Statement From AAJ CEO Jon Haber On Riegel v. Medtronic, Inc. Supreme Court Decision

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Statement From AAJ CEO Jon Haber On Riegel v. Medtronic, Inc. Supreme Court Decision 

For Immediate Release: February 20, 2008

AAJ Communications
202.965.3500, x369
media.replies@justice.org

Washington, DC—“Today’s Supreme Court decision in Riegel v. Medtronic limits the rights of people to receive justice through the legal system when they are injured by the negligence or misconduct of others. This decision should be narrowly viewed as applying only to certain medical device cases and should not serve as precedent for cases involving drugs and other consumer products.

“We believe this ruling seriously misconstrues Congressional intent.”

As the world's largest trial bar, AAJ (formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America) promotes justice and fairness for injured persons, defends the constitutional right to trial by jury, and strengthens the civil justice system through education and disclosure of information critical to public health and safety. Serving members worldwide, AAJ provides attorneys with the information and professional assistance they need to serve clients successfully and protect the democratic values of the civil justice system. Visit http://www.justice.org/.

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Riegel v. Medtronic, Inc.

Today, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Riegel v. Medtronic, Inc. In this case, Charles Riegel received a balloon catheter made by Medtronic which subsequently ruptured due to overinflation. Riegel developed a heart block and underwent emergency surgery. The Riegels later brought claims against Medtronic in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York. The court found that the Riegels claims were preempted under the Medical Device Act, and the Second Circuit Court affirmed the decision. In this opinion, the Supreme Court affirms.

Summary

  • The Supreme Court holds that state law claims regarding medical devices are preempted under the Medical Device Amendments (MDA) where the device manufacturer complied with federal requirements.
  • The Court notes that review of the MDA turns on the definition of “requirements” in the statute. The decision states: “Absent other indication, reference to a State’s ‘requirements’ includes its common-law duties.” Thus, the holding expands beyond conflicting State regulations and statutes, which Congress was addressing in the MDA.

Limits of the Decision

It appears that the Court tried to limit the decision in several ways.

  • The opinion applies to medical devices only (not approved drugs) based on the preemption language included in the Medical Device Amendments.
  • The Court draws a distinction between state law claims made regarding devices approved under substantial equivalent review requirements and §510(k) pre-market approval requirements.
  • The Court discusses the extensive FDA review process for Class III medical devices only, rendering the application of the opinion to Class I and II devices uncertain.
  • The Court expressly states that the decision does not apply to cases where the manufacturer did not comply with federal requirements.
  • In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg’s first footnote states that the "Court’s holding does not reach an important issue outside the bounds of this case: the preemptive effect of §360k(a) where evidence of a medical device’s defect comes to light only after the device receives premarket approval."

Attacks on the Civil Justice System

This decision makes several derogatory claims about the civil justice system:

  • Justice Scalia claims that the "Dalkon Shield failure and its aftermath demonstrated the inability of the common law tort system to manage the risks associated with dangerous devices."
  • The opinion claims that lay juries do not appreciate the benefits of medical devices. "A jury, on the other hand, sees only the cost of a more dangerous design, and is not concerned with its benefits; the patients who reaped those benefits are not represented in court."
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