The time to move for summary judgement is a critical stage in any litigation proceeding. Both or either party can request that the court find that the evidence developed through discovery makes it impossible for one party to win on their claims or defenses, and judgment should be entered in favor of the requesting party. In preparing summary judgment motions, plaintiffs must utilize all of the evidence available to them at that point to convince the judge that no genuine issues of material fact exist. The judge considering the motion will not independently evaluate the record to determine which evidence exists to support a party’s position. Instead, the party must present such evidence through its motion. In a recent case before the Fourth Circuit, a personal injury plaintiff lost on partial summary judgment because she failed to present all of the evidence available to her in her briefing. For reasons discussed below, the Fourth Circuit rejected her efforts to introduce new evidence at a later date.
The Fourth Circuit has recently been host to a number of product liability cases arising from transvaginal mesh implantations and the injuries that have resulted from these devices. M.C.’s case arose from various pelvic and bladder health issues that she experienced after her doctor implanted transvaginal mesh. Because of the large number of similar lawsuits, M.C.’s case was combined with others through multi-district litigation. Boston Scientific Corporation, the defendant in her lawsuit, moved for summary judgment based on M.C.’s failure to warn claim, arguing that M.C. had not provided evidence to show that Boston’s inadequate warnings for their transvaginal mesh devices were the actual cause of M.C.’s injuries. That is, Boston alleged that M.C. could not show that had she been adequately warned, she would not have had the device implanted. In response to Boston’s motion, M.C. presented evidence from her doctor, stating that the warnings were inadequate, as well as her own affidavit that had she received proper warnings, she would not have gone through with the procedure. The district court found that since M.C. could not show that her doctor had actually read the warnings prior to the procedure and thus that their adequacy might have made any difference in his decision-making, her failure to warn claim failed.
After the partial summary judgment motion, the MDL cases were transferred for trial. M.C. moved for reconsideration of the court’s ruling on the motion and presented additional evidence from her doctor’s deposition that she claimed showed that he had read the warnings and was familiar with them. However, her doctor also stated that even after adequate warnings, he still believed the mesh devices were safe. Accordingly, the court ruled on reconsideration that M.C. still could not show that inadequate warnings caused her surgery and harm. Ultimately, M.C. lost at trial and appealed.
Under North Carolina law, even if warnings are inadequate, they must cause a plaintiff’s injuries in order for a plaintiff to have a claim for damages. Proof of this causation requires a showing that the plaintiff or her doctor relied on the warnings in making a decision about treatment. Here, the Fourth Circuit found, as an initial matter, that M.C. still had not shown that she or her doctor actually relied on the warnings at the time in deciding on which treatment to pursue. While her doctor may have read the warnings, and M.C. attested to the fact that had they been different, she might have not gone forward with the procedure, neither individual stated that the warnings were an integral or important part of their health care decisions.
Moreover, the Fourth Circuit also held that to the extent that M.C. wanted to introduce even more exhibits of testimony by her doctor, which she felt more clearly showed that he did rely on the warnings in his decision-making, such evidence was not permitted under the federal rules because M.C. had not relied upon it or used it in her initial response to the motion for summary judgment. The Fourth Circuit reiterated that parties are obligated to provide all relevant evidence available to them at the time of summary judgment for the judges to consider. When they fail to do so, the information that is left out will not be considered and cannot be raised at a later date. Here, since M.C. declined to provide these exhibits, even though they were readily available, at the time of her response, the Fourth Circuit stated that it could not consider them in evaluating her appeal.
The West Virginia personal injury lawyers at the Wolfe Law Firm 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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