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Akron Univ. School of Law

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Supreme Court Medical Device Manufacturers

The New York Times reports on the Supreme Court's decision in    in which the Justices ruled "that the manufacturer of a federally approved medical device cannot be sued under state law if the device causes an injury."  The TImes --- reports,

The 8-to-1 ruling in favor of Medtronic, the Minneapolis-based maker of cardiovascular devices, made it much more difficult for patients and their families to sue makers of medical devices that have been granted federal approval.

In 1996, a balloon catheter burst and severely injured Charles R. Riegel while he was undergoing an angioplasty. Mr. Riegel and his wife, Donna, sued the company in federal court, contending that the catheter had been designed, labeled and manufactured in a way that violated New York state law, and that those defects had caused severe and permanent injuries to Mr. Riegel.

But a federal district court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Manhattan, dismissed the Riegels’s suit on the ground that the catheter had been given pre-market approval by the Food and Drug Administration, thus protecting the manufacturer from liability under state law. (The case of Riegel v. Medtronic was tried in federal court because the plaintiffs and defendant were based in different states.)

The Supreme Court upheld the lower federal courts on Wednesday, with Justice Antonin Scalia writing for the majority that Medtronic and other manufacturers were protected under the Medical Device Amendments of 1976, which in its section on pre-emption bars states from imposing on medical devices “any requirement which is different from, or in addition to, any requirement applicable under this chapter.”

But the justices’ ruling was hardly the last word on when F.D.A. approval bars patients from suing. They are already considering at least three cases involving drugs and drug-labeling.

In 1996, when there was a different lineup of justices, the Supreme Court ruled that medical devices approved by the F.D.A. under a different, more expedited process were not shielded from state liability. At the time, the federal government took that position.

But in 2004, the Bush administration reversed the government’s position and began to take the side of manufacturers. In the Medtronic case, the administration argued that there would be “serious undermining of F.D.A.’s approval authority and its balancing of the risks and benefits” if juries could second-guess the agency.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the lone dissenter on Wednesday, asserting that the majority had adopted an unnecessary “constriction of state authority.” Justice Ginsburg said she did not believe that Congress had intended to bring about “a radical curtailment of state common-law suits seeking compensation for injuries caused by defectively designed or labeled medical devices.”

But, will the Supreme Court have the last word on this topic . . .  we discover that perhaps not -

“The Supreme Court’s decision strips consumers of the rights they’ve had for decades,” said Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “This isn’t what Congress intended and we’ll pass legislation as quickly as possible to fix this nonsensical situation.”

Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, agreed, saying: “Congress never intended that F.D.A. approval would give blanket immunity to manufacturers from liability for injuries caused by faulty devices. Congress obviously needs to correct the court’s decision. Otherwise, F.D.A. approval will become a green light for shoddy practices by manufacturers.”

If I had a better feeling about how the people running our government, I probably wouldn't be upset by this decision but it doesn't appear that everyone is playing on a level field.  With all the stories in the news about recalls for tainted products and food, I am a bit concerned about the regulators being influenced too greatly by those they are supposed to be regulating.

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