Costly Product Recalls
As Samsung is quickly discovering, product recalls are a costly headache that requires a company to refund its customers' money, give them replacements and hope that the problem doesn't worsen in the interim. Here are some of the most notorious product recalls of all time.
In its fourth such settlement in seven years, Pfizer agreed in 2009 to pay $2 billion in civil fines and a $1.3 billion criminal penalty for illegally marketing the painkiller Bextra and other drugs. According to the New York Times, the total fine was less than three weeks of sales for Pfizer. The company invited doctors to all-expenses-paid luxury conferences and advised them that Bextra – originally approved for arthritis and menstrual cramps – could be prescribed at high doses to treat post-operative and other severe pain. It was never found to be more effective than Advil, and associated with heart and skin side-effects. It withdrawn in 2005.
Takata Corp. Airbags
Takata has recalled nearly 300 million airbag inflators as of September 2016, following reports that nine people have died after being hit by metal and plastic shrapnel from the faulty components. The Japanese company announced in March 2016 that its worst-case costs could exceed 2.7 trillion yen, or around $26 billion.
Merck & Co. Vioxx
Choosing to ignore indications that the painkiller could be harmful, Merck sold Vioxx for five years before agreeing to take it off the market in 2004. By that time it had caused perhaps 55,000 deaths due to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. The company is still involved in litigation as of September 2016, and estimates of total costs are hard to come by. Our estimate of $8.9 billion comes from the $4.85 billion settlement and $1.9 billion in legal costs it paid in 2007, followed by $58 million in 2008, $950 million in 2011 and $1.06 billion – initially reported as $830 million – in 2016.
Volkswagen AG Emissions Scandal
Volkswagen is faced with the prospect of fixing 11 million cars worldwide after it emerged in 2015 that some diesel models' software had been programmed to reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) levels during emissions testing. As soon as the test was over, NOx emissions shot back up to as much as 40 times the U.S. legal limit (standards are lower in Europe). Volkswagen has set aside 6.5 billion euros (around $7.3 billion) to cover the recall, acknowledging that that amount might not be sufficient when all costs are tallied.
Between 2009 and 2011, Toyota recalled more than 10 million vehicles due to incidents of unintended acceleration that killed 37 people. Some of the incidents were found to involve driver error, others to an ill-fitting floor mat that led to the gas pedal to get stuck. Mechanical and electrical errors may also have been involved. The company estimated $2.1 billion in recall costs and lost sales in 2010. In 2012 it agreed to pay $1.1 billion to settle a class action suit related to the acceleration issues. That brings its total costs to $3.2 billion.
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