Doctors warn patients and decide which warnings to give. Manufacturers warn doctors and, if a particular doctor already knows a particular risk, it doesn’t even matter—in a court room, that is—whether the manufacturer warned the doctor. That is the interplay between the learned intermediary doctrine and the proximate causation element of a failure to warn claim.
And, in Tomaselli v. Zimmer, Inc., 2017 WL 1011492 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 15, 2017), they came together to hand summary judgment to the defendant manufacturer and distributor. The doctor in Tomaselli surgically implanted a hip repair device into one of his patients to repair the patient’s greater trochanter, part of the femur bone near the hip. Later, one of the device’s cables unwound while inside the patient so that it was laying alongside her femur, causing her some level of pain. The doctor discovered this but, ultimately, recommended to the patient that it not be removed. Thereafter, the patient and her husband sued the manufacturer, the distributor and other defendants.
But they ran into a problem, something that usually isn’t a problem unless you’re in a court room asserting a failure to warn claim. The doctor was very experienced. He had performed more than 5,000 hip surgeries over the course of a 30-year career. He knew things. And one of the things he knew was that cables in hip repair devices can fail:
Based on his experience. . . Dr. Nercessian testified that cable breakage is “a known risk of any wire, any cable,” and that cables tend to break “[b]y reaching and exceeding the maximum fatigue strength of the metal.” Asked whether a cable implanted to repair a greater trochanter fracture may break if the fracture fails to fully heal—a so-called “nonunion”—Dr. Nercessian replied, “Definitely.”
Id. at *1 (citations omitted).
So this doctor knew the risk. That meant that, for purposes of the plaintiffs’ failure to warn claim, it didn’t matter whether the manufacturer had warned the doctor. He already knew. Moreover, this doctor chose, for whatever reason, not to warn this patient about that risk. That didn’t matter either. The doctor’s knowledge of that risk, whether he chose to convey it to his patient or not, cut off proximate causation. Here is the court laying out these principles under New York law:
Under the “informed intermediary” doctrine, a manufacturer “discharges its duty by providing the physician with sufficient information concerning the risks of the device.” Moreover, “where the treating physician is independently aware of potential adverse events, that knowledge is an intervening event relieving the manufacturer of any liability to a patient under the failure to warn theory.” “A physician’s existing awareness of a potential risk or side effect thus severs the causal chain between an allegedly inadequate warning and a plaintiff’s injury.”
Id. at *3 (citations omitted). And, finding no proximate causation, the court granted summary judgment to the manufacturer and distributor on plaintiffs’ failure to warn claim.
A couple of months ago, we reported on the magistrate’s report and recommendation in this case to grant summary judgment against all plaintiff’s claims, which included her failure to warn, design defect and warranty claims. At that time, we seriously doubted that plaintiff would object to the report and recommendation. It was so well-reasoned. You can read our discussion of that report, which was much more detailed, here. As it turns out, plaintiff did object, but only to the failure to warn recommendation. And, as it also turns out, we were right. The report and recommendation was well reasoned. With this decision, the district judge adopted the magistrate’s “thorough and well-reasoned Report in its entirety.” Id. at *4. And, now, we can be virtually certain that this is the last we will hear of this case.