Today’s case has a little bit of everything – choice of law, statutory compliance, alternative design, warnings causation. So, the decision is a bit of “grab bag” in addition to being a “mixed bag.”
The case is Hyde v. C.R. Bard, Inc., 2018 WL 3586404 (D. Ariz. Jul. 26, 2018). To begin with, plaintiff voluntarily withdrew several claims – manufacturing defect, breach of express warranty, failure to recall, and breach of implied warranty. Id. at *2. Defendant did not move for summary judgment on negligent design defect, negligence per se, or punitive damages – so those claims remain. That left failure to warn, misrepresentation and fraud, and strict liability design defect. Of those, only strict liability design defect survived. Id.
The court first had to decide which state’s law applied. Plaintiff was living in Wisconsin when she had the IVC filter implanted but did not experience any complications until after moving to Nevada. Plaintiff argued that Nevada law should apply as the location where the injury occurred. The court disagreed. Wisconsin, the forum state, applies a two-step analysis for choice of law questions. First, are one state’s contacts so minimal that applying that state’s law would be “officious intermeddling.” Id. The court found both states to have significant contacts with the case and so moved on to step two. This consists of the analysis of 5 factors. The court found three factors (maintenance of interstate order, simplification of the judicial task, and application of the better rule of law) to be neutral. Id. at *3-4. And the remaining two favored Wisconsin. As to predictability, the IVC filter was sold in Wisconsin, implanted in Wisconsin, and defendant’s interactions with the implanting surgeon took place in Wisconsin. So, defendant could reasonably expect Wisconsin law to apply to any products liability claims arising from the use of the filter. Id. at *4. As to the forum state’s interest, Wisconsin “has a strong interest in having its laws applied to corporations transacting business with the state. Id.
Wisconsin’s product liability statute provides a presumption that a product is not defective if it complied with relevant standards or specifications approved by a state or federal agency – such as the FDA. Defendant therefore argued that because the IVC filter was cleared by the FDA via the 510(k) process, the presumption applied. The court however, refused to apply the statutory compliance presumption because the 510(k) process is not a safety review and therefore defendant was not entitled to the non-defectiveness presumption. Id. at *6.
Another defense to strict liability claims in Wisconsin is that the harm was caused by a known and inherent risk. Defendants argued, citing to publications, FDA documents, and plaintiff’s surgeon’s testimony, that the very complication suffered by plaintiff was well known in the medical community. Id. at *7. Plaintiff countered that while the general risk may be known, the fact that defendant’s filters had a higher adverse event rate than other filters was not known. The court decided that any challenge as to incident rates is a triable issue of fact for the jury. Id.
Turning to plaintiff’s burden of proof, to maintain a claim for strict liability design or warning defect, plaintiff has to establish that the risk of harm could have been “reduced or avoided” with a “reasonable alternative design or warning.” Id. In this case, plaintiff’s expert pointed to anchors that were added to other of the defendant’s IVC filters as a specific and available alternative design. Defendant argued that plaintiffs in the litigation claim that those other IVC filters also are defective. Essentially plaintiff relied on an allegedly defective design as the alternative to the allegedly defective design at issue. Id. That feels like it should be a non-starter. But the court said that the alternative design only has to “reduce” the risk of harm. Id. So, if the alternative is slightly less defective that appears to be enough. Again, a bit of a head scratcher.
Moving on to failure to warn, the court found plaintiff’s claim failed for lack of evidence of causation. The court skirted the issue of learned intermediary, on which the Wisconsin Supreme Court has not ruled, finding that plaintiff identified no evidence that either plaintiff or her surgeon would have changed his/her decision regarding implanting the device. Id. at *8-9. In fact, plaintiff’s surgeon testified that he didn’t recall which filter was used or who made the decision to use that filter. He further testified that he trusted the FDA, the device was meeting the expectations of the FDA, and he wouldn’t have deferred implanting the filter where it was medically necessary. Id. at *9. Put all together, there was nothing in the record to establish that a warning about greater risks would have affected either the surgeon’s or the plaintiff’s decision to use the product.
That same rationale carried over to plaintiff’s misrepresentation and fraud claims where reliance is an essential element. Plaintiff never received any independent information from the defendant nor did she point to any information from the defendant on which her surgeon relied. Id. at *10.
So, the case remains although substantially cutback. Just two quick observations from reading between and outside the lines of the opinion as to negligence per se, on which defendant did not move for summary judgment. First, if 510(k) clearance doesn’t involve “safety,” how can negligence per se apply? It would seem that following the court’s logic, the 510(k) process does not rise to the level of a substantive standard of care that can support plaintiff’s negligence per se claim. Second, back in March we reported on another partial summary judgment win in the Bard IVC Filter MDL. In that case, this same court granted summary judgment on negligence per se finding that the claim could not be based on alleged FDCA violations because there is no private right of action to enforce the Act. See prior post here. From an outsider’s perspective, it feels like negligence per se should be out of this case as well.