However a drug/device product liability is styled, it will almost always be focused on a claim of failure to warn.  Why do plaintiffs insist on inserting a cause of action for manufacturing liability when there is not a whiff of evidence that anything went wrong on the production line?  Seldom do we see the pharma equivalent of a mouse in the Coke bottle or, thinking of a more recent case, a bat in the salad.  Similarly, a design defect claim is often a make-weight claim.  How should the design have been improved?  Not selling the product at all is hardly a design improvement.  An entirely different product is not a safer alternative under the law of any enlightened state.  Changing the molecule or the device design cannot be done without FDA approval, so preemption should apply (even if courts often miss this point).  No, failure to warn is where the action is.  In the wake of Wyeth v. Levine, it seemed that preemption would be a tough row to hoe in such cases, but keep hoeing that row because the preemption defense might still be available – as a motion to dismiss, summary judgment motion, directed verdict, or argument to the jury.

 

The recent case of Amos v. Biogen Idec, Inc. et al., 2017 WL 1316968 (W.D.N.Y. April 10, 2017), makes every one of these points for us.  The court granted summary judgment to the defendants in that case, holding that all of the claims were fundamentally about failure to warn, the warning was adequate as a matter of law, and the FDA’s earlier rejection of proposed warnings meant that the plaintiff’s claims were preempted.  The facts of Amos present the sort of situation defendants encounter all too often, but which make for a hard sell to a jury: something very sad happened to an innocent patient, but it was nobody’s fault.  The patient had Multiple Sclerosis too severe to respond well to the usual treatments.  Her doctor recommended Tysabri.  That medicine came with a black box warning that it might increase the risk of Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy (“PML”), a viral infection of the brain that is as incurable as MS is.  The patient eventually contracted PML and died.  Her estate filed a lawsuit that included claims for negligence, negligent misrepresentation, strict liability, and breach of implied warranty. 

 

From the recital of facts in the Amos case, it appears that the manufacturer of Tysabri was quite diligent and proactive.  It also appears that the defense attorneys did an excellent job of mining the administrative record.  The manufacturer continued to perform clinical trials after initial approval, and promptly alerted the FDA of whatever risks it observed.  Among other things, the company asked the FDA to add information in the label about screening for certain virus antibodies that might increase the risk of PML.  The FDA rejected this proposal a couple of times, finding insufficient evidence at those times to support the label change.  The FDA ultimately relented and approved a label change in 2012 – after the plaintiff’s decedent died.

 

In considering the defense motion for summary judgment, the court concluded that all of the plaintiff’s claims turned on the sufficiency of the warnings.  New York law applied, and there was ample precedent under New York law that adequate warnings precluded claims for negligence, strict liability, breach of warranties, or fraud.  What’s more, the learned intermediary applied to claims regarding prescription drug warnings, and the record was replete with evidence that the prescribing doctor was well aware of the increased risk of  PMI.  It certainly helped the defense that the defendant, in collaboration with the FDA, had created a program called Tysabri Outreach: Unified Commitment to Health (“TOUCH”), which required that, prior to prescribing Tysabri, a physician had to acknowledge in writing that he/she understood the risks of PML and obtained a written acknowledgment from the patient that the patient understands the PML risk. The existence of the TOUCH program was one of several facts that made Amos a hard case for the plaintiff to win.

 

Even so, we all know that no matter how comprehensive and informative a warning label is, a good plaintiff lawyer can flyspeck it and find, or make up, some gaps.  The plaintiff lawyers in the Amos case are well known to us, and are very, very good.  They argued that the Tysabri warnings were inadequate because they failed to include information regarding the correlation between the virus antibodies and PML, and failed to inform doctors of the risks associated with duration of treatment and prior treatment with an immunosuppressant.  To our eyes, the plaintiff lawyers made the best arguments they could.  In too many courts, such an argument would furnish enough of a crutch for a plaintiff-leaning (or lazy-leaning) judge to mutter ‘factual dispute’ and deny the motion in a post-card ruling.  But not this court.  The judge analyzed New York law and held that even without the details regarding specific risk factors, “when read as a whole, the warnings unmistakably conveyed the seriousness of PML and its association with Tysabri treatment.”  That “read as a whole” point is important.  Do not let a court tell you that it is the jury’s duty to read the warnings as a whole.  It is the court’s job to assess whether the warning is adequate as a matter of law, and plaintiff post hoc fly-specking should not be enough to plant a case in front of twelve citizens good and true (and half-asleep and inflamed with sympathy and anti-corporate hatred).    

 

Even aside from the conclusion that the Tysabri warnings were adequate as a matter of law, the court offered an alternative basis for dismissing the case:  the claims were preempted as a matter of law.  Wyeth v. Levine ruled against preemption on the (at least partially specious) ground that drug companies can unilaterally ramp up warnings through the Changes Being Effected (“CBE”) process.  But the Amos court accurately observed that CBE is not available in all situations, and definitely is not available to add or change a black box warning, which is what was at issue in this Tysabri case.  Moreover, “the evidence of record leads inescapably to the conclusion that the FDA would not have approved a change to Tysabri’s label prior to 2012.”  With respect to Tysabri, there were two “smoking gun” rejections from the FDA. 

 

Also notable in Amos:  a second defendant in the case, a distributor of Tysabri, received summary judgment on preemption grounds.  The distributor did not own the drug’s New Drug Application, and thus had no power under the FDA scheme to alter warnings in any way.  The distributor’s inability to act independently to change warnings meant that, under the Mensing and Bartlett decisions, all claims against it were preempted.

 

There have been other cases around the country where courts arrived at similar rulings that Tysabri warnings were adequate as a matter of law and that failure to warn claims were preempted.  Perhaps plaintiff lawyers will do their best to distinguish these cases on their facts.  We will, doubtless, hear that “smoking gun” has become the standard for the Wyeth v. Levine “clear evidence” standard. We heard something nearly as silly from our home appellate court recently.  But reading the Amos case in the same way that the Amos court read the Tysabri label – as a whole – there is an awful lot of comfort in that case for drug and device defendants.

   

 

This guest post – only our second post ever on European issues is brought to you by Reed Smith partners Marilyn Moberg and (in the UK) associate Bond, Kathryn Bond (sorry, couldn’t resist).  Our previous (and only) foray into European product liability was not a happy one.  This post, however, discusses a much more favorable product liability development in Britain – and with Brexit, we’re hoping that the Brits build on this decision and thumb their noses at the prior decision by the EU Court of Justice.

So without further ado, here are Marilyn and Kathryn.  As always, our guest posters deserve 100% of the credit (and any blame) for what follows.

************

For many years now I have been reading this excellent blog prepared by my colleagues and thinking “how can they be so prolific and witty time and time again”? I have continued to tell myself that “I need to do a guest post” sometime, but alas have never found the time to do it. Perhaps the idea of delving in and being compared to the posts of the others was–, OK, I will admit it–, intimidating even after many years of practice. I guess, living in LA, the analogy is like those various guest hosts who were asked to step in for a night for Johnny Carson (yes, I am showing my age). But, hey, Joan Rivers and Jay Leno did OK, so here goes.

For the blog today though we are traveling across the pond to “merry old England,” and my London colleague (Kathryn Bond) and I will discuss a topic very familiar to those of us in the US: the Metal on Metal litigation (and no, I don’t mean the Anvil heavy metal album).

While this litigation has been going for years here, it is in its infancy in the UK, with the first two group product liability actions against manufacturers of metal-on-metal hip prostheses due to be heard by the English Courts this year, with trials scheduled to take place in October 2017.

However, and as Bexis has confirmed “blogworthy,” there has already been a landmark English High Court decision in one individual case concerning a metal-on-metal hip prosthesis. The case is Wilkes v. DePuy International Limited [2016] EWHC 3096 (QB). It was decided in the Queen’s Bench Division of the English High Court.  For those of you – most of you – unfamiliar with the UK’s court structure, the High Court is a senior court that typically deals with first instance decisions of important and/or high value cases, but also handles appeals over decisions made by inferior courts. The High Court has three divisions: the Queen’s Bench Division, the Chancery Division and the Family Division. The Wilkes case was heard in the Queen’s Bench Division (a division that most commonly handles disputes relating to personal injury, negligence, breach of contract, breach of a statutory duty and libel). Appeals against civil decisions made by the Queen’s Bench Division are heard in the Court of Appeal. Appeals against Court of Appeal decisions are heard in the Supreme Court (the highest court in England).

The decision is favorable for the defense, both in its result and in its interpretation of UK law governing allegedly defective products. For those of you not familiar with the law, here is a short primer. Under UK product liability law, irrespective of any rights an individual may have under contract, there are two key actions available to an individual who claims to have suffered personal injury from a defective product. These are:

1. Common law negligence;

2. Consumer Protection Act 1987 (the “CPA”).

The Wilkes case concerned a claim under the CPA.

The CPA imposes strict liability on manufacturers of defective products for any harm caused by their products. “Strict liability”, like in the US, means that it is irrelevant whether the manufacturer was at fault. The injured party just has to prove that the product was defective and that the defect caused him harm.

Section 3 of the CPA states that a product is defective if “the safety of the product is not such as persons are generally entitled to expect,” taking into account “all the circumstances”. For ease, we will refer to this as the “safety expectation test”. This reminds us of the “consumer expectation” test for design defect that applies in some United States jurisdictions for certain products. The Wilkes case is significant because of its interpretation of this section 3 of the CPA.

It has been about 16 years since the UK courts have dealt with this issue, and before Wilkes, the leading case on the concept of “defect” was A v. National Blood Authority (2001) 60 BMLR 1 (“A v. NBA”), from 2001. In that case, the claimants were infected with hepatitis C as a result of blood transfusions.

In determining whether the blood was “defective” under the CPA, the A v. NBA Court took the following approach:

  • first, identifying the harmful characteristic that caused the injury (in other words, identifying a causal link between the defect and the harm suffered);
  • determining whether the product was “standard” or “non-standard” (i.e., does the product perform as the manufacturer intended); then
  • taking into account the relevant circumstances, depending on whether the defect was “standard” or “non-standard.”

A v. NBA held at paras [55], [80] and [173] that the infected blood was “defective” even though the manufacturer could not have known that the specific blood bags concerned were infected — no test for the screening of hepatitis C had been introduced in the UK at the time of the transfusions. The mere fact that there was an inherent risk of the blood being infected was not enough to protect the defendant because the public at large was entitled to expect that the blood transfused to them would be free from infection. In other words, the inherent risk of infection was not publicly known or socially accepted as such a risk. The A v. NBA decision has been criticized in the years since it was decided as being overly harsh on manufacturers.
The Wilkes case is significant because the Court departed from this long standing precedent—and in a way that is jolly good for the defense (or, as they would say in Britain, the “defence”).

Some basic info: Wilkes received a hip replacement implant in 2007, which fractured 3 years later. The implant was a steel femoral shaft called a “C-stem” manufactured by DePuy. Wilkes claimed at paras [55]-[56] of Wilkes that a component of the C-stem was defective, relying in particular on the judgment in A v NBA.

The Court rejected Wilkes’s product defect claim (and more generally the A v NBA approach to product defect) for the following reasons:

1. First step causation test: the first test used by the Court in A v NBA does not work because it is circular – you cannot prove a causal link between the defect and the harm without finding out whether there is actually a defect. The focus should be on identifying the defect itself. [See para [58] of Wilkes]

2. Identifying the defect – the safety expectation test:

(a) All relevant circumstances to be taken into account: There should not be a rigid set of rules specifying which circumstances should be taken into account in determining whether the product satisfies the safety expectation test. The issue of defect is “necessarily one of open-textured judgment, untrammelled by any rigid rules outside the few that appear in the [CPA] itself”. [See paras [76]-[79] of Wilkes]

(b) Risk-benefit analysis and avoidability: The Court acknowledged that no medicinal product is 100% safe – something that will seem obvious to our US readers, but which is a major advance in the UK. There needs to be a risk-benefit analysis to ensure that the potential benefits of the product are balanced against its inevitable risks. The ease and extent to which the risks can be avoided or mitigated is also relevant. For example, there is a risk of stem fatigue in any hip implant (a C-stem is generally expected to last for 10-15 years). According to DePuy’s expert, the risk of a failure in the relevant component of the C-stem was very low (0.004%). Furthermore, the changes required to remove the risk would make the prosthesis more uncomfortable and potentially more likely to fail on other respects. [See paras [81]-[89] and [119] of Wilkes]

(c) Categorization of standard/non-standard defects to be ignored: In A v NBA, the Court intentionally excluded the risk-benefit analysis for non-standard products. The Court in Wilkes believed that the distinction between standard and non-standard products was “unhelpful” and “positively dangerous.”  Whatever the type of product concerned, all relevant circumstances should be taken into account. [See paras [90]-[96] of Wilkes]

(d) Compliance: As medicinal products and medical devices are highly regulated, the fact that the product complies with such regulations is (although not an automatic defense) strong evidence that the product has a level of safety that passes the safety expectation test. In Wilkes’s case, it was an important fact that the C-stem went above and beyond the applicable regulatory requirements. [See paras [99]-[101] and [124] of Wilkes]

(e) Warnings and learned intermediaries: Warnings given to the consumer do have an impact on the level of safety that persons are generally entitled to expect.  In the case of Wilkes’s C-stem, the information provided to the healthcare professional responsible included a warning about the risk of fatigue failure caused by various factors, including obesity and activity levels (both of which may have played a role in the C-stem failing earlier than anticipated).  The intermediary of a healthcare professional was not considered in much detail in A v NBA, save for noting at para [55] that “doctors and surgeons knew [the risk of infection of transfused blood], but did not tell their patients unless asked, and were very rarely asked”. Although the Court acknowledged at para [108] in Wilkes that giving warnings to the healthcare professional did not provide an automatic defense, it was sufficient in the circumstances that the warning was given to the healthcare professional in accordance with UK law, even though it was not given to the patient directly. In particular, it was noted that there is often no interaction between the manufacturer of the C-stem and the patient. It would therefore be appropriate for information about risks relating to the C-stem to be passed on to the patient by the treating surgeon. [See paras [102]-[108] Wilkes]

The Wilkes Court concluded that, although the C-stem fractured earlier than anticipated, the C-stem was not defective because it passed the safety expectation test. The C-stem’s premature failure was brought about by a “constellation” of variable factors, which (although expressly warned about) could not have been predicted by the manufacturer.

The Wilkes judgment adopts many of the doctrines and principles that apply in the US and should continue to apply to these products:  risk/benefit, learned intermediary doctrine, and compliance with regulations as evidence of standard of care.  This is welcome news for manufacturers who sell medical products in the UK.  It will be interesting to see what approach the English Courts will take in the two group actions due to take place later this year and we will continue to monitor this.  So assuming we are “invited back,” you can look forward to another “guest post” that Jay Leno would (hopefully) be proud of …

Today we give you something rare from the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas — a defense win on preemption. The Philadelphia CCP has been the source of some rather vexing decisions over the years and has certainly taken its share of criticism. Criticism that we think has been rather overstated. Don’t get us wrong, we’ve vehemently voiced our disapproval of several Philadelphia CCP decisions over the years. But there are plenty of times when Philadelphia judges get it right. That happened two weeks ago in Caltagirone v. Cephalon, Inc., 2017 WL 1135576 (Pa. CCP Mar. 23, 2017).

Plaintiff was prescribed an opioid medication to treat his migraines. The drug was approved for use to treat pain related to cancer, so the prescription was off-label. We use that term a lot, but it is worth stopping to remind ourselves what that really means. The FDA-approved labeling for the drug says its intended use is for treating pain in cancer patients. In other words, that was the patient population in which the drug was studied and the data presented to and examined by the FDA and therefore, the indication for which it was approved. Once a drug or device is on the market, however, doctors, who are not governed by the FDA, are free to use those products for any reason they find is medically necessary. Indeed, much of what we know today about drugs and devices comes from physicians using them in the field in ways that they were not originally intended (aspirin as a blood thinner being among the most well-known example). When you break it down like that, it is not surprising that doctors treating patients with migraines who have not been receptive to standard treatments would look to alternative pain medications, such as an opioid with proven success in alleviating pain in cancer patients. In this context, the drug is still being used to treat pain, just a different type of pain.

Back to Caltagirone. The opioid prescribed to plaintiff, in addition to being labeled for use with cancer patients, was also known to be highly addictive. Id. at *1 & 5. The drug was prescribed to plaintiff for 7 years during which time he was in and out of drug treatment programs due to opioid and other drug addictions. Plaintiff ultimately died from his drug addiction. Id. at *1.

Plaintiff’s claims were for negligence, fraud, misrepresentation, and violation of the UTPCPL. The basis for each claim was an allegation that defendants illegally promoted the drug for off-label uses, which was forbidden by the FDA. Id. at *2. The first thing the court does is negate plaintiff’s premise by holding that “generally off-label sales, promotions and prescriptions are proper.” Id. at *3. Further, at the motion to dismiss stage, the court had to accept as true the material facts pleaded by plaintiff. But a critical material fact was missing from plaintiff’s complaint – any allegation that any off-label promotion was false. A false or misleading statement or omission is a requirement for each of plaintiff’s claims under state law. However, plaintiff only alleges that defendants marketed the drug off-label, not that that off-label promotion was false in any way. Because there is no state-law duty to avoid off-label promotion, plaintiff’s claims “could not exist in the absence of federal laws and regulations.” Id. In other words, plaintiff is suing “because the conduct of promoting the drug for migraine headaches violates the FDCA,” not because defendant has breached any state-law duty. Therefore, plaintiff’s action is a private attempt to enforce the FDCA; the type of action that is barred by Buckman Co. v. Plaintiffs’ Legal Committee, 531 U.S. 341 (2001).

While the court dismissed the case with prejudice as preempted, because defendants also asserted that it was barred by the learned intermediary doctrine, the court addressed that issue as well.

Plaintiff argued that the doctrine should not apply because plaintiff’s doctor was not learned because he was given “misinformation” by defendants. Id. at *4. The court saw that for the disingenuous argument that it was. Not only did the prescribing doctor have access to the risk and precaution information provided by defendants and his own medical training and judgment – in this case, the doctor had “actual knowledge” that his patient had become addicted and continued to prescribe the drug for many years. Id. at *5. The physician is the customer under the learned intermediary rule. Id. And it is the physician’s “duty to read and consider the materials from [other medical sources] and writings from the Defendant manufacturers.” Id. The fact that the prescriber may also have read or seen off-label promotion, didn’t change the fact that it was his duty to use all his training and experience, combined with his personal knowledge of the patient, which here included knowledge of addiction (the harm complained of), to treat the plaintiff. The court usefully also noted that the treater has a duty to know what other medications the patient is taking. Id. Keep in mind this strong statement of the learned intermediary’s duty the next time you are arguing this issue in Philadelphia.

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.

 

One of us was asked a question the other day that we couldn’t answer immediately.  “Does the learned intermediary rule apply to a physician’s assistant?”  We didn’t remember any cases actually deciding that issue.  So we did what we usually do in that situation and looked at Bexis’ book.  The book has a section (§2.03[2]) titled “Who Is the Learned Intermediary,” which looked like it would cover this subject.  It did, but while it had cases discussing nurses:

Yes: Ellis v. C.R. Bard, Inc., 311 F.3d 1272, 1281 (11th Cir. 2002) (applying Georgia law); Walker v. Merck & Co., 648 F. Supp. 931, 934 (M.D. Ga. 1986), aff’d without op., 831 F.2d 1069 (11th Cir. 1987); Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories Co. v. Medrano, 28 S.W.3d 87, 93 (Tex. App. 2000); Holley v. Burroughs Wellcome Co., 330 S.E.2d 228, 235-36 (N.C. App. 1985), aff’d, 348 S.E.2d 772 (N.C. 1986); Singleton v. Airco, Inc., 314 S.E.2d 680, 682 (Ga. App. 1984); In re NuvaRing Litigation, 2013 WL 1874321, at *28 (N.J. Super. L.D. April 18, 2013) (applying California law).  No: Mazur v. Merck & Co., 964 F.2d 1348, 1357 (3d Cir. 1992) (a nurse “not authorized to prescribe drugs”) (applying Pennsylvania law); Reyes v. Wyeth Laboratories, 498 F.2d 1264, 1277 (5th Cir. 1974) (applying Texas law).

Cases discussing optometrists:

No: Prager v. Allergan, Inc., 1990 WL 70875, at *4 (N.D. Ill. May 2, 1990); Bukowski v. CooperVision Inc., 592 N.Y.S.2d 807, 809 (N.Y.A.D. 1993);

Cases discussing pharmacists:

No: Coyle v. Richardson-Merrell, Inc., 584 A.2d 1383, 1387 (Pa. 1991); Makripodis v. Merrell-Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 523 A.2d 374, 378 (Pa. Super. 1987);

A case discussing veterinarians:

Yes: Haste v. American Home Products Corp., 577 F.2d 1122, 1124 (10th Cir. 1978) (applying Wyoming law);

A case discussing physical therapists:

Yes: Seifried v. The Hygenic Corp., 410 S.W.3d 427, 433 (Tex. App. 2013); and

A case discussing medical societies:

No: Davis v. Wyeth Laboratories, 399 F.2d 121, 130 (9th Cir. 1968) (applying Montana law) . . . .

There were no cases specifically addressing P.A. prescriptions and the learned intermediary rule in Bexis’ book.

As an aside, we note that, while the weird case we discussed last week from Washington State, Taylor v. Intuitive Surgical, Inc., ___ P.3d ___, 2017 WL 532497 (Wash. Feb. 9, 2017), wasn’t phrased in such terms, it is effectively a ruling that a hospital can be a learned intermediary.

The only specific mention of physician’s assistants in Bexis’ book was quoting dictum in Perez v. Wyeth Laboratories, Inc., 713 A.2d 520 (N.J. Super. A.D. 1998), that although limited to “physicians” by statute, the learned intermediary rule might also apply to “dentists, optometrists, podiatrists, nurse practitioners, home health care service firms, physician’s assistants, or others similarly permitted to prescribe or administer drugs on a limited basis.” Id. at 522-23 (statutory citations omitted).  That decision was, of course, famously reversed in Perez v. Wyeth Laboratories Inc., 734 A.2d 1245 (N.J. 1999), another weird decision that created a “direct to consumer” exception to the learned intermediary rule (since rejected by every other state to consider it), and thus never had to reach the “who is” question.

The next thing we did was to run a ridiculously broad Westlaw search – looking for “learned intermediary” anywhere in the same case as “physician’s assistant”?

Not too bad, this time. Less than 25 cases, including the two Perez decisions.

The most significant case on P.A.s and the learned intermediary rule is Stevens v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., 247 P.3d 244 (Mont. 2010).  As we discussed here and here, while Stevens is not overall a favorable decision for defendants, it did reaffirm the learned intermediary rule and extend it to a P.A.-prescribed drug.  Stevens first mentioned the Third Restatement’s version of the learned intermediary rule, Restatement (Third) of Torts, Products Liability §6(d)(1), which describes the rule in terms of warnings “provided to . . . prescribing and other health-care providers.”  247 P.3d at 492 (emphasis added).  The court then discussed the “evolution” of the rule “away from limiting the doctrine’s applicability to the prescribing physician alone.” Id. A P.A. could thus be a “learned intermediary” when fulfilling the “traditional” role of a physician:

The modern healthcare system, however, places far less emphasis on these traditional relationships, and patients today often receive the majority of their care from nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians’ assistants, and physicians other than the prescribing physician.  Appropriately, in situations where the underlying rationale of the doctrine − the traditional doctor-patient relationship − is no longer present, the doctrine has adapted to fit the realities of the situation.

*          *          *          *

[T]he evolution of the doctrine [has been] through an expansion of the possible class of learned intermediaries. This development, likewise spurred by the fact that the medical professionals with whom patients most commonly interact are often no longer primary physicians, has led courts and secondary sources such as the Restatement to suggest that a variety of different healthcare providers may be considered learned intermediaries, depending on the unique facts of the patients’ treatment scenario.

*          *          *          *

We concur with authorities who consider the learned intermediary to be the healthcare professional actually responsible for making decisions related to the patient’s care. . . . [Plaintiff] received much of her treatment from nurses, treating physicians, and nurse practitioners.

Stevens, 247 P.3d at 492-95 (footnote citing many of the cases in Bexis’ book omitted).

Another case applying the learned intermediary rule to a physician’s assistant is Luke v. Family Care & Urgent Medical Clinics, 246 F. Appx. 421 (9th Cir. 2007) (applying Washington law).  The drug in question in Luke was prescribed by a P.A., id. at 423, and but the learned intermediary rule still applied:

[T]he district court properly decided that the [risk at issue] was not material and that the physician’s assistant had no duty to warn [plaintiff] of the danger.  Under Washington law, it would be contradictory to require a pharmacist to warn of the same danger when the “learned intermediary” had no duty to warn.

Id. at 425.

The learned intermediary rule also applied to a physician’s assistant in Yates v. Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 808 F.3d 281 (6th Cir. 2015) (applying Ohio law) – a case we usually cite for its preemption holdings.  In Yates the prescriber (“Smith”) was a P.A.  Id. at 288.  Without a lot of discussion of Smith’s P.A. status, Yates found the learned intermediary rule applicable:

Smith testified that it is her custom to use her independent medical judgment when prescribing birth control products to patients, and she specifically testified that she discussed the risks and benefits of several different forms of birth control with [plaintiff].  The mere fact that Smith gave [plaintiff] options and a voice in determining which method of birth control would best fit her needs and lifestyle does not remove Smith from her status as a learned intermediary.

Id. at 293.  Without any separate discussion of P.A. status, Czimmer v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 122 A.3d 1043, 1056-58 (Pa. Super. 2015), treated a prescribing P.A. as a learned intermediary.  See also Canady v. Ortho McNeil Pharmaceutical, Inc., 2014 WL 1653349, at *4 (N.D. Ohio April 24, 2014) (applying learned intermediary rule in negligence action over drug prescribed by a P.A.; not applying learned intermediary rule to strict liability, due to peculiar Oregon statute); Woodhouse v. Sanofi-Aventis U.S. LLC, 2011 WL 3666595, at *2-3 (W.D. Tex. June 23, 2011) (applying learned intermediary rule to prescribing P.A. without regard to P.A. status).

As Stevens in particular demonstrates, expanding the learned intermediary rule to non-physicians such as P.A.s is something of a double-edged sword.  On one hand, recognizing non-physicians who prescribe drugs or devices as learned intermediaries precludes plaintiffs from arguing for direct-to-patient warnings.  On the other hand, the rule requires that adequate warnings be given to the learned intermediary – whoever that might be.  Thus, expanding the categories of medical practitioners who qualify as “learned intermediaries” also expands the scope of a defendant’s warning obligations to such practitioners, although not to plaintiffs themselves.  Given the choice between a plaintiff coached to say whatever is necessary to obtain recovery, and a P.A. who usually won’t be in the plaintiff’s back pocket, we’ll take our chances with the P.A.

A recent case in the Southern District of New York debunks two myths that we see all the time. Myth number one:  A medical device is defective if it fails.  Myth number two:  A plaintiff can prove causation on a failure-to-warn claim by asserting that he or she would not have consented to the procedure if his or her doctor had told her about some risk.  Plaintiffs often assert these positions.  Neither is true.  And the magistrate judge’s report and recommendation granting summary judgment in Tomaselli v. Zimmer Inc., No. 14-CV-04474, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9874 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 20, 2017), does a really nifty job explaining why.

In Tomaselli, the plaintiff was treated with a hip repair device—a Greater Trochanter Reattachment device, or GTR.  A GTR is not like the ball-and-socket total hip replacement devices that have generated so much litigation and with which so many of our readers are familiar.  A GTR consists of a plate and two 1.8 millimeter cables that are surgically implanted to reinforce the top of a patient’s femur—the trochanter—in the event of a fracture. Id. at **1-2.

The plaintiff later complained of hip pain, and imaging revealed that one of the cables broke. Id. at *5.  It is not clear whether the broken cable made any difference:  The cable stayed in place, and removing it would not have alleviated the pain. Id. The evidence also suggests that the pain was not substantial:  The plaintiff went for long periods of time between doctor’s appointments; she was able to exercise and engage in daily activities; and she testified that stretching and taking a few steps would relieve any pain. Id. at *6.  The plaintiff sued the device’s manufacturer and distributor anyway, alleging a variety of product liability claims.

The defendants moved for summary judgment under New York law, and the magistrate recommended granting their motion on every claim. The magistrate’s report and recommendation is particularly interesting on the two issues that we foreshadowed above—failure to warn and product defect.

Continue Reading Hip Case Breaks the Right Way in New York

This is a guest post from Michael Salimbene, an associate at Reed Smith.  It’s about learned intermediary causation, and the need for prescriber testimony.  Not infrequently, in mass torts with lots of solicited plaintiffs, the other side puts off doing anything, including preserving prescriber testimony, for as long as possible.  If the prescriber dies or disappears, plaintiffs don’t have any causation testimony, and since they bear the burden of proof, that’s a problem for them.  The guest post describes the latest example.  As always our guest poster deserves 100% of the credit (it’s not our work), and any blame, for what follows.

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This guest blogger lives just outside of Philadelphia. In this neck of the woods, the post-holiday, pre-Spring window is perhaps the most universally loathed time of year.  It’s filled with grey skies and frigid winds.  Partner in-office attendance, which tends to wane during the summer months and late December, hits its yearly high.  The all-important billable hour “clock” resets to 0.  Street corner sales of unlicensed Carson Wentz tee shirts have stalled, and playoff football will feature two of Philadelphia’s most hated rivals, the Giants and the Cowboys.  Your children, if anything like this guest blogger’s, will ignore the Frozen-themed electric car that “Santa” left (but took you 4 hours to assemble) in favor of a $6 pair of pink bunny slippers.  So for today’s post, in search of some good news, we travel to the Middle District of Georgia where the temperature hovers just above 60 degrees.  In a few short months, Northeasterners will also be enjoying warm skies and Georgia’s finest offering, The Masters.  Until then, we’ll have to make due with favorable warning-causation decisions like this one.

Today’s case comes to us from the Mentor Corp. Obtape Transobturator Sling Products Liability Litigation MDL in the Middle District of Georgia. In re Mentor Corp. ObTape Transobdurator Sling Prods. Liab. Litig., No. 4:13-cv-229, 2016 WL 4611572 (M.D. Ga. Sept. 2, 2016).  We’ve blogged about this MDL quite a bit (recently here, here, and here).  As were most plaintiffs in the ObTape litigation, this plaintiff’s prescribing surgeon treated her for a form of incontinence with the relevant device.  If you’ve watched daytime TV in the past 5 years, you’ll be familiar with the typical list of complaints that undergird vaginal mesh lawsuits:  mesh “erosion” or “extrusion” (movement of the mesh material into surrounding tissue); “dyspareunia” (painful intercourse); and the need to have additional surgery to correct mesh-related complications, to name a few.  Plaintiff never had her mesh removed, but alleged, among other things, that the product caused her to suffer from chronic pain.  So what makes this case different from the thousands of other mesh cases pending across the nation?  Plaintiff’s implanting physician died before he could testify in her case.

Continue Reading Guest Post – Failure to Warn Claim Dead on Arrival Without Testimony from Prescribing Physician

It is always nice to win a case, whether by motion or trial. But just in terms of pure exhilaration, it is hard to beat hearing the jury foreperson announce that, after a hard-fought trial, you win. But note that term “hard-fought.” Most trials really are hard. They really are expensive. They really are stressful. The road to even the most resoundingly wonderful verdict probably had a couple of nasty potholes. That was the case with Horrillo v. Cook Inc., 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 21026 (11th Cir. Nov. 23, 2016). Prior to trial, there was at least one Daubert ruling that couldn’t have pleased the defense. Also, as reported by our friends in the Abnormal Use blog, there was a learned intermediary ruling that we do not like one bit. But all’s well that ends well, right?

In Horrillo, the plaintiff brought a product liability action on behalf of his deceased mother, who had undergone a surgery to clear her renal artery. The surgery went terribly wrong, as the patient sustained a stroke. The opinion also does not tell us whether the plaintiff ever sued the doctor. The surgeon used a stent manufactured by the defendant. That stent was designed for use in bile ducts, but the surgeon used it off-label in this case. That off-label use was apparently not all that uncommon. The plaintiff’s legal theories included negligence and negligent failure to warn, strict products liability and strict failure to warn, and breach of warranty. After a nearly four-week trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff then moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, or, in the alternative, a new trial. The trial court denied those motions, and the plaintiff appealed to the 11th Circuit. Applying the appropriate standards of review, the 11th Circuit affirmed the trial court’s rulings and the defense verdict.

Continue Reading 11th Circuit Upholds Stent Defense Verdict

Today’s case is a partially published decision about a partial reversal of a plaintiff verdict in California. So, we are only going to discuss select parts of the decision. It’s a long one and there are large sections about plaintiff’s counsel’s misconduct during trial and excessive damage awards. It is also a joint medical malpractice and product liability case. So, when you strip away the rest, we get down to a handful of legal rulings that we are truly interested in.

The case is Bigler-Engler v. Breg, Inc., 2016 Ca. App. LEXIS 921 (Cal. App. Oct. 28, 2016) and involves the use of a cold therapy medical device, available only upon prescription. Plaintiff underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, following which her surgeon prescribed use of the device to aid in recovery. Id. at *5-6. Plaintiff rented the device from her surgeon’s medical practice. Id. at *7. Upon discharge after surgery, plaintiff was advised to use the device at a certain temperature “as much as possible.” Id. at *8. Plaintiff’s use of the device and the instructions she received from her surgeon are explained in more detail in the opinion, but ultimately, plaintiff developed severe skin damage that required multiple plastic surgeries and scar reduction surgeries. Id. at *9-13.

Plaintiff file suit against her surgeon, the medical practice, and the device manufacturer. The jury found against the manufacturer on plaintiff’s claims for design defect, failure to warn, and intentional concealment. Id. at *19. The jury also awarded punitive damages against the manufacturer on the intentional concealment claim. Id. On appeal, the court overturned the intentional concealment verdict, which also meant reversing the punitive damages verdict. But, the court upheld the trial court’s decision not to instruct the jury on the learned intermediary doctrine finding it did not apply to a medical device intended to be operated directly by the patient.

Continue Reading A Fraudulent Concealment Win Coupled with an Unfavorable Learned Intermediary Ruling

Our learned intermediary rule “head count” lists Oklahoma as solidly in support of the doctrine:

Oklahoma: Edwards v. Basel Pharmaceuticals, 933 P.2d 298, 300-01 (Okla. 1997); Tansy v. Dacomed Corp., 890 P.2d 881, 886 (Okla. 1994); McKee v. Moore, 648 P.2d 21, 24 (Okla. 1982); Cunningham v. Charles Pfizer & Co., 532 P.2d 1377, 1381 (Okla. 1974).

The “head count” lists every state supreme court decision to follow the learned intermediary rule, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s four decisions applying the doctrine are exceeded only by Ohio’s six (plus a statute) and Kansas’ five opinions.

Oklahoma courts had never applied the rule to pharmacists, however. As we’ve discussed before, the learned intermediary rule helps pharmacy defendants by precluding claims that pharmacies, as intermediate sellers of prescription drugs, should have some sort of independent duty to warn patients. Just as the rule recognizes physicians as learned intermediaries in passing along relevant warnings from prescription medical product manufacturers to their patients, learned intermediary principles also preserve the physician-patient relationship by precluding imposition of independent warning duties on other possible interlopers – such as pharmacies – who otherwise might be legally required to confuse patients by providing information that conflicts with what prescribing physicians tell their patients. Back in 2011, on occasion of the Arkansas decision Kowalski v. Rose Drugs, Inc., 378 S.W.3d 109 (Ark. 2011), we did a 50-state survey post on this issue, and Oklahoma was missing in action.

Not any longer. In Carista v. Valuck, ___ P.3d ___, 2016 WL 6237855 (Okla. App. Oct. 20, 2016), the court applied the learned intermediary rule to pharmacy-related claims in essentially the same fashion as the previous cases in our survey post. Carista involved a plaintiff (or more precisely, a plaintiff’s decedent) who took too many painkillers – it appears, from the opinion, illegally − overdosed, and then attempted to blame someone else, in this case the pharmacy where the prescriptions were allegedly filled. The case was dismissed, and the plaintiff appealed. Recognizing the issue as one of first impression, the court followed what it concluded, rightly, was the majority rule:

Many other states appear, however, to have adopted the [learned intermediary] doctrine, with limited exceptions, to shield pharmacists from being required to “second guess” a physician’s medical decisions embodied in an otherwise authorized and legally made prescription.

Continue Reading Oklahoma Becomes the Latest State To Apply Learned Intermediary Principles To Pharmacies