Two weeks ago we told you that an interesting decision was rendered in Sparks v. Oxy-Health, LLC, et al, Case No. 5:13-cv-649-FL, slip op. (E.D.N.C. Sept. 15, 2015), but we could not talk about it because the opinion had been sealed. The parties have informed the court that no redactions were necessary and now the order has been unsealed and we are free to blog about it.
We want to start our post by acknowledging that the underlying circumstances of this case are tragic. It is simply a sad story for the individuals involved. For that reason, we are going to deal with the legal issues in a very straight forward manner. From a legal perspective, plaintiffs did not have the evidence required to sustain a products liability or a consumer fraud case under North Carolina law. It is the import of the judge’s reasoning and the precedential value of the case that we center on and bring to your attention.
The lawsuit was brought by parents on behalf of their deceased son. Their son was 19 years old and autistic. The medical device at issue is a portable mild hyperbaric chamber. Hyperbaric chambers are designed to increase atmospheric pressure. Sparks, slip op. at 6. The one at issue in this case was §510k cleared by the FDA for the treatment of “acute mountain sickness” (condition that affects climbers who climb in excess of 8,000 feet). Id. at 7-8. In certain medical communities, a recognized off-label use for hyperbaric chambers is the treatment of autism. Id. at 8. A prescription is required for this treatment. Id. For several years, plaintiffs took their son to clinics where he would receive hyperbaric chamber treatments. During clinic treatments, plaintiffs’ son was not left alone. Either a family member or a technician monitored and stayed with him throughout the treatment. Id. at 9. In 2011, plaintiffs decide to purchase a hyperbaric chamber from the clinic for in-home use. Id. The chamber had been in use in plaintiffs’ home for four months before their son’s death. On the night of his death, decedent was placed in the chamber by his brother who left the room and went to bed. Id. at 11-12. Decedent’s father was not home that night and his mother fell asleep downstairs. Id. at 12. When she woke, she checked on her son and found the chamber had deflated and that her son had asphyxiated. It was later discovered that the hose that pumps air into the chamber had become disconnected when a book shelf had depressed the disconnect button on the hose valve. Id. at 12-13.