State and federal lawsuits filed last week in California are seeking to change current legal thinking and make it harder for medical device makers to avoid responsibility for defective products. According to an analysis published in the Wall Street Journal the suits “could challenge the broad liability protection that medical device makers have enjoyed since a key Supreme Court ruling in 2008.”
The target of the suits is St. Jude Medical, the maker of the Riata line of defibrillators. According to the Journal, the plaintiffs in the suit claim “that problems with the manufacturing and oversight of Riata defibrillator ‘leads’ injured or killed more than 30 patients. Faulty leads, which connect the heart to defibrillators that zap irregular heart rhythms back to normal, caused the devices to fail or needlessly deliver blasts of electricity, the suits allege.”
It might seem obvious that here in Oregon, in Washington or anywhere else in the country companies have an obligation to ensure that the products they sell are safe and function properly, but manufacturers of unsafe medical devices gained unprecedented liability protection via the Supreme Court’s 2008 Riegel v Medtronic case. That ruling, as the Journal reports, granted medical device makers immunity from state unsafe product liability laws on the grounds that medical device safety is a federal issue.