Back in 2009 – when the blog was still a Bexis/Herrmann operation – we wrote a catch-all punitive damages post entitled (oddly enough) “On Punitive Damages.”  That post identified and briefly discussed a variety of punitive damages-related issues, including what amount of increased risk is enough to justify an award of punitive damages under applicable state-law standards.  We pointed out a couple of Restatement sections, Restatement (Second) of Torts §§500, 908, that defined “recklessness” for punitive damages purposes in relation to a “high degree of risk.”

That’s an interesting question, because a product that increases the possibility of death or serious injury due to some particular risk from one in a zillion to two in a zillion has doubled the relative risk – but in absolute terms the increase is tiny.

Ever since that post we’ve been meaning to come back and examine that punitive damages issue in greater detail.  Today we finally get around to it.  Because doing the job right would require research well beyond prescription medical products, we looked for research help, and enterprising (pun intended) Reed Smith associate Kevin Hara stepped up to handle the initial spadework.  To put the question in the affirmative, can we defeat punitive damages, even where a relative increase in serious risk is high, where the absolute increase in risk remains minuscule?  What increase in the risk of injury enough to warrant sending punitive damages to the jury?  Is a one in 10,000, one in 5000 risk significant enough?  How about one in 1000?  One in 100?


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We have not posted for a while—that day job can really get in the way sometimes—so we agreed to tackle the ridiculously long decision in Christiansen v. Wright Med. Tech. Inc., MDL No. 2329, 1:13-cv-297-WSD, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 115601 (N.D. Ga. Aug. 31, 2015), as a bit of penance.  This act may be appropriate given the recent Day of Atonement and, much like long Yom Kippur services during a fast, the decision drags on, repeats itself, has some highs and lows, and maybe induces some confusion and a touch of a headache.  While we are not looking for a scapegoat, some of the reasoning for why the issues were presented how they were presented and why they were decided is lost on the reader, at least this reader.  (Much like the original meaning of Azazel, to where/whom the original scapegoat was to be sent by Aaron.  Or maybe not at all like that.)  As a combination Daubert and summary judgment order on a bellwether case from an MDL for a product, a metal-on-metal hip implant, for which there is considerable litigation on similar products made by other manufacturers, there will likely to attempts to extend various parts of this decision to other cases.  So, we will resort to the dreaded use of subheadings in discussing it.

Background

Plaintiff had a left hip replacement in 1995 with a device that used a ceramic femoral ball, a polyethylene liner, and a metal acetabular shell.  In 2006, plaintiff had her right hip replaced with the defendant’s product, which utilized a ball and cup each made of cobalt-chromium with no liner.  In 2012, plaintiff started experiencing pain in her right hip and, within a week, had a revision surgery where the defendant’s product was explanted (and presumably something else was implanted).  All three surgeries were done by Dr. Lynn Rasmussen, who happened to have been consulting with defendant on designing hip implants in between the second and third surgeries.  In doing the third surgery, Dr. Rasmussen observed what he called “metallosis” (sometimes “metalosis” in the records and briefs), but did not send any explanted tissue or material for pathological evaluation.  Plaintiff sued under a range of product liability theories based on the risk of “metallosis.”  Thereafter, plaintiff named at least ten experts to weigh in on causation and defect in some form or other, most of whom relied to some degree on Dr. Rasmussen’s characterization of what he saw—and defendant filed a bunch of Daubert motions.  Plaintiff filed a “motion for partial summary judgment” that preemption and the learned intermediary doctrine did not apply to her claims and, at the court’s request, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on all the claims that plaintiff did not drop.  An affiliated defendant also filed for summary judgment on different grounds.  There were some other motions we are ignoring, but everything was addressed in one big decision.


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This post is from the non-Reed Smith side of the blog.

It can be difficult to have a completely consistent position on choice of law issues.  That’s because state law varies and sometimes you’ll find you are better served by the law of the forum state, other times by the law of the plaintiff’s home state, and sometimes by the law of the defendant’s home state. The issue, the facts, and the law all drive the parties’ preferences.

Typically, however, we tend to favor the notion that liability issues should be governed by the law of the plaintiff’s residence.  That is where the alleged treatment and injury occurred, and those factors are important in any choice of law analysis.  Such a rule also imposes some limit on blatant forum-shopping by plaintiffs.  But what law should apply to punitive damages?  This is where things can get a little fuzzy.  On punitive damages, the balance of interest between plaintiff’s residence and defendant’s residence is more even – making the analysis trickier and also affording more opportunity to craft an argument for the law of the state that is more defense-friendly.


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Last month, we described the proposal by the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Medical Professional Liability concerning legislation on “defective medical products” and punitive damages for “patient harm allegedly caused” by them.  Over the last month, we have seen statements issued by a number of professional groups urging the ABA Delegates to reject the 

“We’ve seen this movie before.”  That is something people say when they encounter something that seems simultaneously dreadful and predictable.  That is how we felt upon reading the latest dismal opinion out of the Drake Botox litigation in Vermont federal court.  We’ve blogged about this case several times before, bemoaning the blundering approach taken

It is the time of year for reflection and resolutions. We look back on the ups and downs of the year that is about to end and look forward to the New Year with hope, promises and predictions.  As for 2015 here at the DDL Blog – we hope we will continue to be helpful and informative to our readers, we promise that Bexis will find at least one decision a quarter worthy of a full-blown tirade, and we predict that McConnell will keep us up-to-date on both legal trends and what’s hot on TV and at the movies.

As for 2014, Bexis is posting his annual Best Of and Worst Of lists.  Keeping with that theme, we decided to post about a case that has some of both, the good and the bad.  The case is Brown v. Johnson & Johnson, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 173800 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 9, 2014) and it involves the over-the-counter drug Children’s Motrin.  Wanting to end on a high note, we’ll dispense with the low points of the decision first.

First up, the preemption rulings.  The court held that plaintiff’s failure to warn claim was not preempted because the defendant had not shown that it could not have used the CBE process to change the warning label.  Establishing warning preemption in a drug case is an “exacting burden” for defendants requiring clear and convincing evidence that the FDA would have rejected the warning proposed by plaintiff.  Id. at *2-3.  The court applied the same “exacting burden” to defendant’s design-related preemption defense, finding a lack of evidence that the FDA would have rejected a proposed design change as well.  Id. at *6.


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Holism is a concept modernly used most commonly in medicine –treating both the body and the mind.  We don’t see it too often in legal parlance as it’s come to be associated with a somewhat touchy-feely approach.  Not something litigators are often accused of being.  At its core, holism is a philosophy based on treating something as more than the sum of its parts.  So when we read in Schmidt v. C.R. Bard, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 146459 (S.D. Ga. Oct. 14, 2014) that on a motion to dismiss, the judge was “[r]eading Plaintiff’s Complaint holistically,” we were fairly sure we weren’t going to be happy with the results.  And we were right.

A holistic approach to pleadings is precisely what TwIqbal aims to prevent.  Either the complaint contains sufficient and specific factual allegations that go beyond speculation and legal conclusions or it doesn’t.  Using the TwIqbal standard, a complaint is only as good as its parts; its allegations. You can’t fix bad pleadings by reading into them more than what is there.  But we think that is exactly what the court did in this case.

The suit involves the implantation of a mesh device to repair a hernia.  Plaintiff ultimately had to have the device removed and alleges permanent injury as a result.  Id. at *1-2.  Assessing whether plaintiff sufficiently pleaded a design defect claim, the court starts off with a general statement we support:  “a bald assertion that the [device] was defective in design . . ., was unreasonably dangerous, and the foreseeable risks outweighed the [] benefits would be insufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.”  Id. at *8.  But then the court goes on to conclude, and repeatedly state, that plaintiff listed 9 possible design defects and therefore survives a motion to dismiss.  The court never identified what those 9 “defects” were, so we looked at the complaint ourselves.


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From our ivory tower in the kingdom of blogdom, we track cases and litigations from afar, peeking in on them from decisions rendered at specific points in time.  Sometimes, from a single decision, we venture on what will happen next, like whether claims that survived dismissal will make it past summary judgment or whether a

While we are often critical of federal courts that reach out to make new state law, today we commend a far-away judge for bringing California’s learned intermediary doctrine law back to its basics.  The case is Sanchez v. Boston Scientific Corp., No. 2:12-cv-05762, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114122 (S.D. W. Va. Aug. 18, 2014),