As we ring in the new year, it is time once again to reflect on some of the most significant legal developments for drug and device companies this year. The list below is by no means exhaustive (who could forget the Rule 702 updates that took place this year, which will carry over into 2023?), but provides a brief recap and assessment of five of the most interesting and consequential developments affecting drug and device law in 2022.
Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) is driving innovation across industries and is playing an increasing role in everyday life. AI (and, more broadly, algorithms) is being used in diagnostics, enabled medical devices, device manufacturing, drug discovery and manufacturing, industrial manufacturing, smart home and wearable devices, and vehicles. AI has the potential to benefit society in a number of ways, including by boosting efficiency, providing invaluable insights, and informing decisions. But to borrow from the likes of Winston Churchill (or Spider-man), with great AI capabilities comes great responsibility.
Many of the risks and benefits of AI systems are unique in comparison to other technologies. Regulators, governmental agencies, and consumer advocates are keenly focused on addressing unintended consequences that may result from the development and use of algorithms and AI. These issues, like the technology, are complex, and policymakers, stakeholders, and regulators are grappling with how best to address them.
A developing line of cases across the nation may have large implications for medical device manufacturers defending against failure-to-warn claims. While a treating physician’s failure to read or rely on the manufacturer’s warnings has historically been fatal to a failure-to-warn claim in many jurisdictions (at least those without a “read and heed” presumption), plaintiffs have tried novel “alternative avenues” arguments to make summary disposition of the claim more difficult.
There are two theories under which a failure-to-warn claim may be brought in the products liability context: a manufacturer with a duty to warn may breach its duty by either (1) failing to provide an adequate warning of the product’s potential risks (the “content theory”) or (2) failing to adequately communicate the warning to the ultimate consumer (the “communication theory”). Plaintiffs have traditionally pursued failure-to-warn claims in prescription medical device cases under the content theory, with most courts holding that a treating physician’s failure to read or rely on the manufacturer’s warnings in the product’s instruction for use (“IFU”) is fatal to the claim. See, e.g., Foster v. Ethicon, Inc., 2021 WL 1169473, at *7 (D.S.D. Mar. 26, 2021).
A recent Second Circuit preemption decision illustrates the importance of a clear-eyed approach to medical device preemption issues.
In Glover v. Bausch & Lomb, Inc., 6 F.4th 229 (2d Cir. 2021), the district court dismissed as preempted a complaint concerning vision loss from defective intraocular lenses implanted during cataract surgery. Plaintiff developed “Z syndrome,” permanently impairing her vision, and sued the manufacturer under the Connecticut Product Liability Act (CPLA) for failing to warn. She alleged the defendant had failed to report prior Z Syndrome cases to the FDA, as required by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA).
Is the decision to submit a 510(k) application versus a Premarket Application (PMA) at the sole discretion of a medical device manufacturer? The answer is not always clear to product liability lawyers, judges, and juries. FDA recently published revised guidance on its “Refuse to Accept Policy for 510(k)s” that reinforces and clarifies that the regulatory path may be analyzed multiple times by FDA before it clears a 510(k) device. This clarification underscores the reality that the type of application submitted is largely dictated by the agency, not the applicant. This post discusses some key takeaways from this new guidance before briefly discussing how this guidance may be implicated in medical device litigation.
How demanding is the causation standard in a California failure to warn claim when a learned intermediary testifies that he would have read and incorporated more stringent warnings if they had been available? Is the plaintiff required to show that the stronger warning would have altered the physician’s decision to prescribe the product? Or may the plaintiff establish causation by showing that the physician would have communicated the stronger warnings to the patient and that a prudent person in the patient’s position would have declined the treatment as a result?
The Ninth Circuit isolated this undefined causation standard in Himes v. Somatics, LLC, and certified the question to the California Supreme Court. After confirming that the learned intermediary doctrine is alive and well in California and that a failure to warn claim cannot survive when the learned intermediary does not read the warnings at all, the Ninth Circuit stopped short of defining the causation standard that applies when a learned intermediary does read the warnings.