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.

 

In the aftermath of Levine, with its generous interpretation of the CBE regulation and its novel “clear evidence” standard, we wondered how long it would be until we saw a court holding that a failure to warn claim with a branded prescription drug was preempted.  Courts were chilled for a while, but eventually the right sort of cases found their way to judges who understood preemption.  Now, we have a pretty big list of decisions finding preemption of such claims, along with decisions exhibiting supportive reasoning.  We are not yet at the point where preemption of failure to warn claims with branded prescription drugs—for a long time, the core claim in the biggest litigations in our bailiwick—is no longer news.  Preemption is still the exception—limited to cases with a strong regulatory history of FDA rejecting the warning plaintiff wanted—rather than the rule, particularly when it comes to favorable appellate decisions.

Rheinfrank v. Abbott Labs., Inc., __ Fed. Appx. __, 2017 WL 680349 (6th Cir. Feb. 21, 2017), is another favorable appellate decision on preemption.  You may recognize the name—especially if you are a blog aficionado—from our prior posts on the case.  We posted on partial summary judgment being granted as to part of the failure to warn claims being offered—on preemption—and the punitive damages claim—on lack of proof of relevant FDA fraud to meet the exception under the Ohio Product Liability Act provision generally precluding punitives for FDA-approved drugs.  We posted on the expansion of the preemption ruling on motion to reconsider to include design defect.  (These garnered an honorable mention in our list of the best decisions of 2015.)  We even posted on motions in limine rulings.  Even with all of those posts, a brief recap of the facts might help.  The minor plaintiff’s mother took the prescription anti-seizure medication at issue for fifteen years, including through four pregnancies, before she became pregnant with plaintiff.  She kept taking the medication at issue, along with another anti-seizure medication she had been taking, through the birth of plaintiff, who was diagnosed with “physical deformities and cognitive disabilities, including Fetal Valproate Syndrome.”  2017 WL 680349, *1.  The label for the medication at issue had long featured a black box warning and other warnings about birth defects, focusing on neural tube defects like spina bifida and discouraging use during pregnancy unless use of the medications “are clearly shown to be essential in the management of their seizures.” Id. at *2.  Over the course of seven years after plaintiff’s birth, FDA refused the manufacturer’s repeated efforts to revise the label to address developmental delays in offspring based on data from a study that was ultimately published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Id. at **2-4.  A revision of the labeling was ultimately submitted by CBE and accepted by FDA in 2011. Id. at *4.  The prescriber back in 2003 and 2004 testified that she was aware of the black box warning on birth defects, would have relayed it to plaintiff, and would not have relied on other materials outside the label. Id. at *2.

Somehow, on this record, the plaintiff got to trial.  Under the logic of “all’s well that ends well,” we will limit our rant on this point.  After all, we have discussed other birth defect cases that got to trial despite obvious issues, resulted in big verdicts, and got affirmed on appeal. Rheinfrank proceeded to trial under the portion of the strict liability failure to warn claim that was not preempted, a strict liability claim for failure to confirm to representations, the portion of a common law negligent failure to warn claim that was not preempted, and a common law negligent design claim.  Among the reasons why the two failure to warn claims should not have seen a court are that 1) Ohio law requires the allegedly inadequate warning to relate to the injury plaintiff claims, 2) claims relating to developmental delays (including as part of Fetal Valproate Syndrome) were preempted, and 3) the prescriber was aware of black box warnings about really serious birth defects and the recommendation against prescription during pregnancy in most situations.  It is hard to see how plaintiff mustered evidence of proximate cause—that is, that a proposed (non-preempted) alternative warning as to a risk of an injury the plaintiff had (based on evidence that existed when the prescription was written) would have changed the prescriber’s decision to prescribe—to survive summary judgment.  Based on the jury instructions that plaintiff proposed at trial, it seems like a broader discussion of risks and the impact of different warnings about risks was permitted than maybe should have been, which is often a reason why failure to warn claims get past summary judgment.  Given that the prescriber denied reliance on any representations outside the label, it is hard to see how that claim got to the jury.  As for the negligent design claim, it is hard to see how the same reasoning for preempting the strict liability design claim would not have applied or how a design of the drug—without being a different drug—that lacked the same birth defect risk could have been offered.  Anyway, the trial judge may have known what was coming, because the jury listened to the just about the best plaintiff could offer and returned a defense verdict on all counts after two weeks.

Continue Reading Sixth Circuit Affirms Branded Drug Preemption and Trial Win

A hospital? What is it? It’s a big building with patients, but that’s not important right now. Airplane, 1980. It’s also a big building filled with doctors and that is important right now. Those doctors are learned intermediaries between prescription drug and device manufacturers and the patients. A manufacturer’s duty to warn runs to the doctor and it then becomes the doctor’s responsibility to use his/her medical expertise to counsel his/her patient and advise the patient of the risks of the recommended treatment, therapy, drug, device, etc. This is drug and device products liability law 101.

Well, now in Washington, device manufacturers (not sure how this will impact prescription drugs) have another duty to warn – the duty to warn the hospital that purchased the device. See Taylor v. Intuitive Surgical, Inc., 2017 Wash. LEXIS 200 (Wash. S.Ct. Feb. 9, 2017). In a bizarre decision, the Washington Supreme Court creates what we believe is a unique, separate duty by device manufacturers to provide warnings to a hospital. Nowhere in the opinion does the court cite any precedent for this alternative warning claim, because there isn’t any. They also hold that the learned intermediary doctrine does not apply to this unprecedented duty. And then the court also refused to apply a negligence standard to plaintiff’s traditional failure to warn claim under comment k. Surely you can’t be serious. I am serious . . . and don’t call me Shirley.

The device at issue in Taylor was a robotic surgical device used for laparoscopic surgeries, including prostatectomies such as the one performed on plaintiff. Id. at *3. It is a complex medical device for which the manufacturer requires surgeons undergo training, including performing at least two proctored surgeries before being credentialed to use the system and recommends surgeons choose “simple cases” for their initial unproctored procedures. Id. at *4-5. The manufacturer also specifically warned surgeons not to use the device for prostatectomies on obese patients or on patients who had undergone prior lower abdominal surgeries and advised that the patient should be in a steep head down position during the procedure. Plaintiff Taylor was the first unproctored procedure for his surgeon and his surgeon opted to use the device despite plaintiff being obese and having had prior abdominal surgery. The surgeon also did not place plaintiff in the downward position due to his weight. Id. at *5-6. Plaintiff’s surgeon conceded plaintiff was not an optimal candidate for using the device. Id. at *6.

Plaintiff brought suit against the surgeon, the hospital, and the manufacturer, then settled with the surgeon and hospital before trial. At trial against the manufacturer, the jury found the manufacturer was not negligent in providing warnings to the surgeon. Id. at *7-8. As noted above, the warnings seem detailed and clear. On appeal, plaintiff argued that the trial court erred in not instructing the jury that the manufacturer had a duty to warn the purchasing hospital and erred in applying a negligence standard to the failure to warn claim.

Continue Reading Washington State Creates Device Manufacturer Duty to Warn Hospitals

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

What follows is a guest post about a recent favorable decision in Canadian drug/device litigation.  Unlike in the USA, product liability class actions cases are often certified in Canada.  Thus, any pro-defense decision is good news indeed.  Robin Linley and Jessica Lam of Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP in Toronto have been good enough to provide us what they call a “brief and selective summary” of Wise v. Abbott Laboratories Limited, No. CV-16-550747CP, 2016 ONSC 7275 slip op. (Ont. Super. Nov. 23, 2016), which in typical Canadian fashion, takes 85 pages to reach a result that our clients will like.  As always, our guest posters are 100% responsible for their content, and thus entitled to 100% of the credit or blame, as it may be, for what appears below.

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In a recent product liability class action decision, Wise v. Abbott Laboratories Limited, No. CV-16-550747CP, 2016 ONSC 7275 slip op. (Ont. Super. Nov. 23, 2016) (“Wise“), the Ontario Superior Court of Justice (“Court”) granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment in advance of the certification motion, concluding that there was no genuine issue requiring a trial because there was insufficient evidence of general causation.  The decision highlights the potential for defendants to use summary judgment to resolve a class action before certification in appropriate cases.

The representative plaintiff brought a proposed class action against Abbott alleging that its testosterone replacement product, for the treatment of hypogonadism (testosterone deficiency) in men, caused serious cardiovascular (CV) events.  The plaintiff further alleged that the drug had no therapeutic benefit and that class members should be compensated for their economic losses incurred in purchasing the product. The plaintiffs also sought recovery from the defendant based on allegations of failure to warn and the novel claim of “waiver of tort”.

Abbott submitted that the plaintiff’s claims should be dismissed on the grounds that they could not prove general causation, which was a constituent element in all of the plaintiff’s product liability claims, and that ultimately, there was insufficient evidence of a “genuine issue requiring a trial”.

Continue Reading Guest Post – Ontario Court Decision Highlights Summary Judgment as a Potential Tool in Class Proceedings North of the Border

Devoted as we are to the defense of manufacturers of prescription drugs and medical devices, we have often advocated for the full implication of the fundamental—to us, at least—requirements that warnings claims focus on the decision making of the learned intermediary and that proximate cause matters.  One implication is that heeding presumptions typically make little sense for claims about these products.  It is one thing to say that a plaintiff should be allowed to proceed with a warnings claim when a prescriber is truly unavailable to provide testimony—like by dying before the plaintiff knew he had a claim—and the alleged missing warning would have clearly contraindicated the plaintiff from receiving the prescription product.  In such a case, it might make sense to presume, absent contrary evidence, that the physician would have heeded the warning and not prescribed the product to the plaintiff.  In just about every other prescription drug and device case we can imagine, the heeding presumption does not make sense.

We feel the same way about a post-sale duty to warn.  Not only do such duties run contrary to the typical focus in warnings cases on the notice to the manufacturer of potential risks before the product leaves its control (or is prescribed to plaintiff), but the proximate cause inquiry can quickly become an exercise in layered speculation.  Cases acknowledging such a post-sale duty have typically involved situations where the seller had a continuing relationship with the purchaser, with an obvious route for relaying additional information about the product in a way that allows a jury to evaluate whether injury would have been avoided.  In prescription drug and device cases, there tends not to be any direct relationship at any time and the manufacturer does not know the names or addresses of patients using its products.  Over time, patients move, change their physicians, and even see physicians for reasons unrelated to the reason they were prescribed a drug or device in the past.  Over time, manufacturers also stop selling specific products or product lines and may even go out of business.  When it comes to drugs with alleged remote effects or devices that are implanted for many years, these real world considerations make potentially unlimited post-sale duties to warn a folly.  We could go on, but we will not.

Continue Reading Heeding Presumption Only Goes So Far In Post-Sale Warning Case

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

Bexis, who took some lumps in probably the worst Wisconsin product liability decision ever (he filed PLAC’s amicus brief in Thomas v. Mallett, 701 N.W.2d 523 (Wis. 2005)), just read what we believe is the best Wisconsin law decision ever – at least in the drug/medical device sandbox that we inhabit. The decision is In re Zimmer Nexgen Knee Implant Products Liability Litigation, 2016 WL 6135685 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 21, 2016) (since the caption is a mouthful, we’ll call it “ZNKI“).

Here’s why ZNKI is favorable on Wisconsin legal issues.

First, as our longstanding 50-state survey on the learned intermediary rule points out, Wisconsin is one of nine states in which only federal courts predicting state law have had occasion to adopt the learned intermediary rule.  Looking more closely at these nine, Wisconsin is one of only two states (South Dakota being the other) where only federal district courts have reached this holding.  What isn’t there, but is discussed in ZNKI, is that some courts have (without much reasoning) refused to predict Wisconsin’s adherence to the rule.  Refusing to dodge the issue, ZNKI forthrightly examines both Wisconsin precedent and the general state of the law and concludes that Wisconsin would join the nationwide learned intermediary consensus:

[F]ederal courts applying Wisconsin law have reached different conclusions about the doctrine’s applicability.  The vast majority of states, however, do employ some version of the doctrine.  In addition, this court’s research suggests that those courts that have declined to apply the doctrine under Wisconsin law have done so in cases involving prescription drugs, not medical devices, and those courts offer no reason to believe that the Wisconsin Supreme Court would not adopt this majority rule if presented with the issue.

In the context of . . . surgery, a patient must rely on the experience and judgment of his or her surgeon, who selects the appropriate implant and educates the patient about the particular risks − based on the patient’s particular circumstances and physiology. . . .  Given that context, and given the widespread acceptance of the doctrine throughout the country, the court believes it is likely that the Wisconsin Supreme Court would apply the learned intermediary doctrine in this case.

ZNKI, 2016 WL 6135685, at *19-20 (numerous citations omitted).  As we’ve pointed out recently, the learned intermediary rule is, if anything, enjoying a renaissance, with thirteen straight state high court adoptions since the infamous Karl case (since overruled by statute) was the only supreme court to go the other way.

Continue Reading Probably the Best Wisconsin Law Decision We’ve Ever Seen

Over the last couple of years, the Accutane mass tort in New Jersey state court has become the gift that keeps on giving.  The latest installment is a two-fer: In re Accutane Litigation, 2016 WL 5958374 (New Jersey Super. Law. Div. Oct. 12, 2016), and In re Accutane Litigation, 2016 WL 5958375 (New Jersey Super. Law. Div. Oct. 12, 2016).  Between these two orders, practically every permutation of causation under the learned intermediary rule is addressed, and the end result is the grant of summary judgment against an impressive 160 of 162 plaintiffs.

For obvious reasons, we’ll call the first (#374) “Accutane I” and the second (#375) “Accutane II” to tell them apart.

Eighty-six plaintiffs’ cases failed in Accutane I because they couldn’t even begin to satisfy their usual burden of proof.  That was because, by the time they got around to bringing their lawsuits, their prescribing physicians had either died (44 plaintiffs) or else simply could not be located (42 plaintiffs).  2016 WL 5958374, at *1-2.  As we’ve discussed before, in one of our “little lists” posts, there’s now quite a bit of law enforcing the burden of proof in dead/missing prescriber cases.  We even feel somewhat paternal feelings in this area, because several of your merry bloggers (Eric A, Steve M, and Bexis), litigated this issue extensively a decade ago in Diet Drug cases at a time when there was practically no directly on-point precedent.  In doing so, we increased the number of favorable decisions from one to seven.

Accutane I represents another giant step forward. The court held that, under the law of no fewer than 35 jurisdictions, a plaintiff who could not obtain any prescriber testimony at all could not meet his/her burden under the learned intermediary rule (now the law, as we’ve pointed out, of all fifty states) of establishing that the absent prescriber would have changed the relevant prescription had s/he received a supposedly “adequate” warning.  The defendant’s causation argument was rather basic:

Defendants argue that without the testimony of the deceased or missing physicians, Plaintiffs cannot establish that [the drug] would not have been prescribed given a different warning and thus they cannot satisfy proximate cause. Absent physicians’ testimony, Defendants argue that the causal link to injury is broken.  Even if the proximate cause standard were as Plaintiffs claim – that their prescriber might hypothetically have altered their risk discussion somehow if only [the manufacturer] had warned differently – Defendants assert that physician testimony is still needed.

2016 WL 5958374, at *3 (citation omitted). Plaintiffs fell back on that old canard, the “heeding presumption.” Id. at *4.  The court, however, was having none of it.

[T]he Court is persuaded by Defendants’ arguments that the heeding presumption within a learned intermediary context does not equate with a decision by the physician to not prescribe the drug.  If it did, medications would never be prescribed when accompanied by warnings because of the various risks associated with their use.

. . .Plaintiffs concede that their physicians are deceased or otherwise unavailable, and they have offered nothing by way of individual opposition papers. . . . Accordingly, the case-specific facts presented by Defendants are undisputed.

Plaintiffs’ reasoning is flawed, especially when one considers the slew of risks associated with and heeded by [prescription drug] users and prescribing physicians. Notably, application of the heeding presumption in the context of a pharmaceutical learned intermediary case where a manufacturer provided a warning and its adequacy remains in issue is not reflected within any of the cited case law.

Id. at 10-11 (citation omitted) (emphasis added).  Regardless of any presumption, all plaintiffs “still have the burden of proof for every element of their claim.”

Continue Reading Warning Causation Potpourri in New Jersey Mass Tort

We found a hidden (at least from us) Georgia federal court decision that we want to discuss because it hits on many of the effective defenses sometimes available to defendants on motions to dismiss. It’s two years old and, for whatever reason, we’re just now finding it. But better late than never.  In Connolly v. Sandoz Pharma. Corp., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 190163 (N.D. Ga. 2014), the court dismissed with prejudice a generic-drug complaint by invoking Mensing, Buckman and the learned intermediary doctrine. That’s a pretty good line-up.

It all turned on the plaintiffs’ decision to assert failure-to-warn claims. With generic drugs, that triggers Mensing preemption. Federal regulations do not allow generic drug manufactures to unilaterally change the content of the warnings in their labels, so a state-law claim seeking to impose liability for insufficient content in a label is preempted.

Plaintiffs tried to juke their way around this problem, however, by arguing that their claims were not about label content but instead defendants’ failure to follow federal regulations that would ensure that medication guides reached patients. Id. at *11-12.

Continue Reading A Recently Discovered Gem