Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Ruling Opens Medical Device Makers to Suits for Defects

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Ruling Opens Medical Device Makers to Suits for Defects

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a decision hailed as a "tremendous victory for consumers," the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that makers of medical devices can be sued in state courts over alleged defects in their products.

Compliance with federal laws and regulations does not necessarily protect a medical device from product-liability lawsuits filed under state laws, the justices said.

The court voted 5-4 to revive all claims by a Florida woman who says she was almost killed by a defect in her heart pacemaker.

The ruling also will affect thousands of lawsuits over allegedly defective medical devices, not just pacemakers.

Earlier this year, a federal judge in Birmingham, Ala., said the high court's ruling could "significantly affect" the many silicone breast-implant lawsuits pending in his court.

Just what that effect may be, however, was clouded by the court's splintered voting Wednesday.

And there was no clear indication as to how the ruling will affect disputes over the right to sue in state courts over other types of products that need federal approval before being marketed.

Consumer groups were delighted nonetheless.

Public Citizen, an advocacy group founded by consumer champion Ralph Nader, called the ruling "crucial to protecting health and safety."

"Today the Supreme Court recognized that the purpose of medical device laws is to protect consumers ... from dangerous products, not to immunize manufacturers from liability," said Public Citizen lawyer Brian Wolfman.

Arthur Bryant of the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice added, "This is a tremendous victory for consumers. Its implications for the right to sue in the face of other federal laws is very pro-consumer."

Laura Lohr of Jacksonville, Fla., and her husband, Michael, are suing Minneapolis-based Medtronic Inc., the world's largest pacemaker manufacturer. …

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