In what has been described as the largest class action settlement against a dietary supplement company, Reckitt Benckiser LLC has agreed to pay $53 million for deceptive marketing related to one of its products. The dietary supplement industry as a whole has seen increased scrutiny over the past decade, due to controversy over claims made about the health benefits they provide. The settlement shows that manufacturers of dietary supplements may need to be more careful about their advertising, or else face future deceptive marketing claims.
What is a Dietary Supplement?
According to regulations from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a dietary supplement is a product, usually taken orally, that contains a “dietary ingredient.” These may include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, enzymes, or any other similar substance that is used to supplement a person’s normal diet. People take dietary supplements for a variety of reasons, such as to compensate for dietary deficiencies, to assist with the symptoms of certain medical disorders, to boost energy, or even just to help them sleep.
Dietary supplements are considered legally distinct from drugs, including over the counter drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen, as well as prescription pharmaceuticals. Unlike those drugs, dietary supplements do not need to undergo a rigorous approval process to be sold to the public, nor do they have strict requirements about how they can be advertised. So long as they are shown not to be actively harmful and do not make blatantly false claims about their health benefits, they are legal to sell to the public.
What Was This Case All About?
The case concerns a glucosamine and chondroitin supplement known as “Move Free Advanced.” This supplement was advertised and packaged with claims that it could treat joint pain and stiffness, even though there was no medical evidence to back that claim. Plaintiffs filed suit under both California and New York State law, alleging Reckitt Benckiser LLC, the manufacturer, engaged in deceptive marketing by promising health benefits it did not provide.
During discovery, the plaintiffs submitted numerous studies showing there was no statistical evidence that either glucosamine or chondroitin actually improved people’s joint pain or stiffness. After extensive negotiation, the manufacturer agreed to the $53 million settlement, which will be paid to the approximately 800,000 estimated customers affected by the false advertising. This amounts to approximately $66 per person, or the price of three purchases of the dietary supplement.
What Are the Implications of the Settlement?
For years, the dietary supplement industry has gone with relatively little scrutiny due to the minimal legal standards that are applied to them. However, both private litigators and regulators may be looking more closely at how these companies market their supplements to private individuals. More generally, every company should be careful about how they market their products, because going too far with your advertising can turn into a very costly mistake.
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