company’s best interests to resolve the case as soon as possible, explaining the settlement as an issue of corporate expediency rather than an acknowledgment of guilt.
As this case shows, pharmaceutical companies can be held accountable for the consequences that their products may have for consumers, even decades after the product in question has been discontinued. However, it’s important to remember that the statute of limitations in these types of cases strictly limits the period in which injury or illness victims may file for compensation after becoming aware that a medication may have caused their damages.