In very general terms, posts on specific court opinions fall into three categories: 1) ones we think are correct, 2) ones we think are incorrect, and 3) ones we think are mixed bags. Not terribly profound. Digging a bit deeper, we sometimes pick cases to discuss because we feel the need to vent about 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.