Articles Posted in Your Settlement Funds

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It’s a great question. And I’m glad I asked it for you. Now let me answer it. There are several ways to identify the specific medical device implanted in your body. (A medical device is any manufactured device–like an artificial hip–implanted in the body for the purpose of resolving an injury, curing disease, or improving a person’s health. Medical devices can be artificial joints like hips and knees and shoulders, heart stents and pacemakers, IVC filters, hernia mesh, and hundreds of other examples.)  Some ways of identifying exact product components are better than others. Identifying the medical device several different ways is the best of all.

Product Stickers: The Gold Standard

Product Stickers
It all sort of starts with “product stickers.” These are the identifying stickers that are attached to the box containing the medical device, and they can be peeled off and affixed to a nurse’s hospital note or to another page in the hospital or surgeon’s record for the implant surgery. It goes something like this: the representative for the device maker shows up with the artificial hip components (or other medical device). The surgical nurse or the surgeon will double check that the components are the precise ones needed for the surgery, scan them into the system and note them in the record. The nurse will then peel off the product stickers and attach them to the hospital record and include them with all the other pages of documents explaining details of the surgery. The image at right is an approximation of what the stickers will look like: a bar code, the name of the manufacturer, the specific product name, the Lot and Reference numbers, and other identifying information.

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Artificial Hip Joint Showing femoral head and femoral neck and stem
Stryker Orthopaedics has announced that it reached a national settlement in the multidistrict litigation focused on the Stryker LFIT V40 femoral head. The LFIT V40 femoral head is one component of Stryker’s artificial hip system. This settlement announcement is a bit surprising, as the MDL was created for the LFIT V40 femoral head in April 2017. As medical device multidistrict litigation goes, this is a very quick path from formation of the MDL to settlement. One reason for the speed is that this MDL is smaller than other artificial hip MDLs based on the number of injured plaintiffs. The LFIT V40 settlement involves approximately 125 cases in the federal court MDL and an additional 140 cases in New Jersey state court.

In any event, for those people hurt by the LFIT V40 femoral head, this is good news. The terms of the settlement have not been released. I will certainly update this website when the settlement agreement is made available. As for now, all discovery and trial preparation have been stayed (or stopped). The first bellwether trial, scheduled for September 2019, will be removed from the trial calendar. The focus now will be on processing individual settlements for plaintiffs.

Remember that each plaintiff in this or any other medical device litigation is not required to accept the settlement. Although it is often reasonable for the plaintiff to accept the terms of settlement, no plaintiff will be compelled to accept any settlement. As with any litigation, it is important for individual plaintiffs and their attorneys to slow down, review all the terms of settlement, and make a careful decision on whether to participate in the settlement.

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I get calls from people who have been badly injured after surgery. If it’s straightforward surgery to repair a torn ACL, the question is whether the surgeon was negligent; if that turns out to be the case, the caller will have a claim for medical malpractice. But what if the surgeon is implanting a device: an artificial hip or knee or hernia mesh or pacemaker? And then after surgery the patient is worse off than before? If this is the result, the next question is this: was the person the victim of a defective product or medical malpractice? Or both?

So What’s the Difference?

Product liability or medical malpractice?Medical malpractice is the legal term for a doctor who has been negligent. This means that the doctor failed to perform the surgery with an expected degree of care and competence. In a phrase, the doctor simply screwed up the surgery. For a plaintiff to win a medical malpractice claim, he or she must show that the doctor failed to perform his duties with a normal “standard of care” typical of similarly situated doctors. This means that surgeons in small towns will be judged against similar doctors in similar towns, while doctors from major research hospitals in big cities will be judged against their similarly situated peers, and of course will be held to a higher standard. The bottom line is this: medical malpractice is the failure to provide competent medical care, causing the patient unexpected injury.

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Advocating for compensation for DePuy ASR plaintiffs
This is my pitch: People who had to undergo revision surgery because their DePuy ASR artificial hip failed should be compensated for their injuries, even if the revision surgery occurred beyond the ten-year anniversary date of the original implant surgery.

Let me admit the obvious: It’s a bit self-serving for me to argue this point. I am an attorney and I represent individuals injured by the failure of the DePuy ASR device. But I have read a lot about these cases, over many years, and the more I understand the science behind these metal-on-metal (MoM) hips (or the lack of science), I am more convinced that thousands of people have been unfairly injured, even if those injuries did not become obvious for several years. Even ten years.

The DePuy ASR Settlements

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Delaying Surgery Can Cost Money in Product Liability Case
In litigation, there are several harsh and punishing deadlines. The worst one is the statute of limitations (“SOL”).  The SOL is a statute in state or federal law that limits the time you are allowed to file a lawsuit. In North Carolina, for example, the SOL for bringing a personal injury claim against a person or company for negligence is three years. This means if a guy runs a red light and “T-bones” your car, causing you to break your leg, you have three years from the date of the car crash to file a lawsuit. This may seem like a reasonable amount of time; as the injured person you certainly have an obligation to pursue valid claims in a timely manner, but it can also lead to unintended and unfair results.

The SOL is just one unforgiving deadline that a person faces in the bumpy wagon ride of civil litigation. There are also discovery deadlines, deadlines to respond to motions, scheduling order deadlines, and others. One deadline may involve a settlement deadline. A settlement deadline is a date negotiated by both sides in a large-scale litigation requiring plaintiffs to take certain actions by a specific date or lose the right to participate in the settlement. In “mass tort” product liability cases, courts want to resolve hundreds or even thousands of cases as efficiently as possible. And settlement deadlines are a valuable tool in getting large numbers of plaintiffs to take quick action. Let’s look at one example:

The DePuy ASR Hip Settlement Deadlines

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Damages in a Lawsuit Involving Opioids
The opioid epidemic in America is a national crisis. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recently reported that more than 64,000 people died in 2016 from drug overdoses, with the great majority of those deaths caused by opioids. The numbers for 2017 only look worse.

Last month, I wrote about whether people affected by the opioid epidemic can sue the drug manufacturers and distributors, doctors, pharmacies, and other suppliers who contributed to the addiction that destroyed their lives. But what can victims recover in lawsuits involving dangerously addictive prescription drugs?

You know all too well what you have lost—your financial security, your health, or perhaps even a loved one’s life. Now, let’s review the legal terms we use to discuss these losses.

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Testosterone Litigation
There have been two major developments in testosterone replacement therapy litigation in the past week. Last Thursday Eli Lilly & Co., the maker of the testosterone product Axiron, announced to Judge Matthew Kennelly in Illinois that an agreement had been reached to settle claims by people injured by Axiron testosterone. In the second development, the same judge tossed a jury verdict awarding $150,000,000.00 in punitive damages to a man who suffered a heart attack while taking Androgel testosterone.

Let’s take a quick look at both litigation developments:

Axiron Testosterone Global Settlement

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Depuy ASR Settlement Deadlines
I get calls from people all over the country worried that they may have missed a deadline for participation in the Depuy ASR Artificial Hip Settlement. I understand the alarm. It would be dreadful to have the ASR metal-on-metal hip implanted, suffer mysterious pains and then elevated metal levels in the blood, discover the artificial hip components failed, go through a painful revision surgery, and then find that the settlement deadlines have all passed. The reality is this: at the moment, all the deadlines have passed. But many viable ASR claims against Depuy and Johnson & Johnson are still out there, and they should be fairly compensated like all the injured people that have come before.

Third Settlement (Second Extension)

In the most recent extension of the ASR Master Settlement Agreement, the deadline to enroll in the settlement was July 19, 2017. This second extension of the Master Settlement applied to individuals who had the ASR hip removed in revision surgery between between January 31, 2015 and February 15, 2017. The reason for this specific set of dates is that the settlement committees for plaintiffs and defendants wanted to include victims who had revision surgery somewhat late in the game. Recall that the Depuy ASR hip was first sold in 2005, twelve years ago. It was sold aggressively for five years, until it was finally recalled on August 24, 2010. Thousands of people were implanted with the ASR hip in that five-year period. Most of them were forced to undergo revision surgery before August 31, 2013, the deadline for participation in the first settlement. But hundreds of people did not undergo revision surgery until after August 31, 2013. Therefore, a first and then a second extension of the original agreement was established.

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Health Insurance Subrogation
If you are injured by a defective or faulty medical device or medication, you may be able to recover damages from the responsible manufacturer. Depending on the facts of your case, these damages can compensate you for things such as medical bills, pain and suffering and lost wages. In cases where the manufacturer acted in particular nasty ways, such as burying a product study which showed an increased risk of injury, punitive damages may even be possible.

For plaintiffs who are able to obtain a damage award from the responsible medical device or pharmaceutical company, they understand they will not be able to keep every penny received. For example, some of it will go to their attorney (if they have one) and some of it may be subject to taxes. But sometimes, an unexpected “bill” comes from their health insurance company.

Why Do I Have to Pay My Health Insurance Company?

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Health Insurance Liens

When a device or drug maker pays money to an injured person for a defective product, several costs must be repaid from these funds. There will likely be medical liens, expenses of litigation, attorney’s fees, and health insurance liens. You can get an overview of these cost repayments in a post I wrote last year. In today’s post I want to take a closer look at health insurance liens (and the related concept of health insurance “subrogation”), mainly because health insurance companies can take a big bite out of your product liability settlement funds. Best to understand this unpleasant news upfront.

How Do Health Insurance Liens Work?

Hernia Mesh SurgeryIf you have health insurance, much of the cost of your medical care will be paid by your health insurance plan. Let’s say you need revision surgery to remove defective hernia mesh. The total cost of the surgery is $36,000.00, but under contracted payment rates between the hospital and your health insurance company, the cost is reduced to $24,000.00. Under your agreement with your insurance company, it pays $20,000.00 for this surgery and you pay a total of $4,000.00 in “co-pays” (that is, the amount you must pay “out of pocket” under your health insurance plan). So far so good.

A week after the surgery, while you recover from the operation (and watch afternoon commercials asking if you have been injured by defective hernia mesh), you receive a letter from your health insurance provider asking specific questions about how you were injured. The health insurance company is trying to figure out if a third-party is ultimately responsible for your injuries and thus for the costs of your revision surgery. The insurance company may want to know if you are pursuing a product liability claim against the manufacturer of the hernia mesh. It is no secret that the health insurance company is looking to be reimbursed for the payments it made for your mesh revision surgery. The moment you file a lawsuit against the product manufacturer, your health insurance company will submit a “lien” identifying its claim to some of the settlement funds. And trust me, these companies will not let this claim go lightly; they will pursue reimbursement aggressively, and you will most likely have a contractual responsibility to pay the health insurance company from your settlement funds. In fact, if possible the insurance company will expect to be repaid 100% of the costs it paid for your health care caused by the negligence of others. Continue reading →