When any company sets out to provide a product to the public, it presumably does so with the intent that the product be as safe as possible. Businesses want to ensure that their customers will have a good experience with the items that they sell, and making sure that a product is safe for use is a necessary component of that good experience. Sometimes, however, products unexpectedly cause side effects, or have malfunctions that can make them dangerous to use. When this occurs, and an individual is injured by the product, he or she may have a personal injury claim based on product design defects or a failure to warn of known issues with the product. A recent case before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals considered these two claims with a plaintiff severely injured as a result of a medical product.
This case arose out of J.H’s efforts to seek medical treatment for ongoing incontinence issues. After other remedies didn’t work, she sought out medical treatment to resolve her problem, ultimately agreeing to have a mesh device called a TVT-O implanted in her body. The TVT-O was made of polypropylene, a substance that is generally treated as a foreign body by human immune systems. Shortly after the surgery was completed, J.H. began to have complications, including extreme pelvic pain. She had two subsequent surgeries to try to resolve the issue, where it became clear that her body’s immune system had attacked the TVT-O, causing infection and scarring. Ultimately, surgery was not able to fully solve J.H.’s complications and she continues to have severe pain and limited mobility.
In September 2012, J.H. joined ongoing litigation against the manufacturer of the TVT-O. She asserted claims for strict liability and negligent product design defects, negligent failure to warn, and her husband’s loss of consortium. At trial, J.H. provided extensive evidence through expert and witness testimony about what had happened to her body and why the TVT-O was designed defectively. Specifically, numerous experts testified that it was well known that polypropylene was a substance that the body did not respond well to, and was likely to attack, and that other substances could have been used in creating the TVT-O with much less risk of infection. Ultimately, the jury awarded J.H. over three million dollars in damages. Ethicon, the company that created TVT-O appealed.
On appeal, Ethicon argued that J.H. failed to prove her product design defect claim because she did not show that her condition and injuries resulted from a specific flaw in TVT-O’s design, rather than general complications arising from surgery. In order to bring a successful design defect claim, a plaintiff must establish that it is the design defect itself that caused the injury, and not other circumstances. Here, J.H. provided evidence of the problems of TVT-O’s design through the testimony of several experts, including engineers familiar with the body’s response to polypropylene, medical doctors and surgeons experienced in conducting the surgery that J.H. had, and even former Ethicon employees who testified that other materials could have been used in creating the TVT-O.
In total, the Fourth Circuit held that based on this expert testimony, a reasonable jury could have concluded that J.H’s injuries were caused by a design defect. As a result, it upheld the earlier jury verdict awarding significant damages to J.H.
Product design defect claims can be challenging because they require a plaintiff to provide evidence showing that other causes, beyond the design defect, could not have been the basis for her injury. However, when it is clear that the product itself is responsible for the pain and suffering that you have experienced, product design defect claims are a powerful tool for personal injury plaintiffs because they can hold a defendant strictly liable. Our West Virginia personal injury lawyers have been helping clients evaluate their product defect and personal injury claims throughout the state for more than 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm represents clients in a wide range of injury, criminal defense, and bankruptcy matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.
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