This isn’t the first time we’ve written about the Hyde case in the Bard IVC Filters MDL. Back in July we reported on some pretrial rulings in that bellwether case. Get ready for more. The decision on tap for today, Hyde v. C.R. Bard, Inc., 2018 WL 4215028 (D. Arizona Sept. 4, 2018), is sort of a man-bites-dog item, as it involves a motion in limine by the plaintiffs to exclude warnings information. Generally, we on the defense side are the ones arguing to keep prejudicial information out, so the posture of Hyde is interesting. Just in case you haven’t committed the facts of Hyde to memory, here’s a refresher: Mrs. Hyde received an IVC filter implant in 2011. Three years later, she learned that the filter had tilted, perforated the IVC wall, and fractured. The plaintiffs brought a lawsuit sounding in various theories.
[Interlude for discovery. Interlude for motion practice.]
Applying Wisconsin law, the Court granted summary judgment on the failure to warn claims. (As we reported back in July, the plaintiffs proffered no evidence that a different warning would have inspired the doctor to employ a different device or do anything differently.) That ruling left claims for strict liability design defect, negligent design, negligence per se, loss of consortium, and punitive damages. In advance of trial, the plaintiffs filed a motion to exclude the device’s instructions for use (“IFU”) and certain guidelines published by the Society of Interventional Radiologists (“SIR”). Usually, plaintiffs love to trot out the IFU and point out offending lacunae. What’s different here?
The plaintiffs argued that because the failure to warn claims had been dismissed, the instructions and warnings set forth in the IFU were no longer relevant to any issue in the case and should therefore be excluded. Similarly, the plaintiffs argued that the SIR guidelines, which evinced the knowledge of IVC filter complications in the medical community, were no longer relevant in the wake of dismissal of the failure to warn claims. According to the plaintiffs, design defect must be tested against consumer expectations, and the IFU and SIR guidelines play no role with respect to such consumer expectations. Plainly, the plaintiffs wanted the IFU and SIR guidelines out. The defendants wanted them in. We’re guessing the IFU warnings must be quite clear and that the SIR guidelines must be quite helpful for the defense.
Luckily for the defendants, Wisconsin law was quite clear and quite helpful for them. In 2011, the same year as the plaintiff’s implant, the Wisconsin legislature enacted tort reform that included adoption of section 2 of the Restatement (Third) of Torts (1998). (We wrote about the cheesehead tort reform here.) Section 2 employs a risk-utility balancing test and consideration of a broad range of factors, including the instructions and warnings accompanying the product. Consumer expectations are in that broad range of factors, but no longer make up the whole ballgame. They definitely are not a basis for excluding information otherwise relevant to safety.
Under post-2011 Wisconsin law, a jury must consider not only whether there was a reasonable alternative design, but also whether a failure to adopt that design rendered the filter “not reasonably safe.” Can the IFU and the SIR guidelines help a jury answer that question? Almost certainly, yes. The SIR guidelines lay out the acceptable rates of risk in IVC filters. Thus, they are relevant to the jury’s determination of whether the filter was reasonably safe. The IFU tells physicians about risks of the filters and how to mitigate them. That information, too, is relevant in determining whether the filter was reasonably safe. The defendants are free to argue to a jury that the warnings provided with the filter “disclosed the risks of complications, that the medical community was aware of those risks and found them to be acceptable, and that the omission of an alternative design therefore did not render the filter ‘not reasonably safe.’”
Moreover, the IFU and SIR guidelines are relevant to the plaintiffs’ punitive damages claims. The plaintiffs will surely try to persuade the jury that the defendants acted with “malice.” But what the defendants, via the IFU, told physicians about the device’s risks is relevant to whether the defendants acted with “intentional disregard for patient safety.” The SIR guidelines are relevant to the defendants’ “awareness of filter complication rates and the extent of harm posed by filter complications, and can also inform the jury of risk levels found acceptable by interventional radiologists – a relevant fact for deciding whether Defendants ‘acted with a disregard for patient safety.”
We began this post by remarking how odd it seemed that it was the defense that wanted warnings information in, and the plaintiffs that wanted it out. It also seems a bit odd to us that it is the plaintiffs who are insisting on a strict line of demarcation between different tort theories (failure to warn vs. design defect), and the defense who treat the line as kind of fuzzy. But we’ve seen something like this before. You needn’t strain your memory too much to recall how in the Bartlett case the plaintiff tried to evade preemption by arguing that the case was only about design defect and that failure to warn was out of bounds. The defense demonstrated that there were aspects of the design defect claim that were implicated by preemption principles. The result was a resounding defense SCOTUS victory that many of us are trading heavily on today and expect to do so for a good long while.
“Thinking out of the box” has become a hackneyed phrase, but sometimes it is perfectly accurate.