With the coronavirus pandemic, companies have sprung into action creating products they hope we’ll buy to make ourselves feel safe. Consumers are purchasing masks, gloves, face shields, and disinfectant products from companies they have never heard of before, as well as those they know and trust. But that trust, it turns out, may be misplaced.
One company that has landed itself in hot water recently is Purell. The brand name is so well known that it’s commonly used to describe virtually any brand of hand sanitizer; it’s the “Coke” of the antibacterial product industry. Its manufacturer, GOJO Industries Inc., is in the midst of three class actions due to its deceptive advertising of Purell.
The company claimed that their germ-killing hand sanitizer prevents illnesses like Ebola, MRSA and the flu. According to CNN, “Within the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section on gojo.com, the agency noted the company says that ‘Purell Healthcare Advanced Hand Sanitizers, which are formulated with ethyl alcohol, may be effective against viruses such as the Ebola virus, norovirus, and influenza.’”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cautioned the company that its advertising was misleading, stating that their claims were unproven. GOJO’s response was to state that the FDA’s warning “was not related to the safety or quality of our products, or our manufacturing processes.”
What does it mean to engage in deceptive advertising?
When a company creates a product, it has an obligation to make the product design safe for its intended use, and to ensure proper manufacturing. To help ensure the safety of the product, manufacturers provide instructions for proper use, along with warnings for misuse through marketing campaigns and product labeling. Customers rely on those statements and instructions to be accurate in order to prevent unintended injuries as a result of using the product.
When a company provides false or misleading information as to the product’s capabilities, it can end in mass injuries or worse. In effect, the company is telling you they properly packed your parachute before you jump out of the plane, only to learn as you plummet to the earth that the chute wasn’t packed at all.
Why GOJO’s false claims about Purell are serious
When GOJO claimed that Purell would prevent certain illnesses, it was tantamount to telling everyone within earshot that using their hand sanitizer would keep you from getting sick. Even in the face of Covid-19, the public is being instructed to use hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable. GOJO has made it easy to jump to the conclusion that with a dollop of Purell, you’ll be safer from this version of the SARS virus.
This type of claim, per the FDA, likens Purell to a drug – but hand sanitizers are not drugs. Medications undergo different testing and classifications than products like hand sanitizers do. Per CNN, the FDA has given GOJO two options: either change the branding, or reapply to have Purell classified as a drug. If they do neither, then GOJO could “face legal action and potential seizure of Purell products.”
Companies have a responsibility to not only create safe products, but to provide proper instructions and make true claims about their use, efficacy, and abilities. Failing to comply with any of these steps negligently places customers and users into harm’s way. If you or a loved one has been injured by a product after using it as instructed, you may have a claim against the manufacturer and other entities to compensate you for your injuries.
The product liability attorneys at McGowan, Hood, Felder & Phillips, LLC have secured settlements on behalf of many clients who suffered injuries because of defective products. To schedule your free consultation are one of our offices throughout South Carolina, please call 803-327-7800, or reach out to us through our contact page. We also partner with firms seeking local counsel services throughout the state. You can read more about those services here.
Randy is the former President of the South Carolina Association for Justice. He has been certified by the American Board of Professional Liability as a specialist in Medical Malpractice Law which is recognized by the South Carolina Bar. Randy has also been awarded the distinction of being a “Super Lawyer” 10 times in the last decade. He has over 25 years of experience helping injured people fight back against corporations, hospitals and wrong-doers.
Read more about S. Randall Hood