The district judge in the In re Zimmer Nexgen Knee Implant Products Liability Litigation MDL issued a summary judgment order in October 2016 that we called “the best Wisconsin law decision we have ever seen.” What was the reason for our unusually unbridled enthusiasm? The district judge debunked the idea that the learned
We don’t often get to discuss decisions from Maine. In fact, a quick spin through the blog and you’ll see Maine really only comes up in various canvases or surveys of state law. We don’t dislike the state. We love the lobster — that they take very seriously. We can’t say we love the winters…
We’ve made no secret of our dislike of the so called “heeding presumption.” We have a tag on this subject with multiple posts decrying this presumption — that juries may presume that if an alternative adequate warning had been given, it would have been heeded by the plaintiff (or, in prescription medical product cases, the…
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.
The recent decision of the New York Court of Appeals in In re New York City Asbestos Litigation, ___ N.E.3d ___, 2016 WL 3495191 (N.Y. June 28, 2016) (“NYCAL”), was not too good for asbestos defendants – as it permitted, under certain circumstances, non-manufacturers to be sued for failure to warn of a risk that the product they manufactured didn’t have (exposure to asbestos), where they “encourage[ed]” the use of products containing that risk with their products and thereby benefitted economically:
[A] manufacturer’s duty to warn of combined use of its product with another product depends in part on whether the manufacturer’s product can function without the other product, as it would be unfair to allow a manufacturer to avoid the minimal cost of including a warning about the perils of the joint use of the products when the manufacturer knows that the combined use is both necessary and dangerous. And, the justification for a duty to warn becomes particularly strong if the manufacturer intends that customers engage in the hazardous combined use of the products at issue.
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[W]here a manufacturer creates a product that cannot be used without another product as a result of the design of the product, the mechanics of the product or the absence of economically feasible alternative means of enabling the product to function as intended, the manufacturer has a substantial, albeit indirect, role in placing the third-party product in the stream of commerce. . . . Specifically, when the manufacturer produces a product that requires another product to function, the manufacturer naturally opens up a profitable market for that essential component, thereby encouraging the other company to make that related product and place it in the stream of commerce.
NYCAL, 2016 WL 3495191, at *__ (for some reason there is no Westlaw star paging at the moment). This opinion is very bad news for the affected companies, who are now sucked into the maw of interminable asbestos litigation on the basis of products they didn’t even make, but it should not open the door to innovator liability type claims against our medical product manufacturer clients, and it’s good on causation, too.
Ever since this blog started, we’ve made plain that we have no use for the so-called “heeding presumption.” This presumption posits that, because under Restatement §402A, comment j, a defendant providing an adequate warning can presume it will be heeded, a plaintiff should also be able to presume that an adequate warning, had it been granted, would have been heeded. That’s false equivalence if we’ve ever seen it. A defendant to such a warning claim needs no heeding presumption, since it wins on adequacy without ever getting to causation. The comment j discussion really involves design defects (about which more below). Plaintiffs, on the other hand, are getting a burden of proof shift on warning causation that simply has no basis in reality. People disregard adequate warnings all the time.
So we fight the heeding presumption whenever it comes up. Some states have good law on the issue. N.C. G.S.A. §99B-5(a); Wis. Stat. §895.047(1)(e); Ford Motor Co. v. Boomer, 736 S.E.2d 724, 733 (Va. 2013); Rivera v. Philip Morris, Inc., 209 P.3d 271, 274 (Nev. 2009); Leaf v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 590 N.W.2d 525, 528-29 (Iowa 1999); Riley v. American Honda Motor Co., 856 P.2d 196, 199-200 (Mont. 1993); Deere & Co. v. Grose, 586 So. 2d 196, 198 (Ala. 1991); Huitt v. Southern California Gas Co., 116 Cal. Rptr.3d 453, 467-68 (Cal. App. 2010); Harris v. International Truck & Engine Corp., 912 So. 2d 1101, 1109 (Miss. App. 2005); McPike v. Enciso’s Cocina Mejicana, Inc., 762 P.2d 315, 319 (Or. App. 1988); DeJesus v. Craftsman Machinery Co., 548 A.2d 736 (Conn. App. 1988); Muilenberg v. Upjohn Co., 320 N.W.2d 358, 366 (Mich. App. 1982); Potthoff v. Alms, 583 P.2d 309, 311 (Colo. App. 1978); Payne v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., 767 F.3d 526 (6th Cir. 2014) (applying Tennessee law); Tuttle v. Lorillard Tobacco Co., 377 F.3d 917, 925 (8th Cir. 2004) (applying Minnesota law); Wilson v. Bradlees of New England, Inc., 250 F.3d 10 (1st Cir. 2001) (applying New Hampshire law); Christopher v. Cutter Laboratories, 53 F.3d 1184, 1192-93 (11th Cir. 1995) (applying Florida law); Odom v. G.D. Searle & Co., 979 F.2d 1001, 1003 (4th Cir. 1992) (applying South Carolina law); Muzichuck v. Forest Laboratories, Inc., 2015 WL 235226, at *13 (N.D.W. Va. Jan. 16, 2015); Luttrell v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., 894 F. Supp.2d 1324, 1345 n.16 (E.D. Wash. 2012).
Almost as many states are adverse. House v. Armour, Inc., 929 P.2d 340, 347 (Utah 1996); Coffman v. Keene Corp., 628 A.2d 710, 717-19 (N.J. 1993); Eagle-Picher Industries, Inc. v. Balbos, 604 A.2d 445, 468-69 (Md. 1992); Bushong v. Garman Co., 843 S.W.2d 807, 811 (Ark. 1992); Arnold v. Ingersoll-Rand Co., 834 S.W.2d 192, 194 (Mo. 1992); Butz v. Werner, 438 N.W.2d 509, 517 (N.D. 1989); Harlow v. Chin, 545 N.E.2d 602, 606 (Mass. 1989); Bloxom v. Bloxom, 512 So.2d 839, 850 (La. 1987); Payne v. Soft Sheen Products, Inc., 486 A.2d 712, 725 (D.C. 1985); Wooderson v. Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp., 681 P.2d 1038, 1057-58 (Kan. 1984); Seley v. G.D. Searle Co., 423 N.E.2d 831, 838 (Ohio 1981); Menard v. Newhall, 373 A.2d 505, 506 (Vt. 1977); Cunningham v. Charles Pfizer & Co., 532 P.2d 1377, 1382 (Okla. 1974); Dole Food Co. v. North Carolina Foam Industries, Inc., 935 P.2d 876, 883 (Ariz. App. 1996); Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp. v. Chapman, 388 N.E.2d 541, 555 (Ind. App. 1979).
We are pleased to have left the bullpen and joined the starting rotation of contributors to this blog. We will strive for the relevance and style our colleagues’ posts consistently display.
We adopted a Drug and Device Rescue Cat this week. Her housemates, two Drug and Device Rescue Dogs, are poodle mixes, so we haven’t dealt with the issue of shedding since we last had cats, years ago. We have discovered a nifty tool that claims to dramatically reduce the hair deposited on furniture and clothing, reminding us of our fondness for anything that strips away the clutter of useless underbrush and leaves only what is neat and firmly rooted. And that is the (admittedly tenuous) segue to today’s case, in which the United States District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia bushwhacks through plaintiff’s detritus to arrive at a solid holding and a (mostly) tidy opinion.
In Muzichuck v. Forest Laboratories, Inc., No. 1:07-CV-16, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5440 (N.D.W.Va. Jan. 16, 2015), the Court considered defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment in a Lexapro suicide case. Plaintiff, who opted out of the global Lexapro settlement, alleged that defendants, Forest Laboratories, Inc. and Forest Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (“Forest”) failed to warn her decedent-husband and his prescribing physicians of the risk of suicide associated with the antidepressant Lexapro.
We’ve made no secret of our distaste for the so called “heeding presumption” – that juries may presume that any alternative “adequate” warning would have been heeded by the plaintiff (or, in prescription medical product cases, the prescriber). We have a topic header on this subject with multiple posts decrying such presumptions, both generally and in the particular context of prescription medical products.
The biggest conceptual problem is that there are two fundamentally different kinds of warnings. Most warnings concern a product’s use – that if you use (or don’t use) the product in a certain way, you are likely to get hurt; and if you follow the warning, you won’t. Examples are not driving a riding lawnmower parallel to a slope (because you’ll tip over) or only handling asbestos while using a respirator (because breathing asbestos can do nasty things to you). Most step-by-step directions also fall in this category.
While so-called “use” warnings occasionally arise as to prescription medical products – overdose instructions come to mind – that type of warning is not what most litigation involving these products is about. Rather, with prescription-only products, most of the relevant risks arise whenever the product is used. A warning about an inherent risk – a so-called “risk warning” – serves an entirely different purpose.
With inherent risks, people are warned so they can decide whether that risk outweighs the benefits that might be gained from using the product. The only way to avoid the risk is not to use the product at all. All prescription medical products have inherent risks – which is why the FDA requires a physician’s prescription in the first place. For a case discussing the distinctions between these two types of warnings in detail, read Thomas v. Hoffman-LaRoche, Inc., 949 F.2d 806, 814 (5th Cir. 1992) (applying Mississippi law), which you can find later in this post.
In the index to this blog, we list 39 posts about the Aredia-Zometa litigation. After today it will be 40. And counting. That might actually be understating our coverage. (We’re not always so punctilious at affixing topical labels to our posts.) Sometimes it seems as if one could understand all of recent drug and device…
We like juries. Jurors give us their time and attention, sometimes for weeks or months at a time, and they receive little or nothing in terms of tangible benefit in return. The vast majority take the task seriously and give us their best on topics that are at once human and very complex. We sometimes embrace their results, and sometimes we appeal from them or move to set them aside, but either way we respect the process without reservation.
Not every issue, however, is best left to juror discretion, and juries require guidance, mainly in the form of instructions on the law and rulings on the evidence. The former provides a proper legal referent against which to render a verdict. The latter regulates the information they receive so they consider material that is relevant and helpful, and not information that is misleading, improper, or tends to show nothing of consequence to the issues in the case. And the court should provide a necessary check against jury discretion with its power to decide issues as a matter of law and grant new trials.
Juries operating outside these parameters might not come to fair results, through no fault of their own, and we think that is what went wrong in Cox v. KLS Martin, L.P., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114708 (W.D. Mo. Aug. 14, 2013). As with many bloggable cases, the facts provoke sympathy. Cox involved an implanted medical device known as a mechanical intraoral distracter, which was used as intended to treat Pierre Robins Sequence, a rare disorder in which an infant’s lower jaw is underdeveloped. As the court described it, mandibular distraction involves cutting through bones on both sides of the patient’s mandible behind the molars and securing a mechanical intraoral distraction device to both sides of each cut. By then turning an activation mechanism, each distractor slowly separates the bone sections, allowing the formation of new bone. Id. at *1-*2.