The forthcoming DePuy Hip Replacement litigation will become ever more intricate as victims rapidly continue to seek legal counsel. Reports released by DePuy show that as many as 1 in 8 patients who have received a hip replacement device manufactured by the company since 2003 have experienced injuries ranging from loss of movement and flexibility to metallosis and disfigurement. Furthermore, DePuy, a division of Johnson & Johnson, has been quick to limit its responsibility towards those harmed by its defective hip parts.
For these reasons, Berniard Law Firm has regularly urged potential clients with DePuy hip replacements to retain counsel so that they can effectively navigate the legal claims process. Now, a recent ruling from the United States Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals further supports this suggestion. In re: Medtronic, Inc. is a case that involved defective heart defibrillators. Due to defects in the defibrillator, several heart patients experienced unnecessary electrical shocks. Even after being informed of the defects by medical investigators, Medtronic, the manufacturer, sat on the information for several years before finally issuing a recall in 2007. After the recall, affected heart patients filed suit against Medtronic for the injuries caused by the shocks.
The plaintiffs in the Medtronic litigation made the “state law claims” of manufacturing defect, design defect, failure to warn, breach of express warranty, and negligence. These types of claims are known as state law claims because their legal force originates by state statute or state judicial opinion, as opposed to federal legislation or regulation. Typically, there are no issues when filing state law claims. Because each of the fifty states are sovereign legal entities, each state’s respective law usually has as much force as federal law. However, sometimes state law and federal law conflict. When such a conflict arises, the courts must determine whether the Constitution has vested control over the conflicted legal area to the states or, instead, to the federal government. This jurisdictional question is known as preemption.
In the case of Medtronic, the Eighth Circuit ruled that the state law claims filed by the plaintiffs conflicted with a Congressional statute called the MDA, and were therefore preempted by federal law. The MDA (Medical Devices Act) declared that state laws could not impose legal restrictions on medical device manufacturers that were different or more burdensome than legal restrictions already promulgated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a federal agency.
While the plaintiffs’ state law claims asserted that the defibrillators were “unreasonably dangerous,” the FDA had already approved the devices for sale and concluded they were safe. According to the Eighth Circuit, because Medtronic had already met the FDA safety standards, it would be a contradiction of the MDA for the Medtronic defibrillator to also be simultaneously “unreasonably dangerous” under state law. As such, the Eighth Circuit dismissed the plaintiffs’ state law claims.
Although the Eighth Circuit may have ruled in favor of the manufacturer in the Medtronic case, the court still left open the possibility for a plaintiff’s state law claims to prevail in qualified circumstances. One such circumstance is when a state law claim neither conflicts nor adds to a federal law, but instead runs “parallel” with federal legislation. Although the appellate courts have not yet defined what “parallel” means, it is understood by many commentators to include any claim that does not run afoul of the FDA’s regulatory scheme nor interfere with the FDA’s discretionary powers.
The attorneys at Berniard Law Firm are well aware of the limitations presented when pursuing a medical products liability claim. In terms of the forthcoming DePuy hip replacement litigation, the Berniard Law Firm is fully prepared to present a DePuy recall case in a viable and sustainable manner, so as to avoid the preemption result that occurred in the Medtronic case. Indeed, Berniard attorneys have been closely following legal developments in this area, and they are well aware of which legal arguments are likely to withstand judicial muster.
If you have undergone a hip replacement surgery since 2003, please contact the attorneys at Berniard Law Firm to discover whether you are entitled to monetary damages against the DePuy Corporation for its manufacture of defective hip replacement devices.