Birth Control

Birth Control Lawsuits

Contraceptive products, like any other drug or medical device, can greatly enhance the quality of life, eliminate worry, and help life progress as planned. As countless unsuspecting users have discovered, however, there can be risks associated with the use of certain contraceptive products-risks that can result in adverse consequences ranging from annoying to grave, and consequences that often require resolution in the courts.

In 1999, for instance, American Home Product Corporation, manufacturer of the Norplant contraceptive implant, agreed to settle claims brought by women who suffered adverse consequences from the use of its product. According to the terms of the settlement, over $50 million was allocated to over 36,000 women who testified that the contraceptive implant negatively affected their health through such side effects as headaches, irregular menstrual bleeding, nausea, and depression.

Intrauterine devices have also been the subject of litigation, including class action lawsuits. The Dalkon Shield litigation arose from allegations that the intrauterine contraceptive device, introduced into the U.S. market in 1971 by A.H. Robins Co., caused pelvic inflammatory disease frequently resulting in infertility. More than 3.6 million of these IUDs were sold in the United States before the device was removed from the market in 1974 under government pressure. As a result of the flood of lawsuits against it, A.H. Robins sought bankruptcy protection from litigation in 1985. The Dalkon Shield Claimants Trust was established in 1989, and it paid out nearly $3 billion by the time it closed in April 2000. The Dalkon Shield cases represent a landmark in the history of defective contraceptive product litigation.

Oral contraceptive makers, too, have seen their share of lawsuits. Users have sued the responsible pharmaceutical companies, arguing that they were not warned of the potential side effects from taking the pill. Attorneys representing the plaintiffs in these lawsuits have argued that the “third generation” pill caused users to develop blood clots that led to long-term damage to their health, and in about ten percent of the cases proved fatal. Not unexpectedly, the pharmaceutical companies have rejected suggestions that the third generation pill is slightly riskier than its predecessors.

Although these lawsuits and others like them may well serve the goal of compensating injured women, they may also, some say, have another unintended and less welcome effect. Commentators have noted that while American women continue to demand new contraceptive options, pharmaceutical companies continue to drop out of contraceptive research and marketing, which prevents women from accessing the most current contraceptive methods available. In 1982, a government report predicted that ten new contraceptives would soon reach the market. In reality, however, only three new methods were approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the anticipated time period: Norplant, Depo Provera, and the female condom. Critics point to one reason why manufacturers are so afraid to get into the contraceptive market: the fear of litigation.

Currently, only four large private companies worldwide are known to be conducting research on new contraceptive methods; other pharmaceutical companies have retired from that arena. Twenty years ago, thirteen U.S.-based pharmaceutical companies conducted research on contraception and fertility, but by 1988 there was only one. For the smaller companies, the risk of lawsuits and the cost of liability insurance has made it impossible to conduct contraceptive research and development, the tort reformers claim, and they trace this fear back to the Dalkon Shield IUD cases, in which many people died and lawsuits were widespread.

In reality, lawsuits involving defective and dangerous contraceptive devices ensure not only that individual victims or classes of victims are compensated for their losses, they also may be the single most effective means of getting dangerous products off the market and promoting manufacturer responsibility. The critics of contraceptive products liability litigation tend to shift the blame for the current state of affairs to the lawyers or the plaintiffs bringing the lawsuits, when in actuality it is the manufacturers who were negligent in the first place and retracted from the market when held accountable for their misdeeds. Injured parties should not be dissuaded from collecting the damages to which they are legally entitled. Not only will they personally gain from pursuing a rightful claim against a drug giant, other women may also be protected as a result of the publicity engendered by the lawsuit and the possibility that a dangerous product will be improved or eliminated from the marketplace.

If you have suffered damages as a result of a contraceptive product, you would be well advised to seek legal counsel right away. When seeking an attorney to represent you, be sure to investigate his or her background in products liability law. Inquire about his or her track record so that you can make an informed decision about whether this is the right person to steadfastly stand up against a big pharmaceutical or medical device company that has many more resources than you do to fight the claims against it. Only with a skilled and seasoned advocate on your side can you be sure to achieve an outcome that best compensates you for your losses.

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