Legal Issues Regarding The ‘Tide Pod Challenge’

Since 2012, eight people have died after ingesting the contents of Tide laundry pods, and the manufacturer may be legally responsible for these deaths.

A number of teens in New York and elsewhere have placed the detergent pods into their mouths and measured the effects. These effects include foaming at the mouth and uncontrollable coughing. Each “pod” contains a pre-measured amount of laundry detergent that’s rolled into a ball and covered with a thin layer of polyvinylalcohol, which is a water-soluble plastic. The detergent contains a number of chemical ingredients that are potentially fatal.

In a statement, the company said that the pods “should not be played with, whatever the circumstance, even if meant as a joke.”


Dangerous Chemicals in Laundry Detergents

Tide pods contain large amounts of 1,4 Dioxane, a powerful and dangerous solvent. Overexposure immediately causes chemical burns that take the form of severe irritation in the mouth and nose. This chemical is also a known carcinogen. Since 1979, the Food and Drug Administration has repeatedly encouraged laundry detergent and other manufacturers to stop using this dangerous chemical and change to safer techniques, such as vacuum stripping, that are almost as effective. But the manufacturers have largely ignored these pleas and the government has refused to take more aggressive action.

There are probably many other dangerous chemicals in laundry detergents, but manufacturers often hide behind trade secrets laws to hide these ingredients. Some of the known ones include  quaternium-15, which is a surfactant related to formaldehyde, the powerful neurotoxin nonlphenol ethoxylate, and a toxic phosphate called ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid.


Manufacturer Responsibility

1,4 Dioxane in cosmetic products is an ongoing issue. In 2010, just before a group filed suit against Tide parent Procter & Gamble, the company suddenly announced that it was dramatically reducing 1,4 Dioxane levels in its Herbal Essence shampoo. That act, along with the aforementioned FDA action, may be sufficient to trigger the strict liability laws in many jurisdictions. The manufacturer is liable for damages as a matter of law if:

  • The product was unreasonably dangerous, and
  • A reasonable alternative was rejected.

A common defense in product liability actions — the misuse defense — arguably would not apply. This doctrine shields manufacturers from liability if the victim misused the product in a way that was completely unforeseeable to the manufacturer. The risk of ingestion is clearly a foreseeable one, because Procter & Gamble puts such warning labels on their products.

Damages in strict liability claims include compensation for both economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Moreover, jurors often order the company to pay significant punitive damages in these cases.

Negligence, or a lack of ordinary care, is another possible theory. If the victim/plaintiff establishes that the company was careless in the way that it produced, sold, or marketed Tide, and that carelessness caused injury, Procter & Gamble is liable for damages. Victim/plaintiffs must establish negligence by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).

Manufacturers have a duty to make safe products, especially if they know that these products will come into direct contact with people. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. Our main office is conveniently located near Grand Central Terminal.