Even when performed safely, surgery presents a variety of different risks for a patient. However, not typically among the variety of different risks one considers prior to surgery is the possibility that medical equipment to be implanted is defective. Despite not falling within the ambit of typically considered risks, medical devices, like other products, can be defective in either their design or their construction and lead to patient injury. Harm arising from an alleged defect in medical equipment serves as the central issue in Witt v. Howmedica Osteonics Corp., a recent decision from the District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
At issue in Witt is an alleged defect in an artificial knee manufactured by Howmedica Osteonics Corporation. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged in her Amended Complaint that the artificial knee had “unreasonably dangerous design defects such as the potential of the Knee to loosen after being implanted, leading to failure of the Femoral Component” and that the plaintiff’s alleged diagnosis of “loose right knee prosthesis” was “due to failure of the X-Small Right Medial/left Lateral EIUS Knee Femoral Component …” Following her diagnosis, the plaintiff brought a suit against Howmedica for both strict product liability and negligence. In this decision, the trial court had to determine whether to grant Howmedica’s motion to dismiss, which argued that the plaintiff had failed to plead facts in the Amended Complaint that, if taken as true, would state a plausible claim to relief.
Despite the defendant’s argument that the plaintiff failed to satisfy the federal pleading standards, the court denied the motion to dismiss. First, under Florida law, a manufacturer of a defective product may be held strictly liable for an injury caused by the defective product if “the manufacturer made the product in question, […] the product has a defect that renders it unreasonably dangerous, and […] the unreasonably dangerous condition is the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury.” Jennings v. BIC Corp., 181 F.3d 1250, 1255 (11th Cir. 1999). The defendant argued that the plaintiff had failed to allege sufficient facts related to the defect that rendered the knee unreasonably dangerous. However, the court noted that there was a key difference between the allegations set forth in the amended complaint and those in the original complaint, which the court had deemed legally insufficient in a prior order. Specifically, the plaintiff had now made allegations regarding a particular element of the product, the Femoral Component, and how this element was defective. Accordingly, the plaintiff had now pled facts that if taken as true would be enough to prove a plausible claim for a product defect.
Second, with respect to negligence, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant owned him or her a duty, that the defendant breached the duty, and that as a result of the breach the defendant caused injuries and damages. See Bailey v. Janssen Pharmaceutica, Inc., 288 F. App’x 597, 609 (11th Cir. 2008). The court determined that the plaintiff had alleged facts that, if taken as true, would be sufficient to prove negligence. First, Florida law recognizes the duty of a manufacturer to “use reasonable care to design a product that is reasonably safe for its intended use and for other uses which are foreseeably probable,” Vincent v. C.R. Bard, Inc., 944 So.2d 1083, 1085 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2006), and the plaintiff alleged that Howmedica manufactured and distributed the allegedly faulty artificial knee. Next, the plaintiff further alleged that Howmedica failed to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances and knew or should have known of the Femoral Component’s defect, or that the knee had a propensity to loosen. Thus, the complaint sufficiently pled allegations of breach of duty. Finally, allegations regarding how the defect in the knee caused injury after implantation and resulted in medical expenses and losses were sufficient for purposes of pleading causation and harm. Thus, the court held that the negligence action was sufficiently pled. Accordingly, the court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss.
While the plaintiff was victorious in this round, many battles remain to be fought before ultimate recovery is realized. Indeed, product liability cases can be difficult to prove, given the implicit imbalance in information, which even thorough discovery may not be able to overcome. However, the advice of experienced counsel can go a long way in assuring that one acquires the best possible evidence and presents a strong case. If you’ve recently been harmed as a result of possible medical negligence and are curious about your options, the South Florida medical malpractice attorneys at Frankl & Kominsky have extensive experience with medical negligence litigation and are ready to answer the questions you may have. If you’re interested in a free case consultation, feel free to contact us.