Doctors and Medical Device Companies Square Off on Questions of Liability

As medical devices grow increasingly sophisticated, disputes have begun to arise between doctors and medical device manufacturers over who bears the responsibility when a patient is injured by a device. In some instances, manufacturers try to hold doctors liable for using a device improperly, and in others doctors try to hold manufacturers liable if the device did not function correctly. Disputes such as these bring two different theories of liability together in unforeseen ways: medical malpractice and products liability. How these disputes are resolved could have an important impact on how courts assess liability in future malpractice cases.

American Medical News, a publication of the American Medical Association, reported last month on an orthopedic surgeon in Kentucky who implanted a pain pump in a patient’s shoulder to administer painkillers after reconstructive surgery. The patient later returned, complaining of shoulder pain. An examination revealed that the patient had developed chondrolysis, a condition that causes significant deterioration of joint cartilage. It can be caused by certain types of anesthetic if they are continuously administered into or near the joint. The pain pump had evidently caused the chondrolysis because of the type of anesthetic administered.

The patient sued the pump manufacturer, alleging that the company failed to warn the doctor of the risks of complications from this particular use of the pain pump. The manufacturer brought the doctor in as a third-party defendant and alleged that the doctor used the pain pump “off-label,” meaning in a way not intended by the manufacturer or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The case is still in progress in Kenton County, Kentucky.

Doctors have a duty to their patients to provide diligent care. Because of their special training, they occupy a particular position of trust under the law and have unique responsibilities. They must rely, however, on a wide range of products and equipment in order to provide state-of-the-art care, which means they must rely on various warranties and assurances from third-party companies. These include pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers. Doctors can only provide care to the best of their ability with the knowledge available to them. They are responsible for learning how to use medical devices such as pain pumps, but in the event that something goes wrong, the question becomes whether or not they used a device correctly or if the device was somehow defective.

Device manufacturers have a duty to make reasonably certain that the devices they put on the market are fit for their advertised purposes, both in their design and their manufacture, and that the marketing of the devices fits the devices’ appropriate uses. If a device is defective, or if a manufacturer advertises it for a purposes the device cannot handle, the manufacturer could be liable for damages caused by the device. Manufacturers have expertise in the design and operation of their products that doctors may lack. In the event of an injury, the manufacturer will want to determine how the device was used. Increasingly sophisticated machinery may lead to increasingly complex questions of liability.

The Washington, DC injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen help people injured due to the negligence of others to recover their just compensation. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949.

More Blog Posts:

Jury Awards $9 Million to Couple in Medical Malpractice Lawsuit, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, November 17, 2011
Washington DC Defective Medical Device Cases: Surgical Mesh Can Cause Serious Side Effects, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, August 31, 2011
Washington DC Medical Malpractice: Surgeon’s Estate Must Pay $1M Share of Settlement, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, July 31, 2011

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