Product liability litigation over Class III medical devices is an interesting creature. Absent something unusual, cases and litigations should not get past motions to dismiss. That is pretty clearly what Congress intended when an express preemption provision was added to the Medical Device Amendments of 1976. We understand that each plaintiff may think her case is exceptional in that it should meet the exception to the rule of preemption. (We do not really think the plaintiff lawyers think that, although they sure argue it enough.) But the usual is more common than the unusual by definition. When you hear hoof beats, you should look for a horse not a zebra, unless you happen to be in a part of the world where zebras are endemic or end up in a zebra enclosure in a zoo. When you hear Class III medical device product liability case, you should look for all claims to be dismissed unless there is something as unusual as a basis to claiming the plaintiff’s particular device deviated from its FDA-approved specifications.
In 2001, the Supreme Court made getting past motions to dismiss harder when it held in Buckman that plaintiffs could not recover claims predicated on violations of FDA regulations. An unfortunate fiction developed post-Buckman—particularly after Riegel v. Medtronic, Inc. 552 U.S. 312 (2008)—that plaintiffs could assert “parallel claims” that were neither expressly preempted by the provisions of the MDA nor impliedly preempted under Buckman. We, and others, have described the purported path of a parallel claim as being like navigating between Scylla and Charybdis, a monster and whirlpool on opposite sides of a narrow strait per ancient Greek mythology. Without claiming that mythology is the same as fiction—we are not touching that with a twenty foot sarissa—we can say that a true parallel claim is as rare as a striped unicorn or perhaps a flying horse. The unfortunate fiction of which we spoke above has taken shape with particularly egregious appellate decisions like Bausch such that some trial courts are advised, when they hear the hoof beat of a Class III medical device product liability case, to expect Pegasus or his stripy, horned pal to gallop around the corner.
Viewed over the course of more than five years and many decisions, three of which have featured in prior posts (here, here, and here, which drew honorable mention honors in 2018), we think Bausch delayed the inevitable in Gravitt v. Mentor Worldwide, LLC, __ F.Supp.3d __, 2022 WL 17668486 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 14, 2022), by insisting that parallel claims for failure to report adverse events to FDA exist. After an unnecessary odyssey, the manufacturer of a Class III breast implant won summary judgment on the last of plaintiffs’ claims, alleged failure to report adverse events to FDA. (We say “plaintiffs,” but the decision referred to the plaintiff with the implant—who we will call the “plaintiff”—by her first name and the consortium plaintiff by his first name. In terms of whether the last claim was supported, the court referred the female plaintiff only and somehow omitted any reference to “burden.” These are usually signs that at least one claim will survive summary judgment.) A shout out to Dustin Rawlin and his colleagues for sticking it out on this case and sending us this decision.