We’ve often thought that tort reform should be a major goal of those interested in preserving women’s reproductive choice. Every prescription medicine has risks, which is why the FDA requires a prescription in the first place, and prescription contraceptives are no exception. But ever since the very first birth control pills, back in the 1960s, the other side of the “v.” has consistently attacked every innovation in contraceptive technology and attempted to drive it off the market. It’s happened over and over again – with IUDs, Norplant, OrthoEvra, Yasmin, NuvaRing, Mirena, Essure. Except for the Dalkon Shield IUD forty years ago (and occasional idiosyncratic manufacturing errors), all these products were (or are being) ultimately vindicated, and the FDA continues to consider their designs to be both safe and effective. Unfortunately their users have had to pay a significant tort tax in order to continue exercising their personal choice of contraceptive method.

Niedner v. Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical, Inc., ___ N.E.3d ___, 2016 WL 5106479 (Mass. App. Sept. 21, 2016), is both an example of the plaintiff’s bar’s ongoing attempt to deprive women of reproductive choice and an exemplar of how to beat such efforts. Niedner involved a time-release contraceptive patch:

The patch prevents pregnancy by transferring synthetic forms of the hormones estrogen and progestin through the skin. Unlike oral birth control pills, which must be taken at the same time each day, the patch is applied to the skin once per week for three weeks, followed by a fourth patch-free week.

Id. at *1. The decedent decided to use this product in preference to both condoms and daily birth control pills.  Id.

Risks.

It is a well-known scientific fact that any hormonal contraceptive places its user at an increased risk of stroke, myocardial infarction, and blood clots generally. This product was no exception:

[The prescribing physician] informed [the decedent minor and her mother] of the risks associated with using the patch, including that all hormonal contraceptives come with a risk of suffering blood clots. When the prescription was filled by [the] pharmacy, the package included an insert prepared by . . . the manufacturer[], as well as a leaflet from the pharmacy, both of which set forth the risks associated with use of the patch, including the risks of stroke, heart attack, and blood clots.

Id. Unfortunately, after three months use the decedent suffered a fatal “massive bilateral pulmonary embolus.”  Id.

Continue Reading Massachusetts Rebuffs Latest Plaintiff Attack on Reproductive Choice

As the calendar turns from August to September, it is time once again to concede the strength of the Southeastern Conference.  You probably think we are referring to college football or basketball, in which teams from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas prevail with grinding monotony.  [We have a feeling that OJ’s old college squad, USC, will have an ugly time of it against Alabama in the ostensibly neutral site of Jerry World this weekend.]  But, no, we are talking about product liability law.  [For the moment, we are pretending that the Weeks innovator liability abomination in Alabama never happened.  Moreover, the Alabama legislature eventually cleaned up that mess.]  Today we are focusing on the safer alternative requirement in design defect cases.  It occurs to us that some very good cases on this issue come out of the SEC.  In the beginning of the year, we discussed a Mississippi case, Mealer v. 3M, where the court dismissed a case on the ground that an elastomeric respirator was not a safer alternative to a cheap paper respirator mask.  They were two entirely different products, fundamentally different in terms of operation, longevity, and expense.   Consumers might have all sorts of important reasons, aside from safety, to choose one over the other.

[Readers who are especially nerdy or possess especially good memories might point out that in July we bemoaned a Louisiana opinion permitting a plaintiff to suggest that other drugs could constitute a safer alternative to the drug at issue.  To our mind, different drugs, which consist of different molecules with entirely different risk-benefit profiles, are separate products and cannot be treated as a safer alternative that can shame other drugs out of existence.  Under the plaintiff’s (and, unfortunately, the Louisiana court’s) theory, jury verdicts might drive all drugs that treat, say, diabetes, out of the market except one.  And even that one would not be safe from attack.  Or, to veer away from drugs and devices, we might as well shut down Harley-Davidson, since motorcycles are less safe than other modes of motorized transportation.   Live to ride, ride to live?  Not anymore.  But don’t worry too much.  You can still sing “Born to be Wild” on your Hydra Glide.  The recent Louisiana error stands as an aberration.  As Bexis pointed out in a magnum opus blogpost that strolled down bone screw memory lane back in 2013, Louisiana has quite a lot of good safer alternative decisions.]

Today’s case, Hosford v. BRK Brands, Inc., 2016 Ala. LEXIS 91 (Ala. August 19, 2016), sees the Alabama Supreme Court apply an even stricter test in pouring out a plaintiffs’ case on the ground that the proposed safer alternative was a separate product altogether.  The facts of Hosford are grim.  A four-year-old girl died in a fire that destroyed her family’s mobile home in May 2011.  The fire began in a faulty electrical outlet in the girl’s bedroom.  Her family sued the manufacturer of the smoke alarms in their mobile home.  The theory was that the smoke alarms were defectively designed because they relied solely on ionization technology which, the plaintiffs alleged, failed to give adequate warning to allow an escape in the event of a slow smoldering fire.  There are dual sensor smoke alarms on the market that employ both ionization and photoelectric technology.  According to the plaintiffs, such alarms would have roused the family in time to save the little girl.  After the plaintiffs presented their case at trial, the defendant moved for judgment as a matter of law.  The trial court mostly granted that motion, and only one claim went to the jury.  The jury ultimately returned a verdict in favor of the defendant.

Continue Reading Alabama Supreme Court Imposes Tough Standard on Safer Alternative Design