It’s a short week, so we are going to do a short post about a short decision on a product that lasted a long time.
An inferior vena cava (“IVC”) filter was implanted in plaintiff in 2004. Some years later she experienced a complication, not identified in the decision, which led her to file a products liability suit against the manufacturer in June 2022 – over 18 years later. In re Cook Medical, Inc., 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 205990, at *1 (S.D. Ind. Sep. 27, 2023). Plaintiff is a resident of Texas and had her 2004 surgery in Texas, so the court applied Texas law which has a 15-year statue of repose.
A statute of repose sets a definitive date beyond which an action cannot be filed. It does not matter that plaintiff’s cause of action has not yet accrued. A statute of repose is triggered by an event like the sale of the product and establishes a bright line cutoff that extinguishes liability. For that reason, statutes of repose are considered defense friendly. But they typically require a significant period of time to pass. The standard is around 10-15 years from sale or manufacturer. (Note Montana’s is only 3 years).
And while they are usually hard and fast rules, some statutes of repose, like Texas’s, have exceptions. Texas law provides that the 15-year statute of repose does not apply if the product is accompanied by an express warranty “that the product has a useful safe life of longer than 15 years.” Id. at *2. In this case, plaintiff tried to rely on language in the IVC filter’s Patient Guide that said the product was safe effective as a temporary or permanent device. Id. at *3. However, the Patient Guide also lists possible adverse effects such as migration of the device or perforation of the vena cava. Read together, the Patient Guide did “not guarantee the [filter] would conform to a particular standard for the duration of [plaintiff’s] life.” Id. at *4. Any “warranty” that the product could remain permanently implanted was qualified by the identification of possible adverse events. Since the manufacturer did not warrant the IVC filter had a “useful safe life” of more than 15 years, this exception did not apply. While this may seem case-specific, it is hard to imagine any manufacturer of an implantable medical device warranting the life span of its product given all of the variables of the human body, a person’s healing capacity, a person’s compliance with medical advice, etc.
Plaintiff next argued she qualified for the “latent disease” exception. This exception provides that if a plaintiff is exposed to a product before the end of 15 years, that exposure caused plaintiff’s disease, but the symptoms of the disease did not manifest in a reasonably noticeable way until after 15 years had passed, the statute of repose does not apply. Notice the word “disease.” Plaintiff tried to argue that “disease” should be broadly interpreted to include “medical device failures.” Id. at *5. Not only did plaintiff have no case law to support her interpretation, but the statute also establishing the exception does not mention medical devices or the types of injuries that arise from them. The plain language of the statue applies to “diseases resulting from exposure to a product.” Id. Think asbestos, lead, Agent Orange. Not a medical device that works as intended for more than 15 years.
Defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings was granted in its entirety.