Articles Tagged with product liability

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Failed Hips and Harmful Drugs: The Product Liability Podcast

I’ve been writing on this product liability website for three years. I have now published over 200 articles, and two ebooks, and a page with definitions, and another page providing links to other useful websites, and yet another page where I answer “frequently asked questions” about medical devices and prescription medications, and a bunch of other information. I know many of you have benefited from this information because you have called and told me you have benefited. (I really like getting these calls.) I intend to keep writing articles as often as I can while maintaining a full-time product liability practice.

But today I am excited to announce the launch of my podcast:

Failed Hips and Harmful Drugs: The Product Liability Podcast

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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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Unhappy client waiting to hear from her lawyer
This is the question I get most often from people who have hired a lawyer but are not happy with the legal representation. Above almost everything else, good communication is the key to a healthy attorney-client relationship. I try not to be the kind of lawyer who doesn’t return phone calls. I don’t want any of my clients talking to another lawyer about me. And I understand: every client deserves to be updated regularly on his or her case.

Let’s look at some reasons why your lawyer may not be returning your calls:

  • Your lawyer is doing lawyer things.
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Should I Fire My Lawyer?Occasionally I get calls from people who tell me they are unhappy with their product liability lawyer and want to fire that lawyer and hire someone else.

So should they? Let’s look at it.

Injury Litigation Can Be Highly Stressful

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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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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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Choosing an Out of State Product Liability Lawyer
So should you hire an out of state attorney? This is a question many people must answer, including those injured by a failed medical device or a prescription drug. I have had several clients who were initially skeptical about hiring an attorney who practiced 500 or 2,000 miles away. And I get it.

For many types of cases, choosing an attorney in your hometown or in your state is best. Do you need to set up a will with powers of attorney? Ask around and call the good lawyer who lives down the street or across town. Going through a divorce? Have a traffic ticket? Did someone breach a contract? Find someone in your city who comes highly recommended.

But what about product liability? Specifically, what about medical device or prescription drug cases? You need to find the right person to represent you, even if that person practices law in another state or across the country. Let’s look at some pros and cons of hiring an out of state product liability lawyer:

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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 →

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Representing Yourself in Product Liability CaseHere’s a scenario: you had hip replacement surgery several years ago. In 2015 the hip began to hurt and cause other problems. You had revision surgery in 2016. While at home one afternoon recovering from the revision surgery, you see seventeen commercials from personal injury law firms asking if you recently had revision surgery following the failure of the [fill in the brand name] artificial hip. If so, lawyers are standing by to assist you with your case.

(At this point, if relevant to your situation please substitute “IVC filter” or “hernia mesh” or “artificial knee” or any number of risky prescription drugs in the scenario above for “artificial hip.”)

So your next thought may be: I should represent myself. This is known as being a pro se litigant. If that is your thought, your next question should be, “what steps should I take to make sure I get a full and fair settlement for my product liability case?” It’s a great question.

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Calls From Pro Se PlaintiffsNow and then I get calls from people who are representing themselves in product liability litigation. (An individual who represents himself in litigation is called a pro se litigant.) Usually these callers have worked their cases to a point and have questions. Sometimes the questions are rather modest: “I’ve been offered this amount of money to settle? Is that fair?” Other times the questions are ominous: “The judge now says I need an expert witness. What is an expert witness?” The first question is a mere judgment call. Is $150,000.00 enough to compensate you for the pain and suffering of a failed artificial hip? That is mostly for the injured person to decide (though lawyers have plenty of insight into the value of such a claim). The second question poses a serious threat to your case. If an expert witness is required to prove your case, and you don’t have an expert witness (or worse, you don’t even know what an expert witness is) your lawsuit will be lost. And quickly. (You can read about expert witnesses here.)

I get the impulse to “do it yourself.” Prior to attending law school, I sued my landlord in small claims court for the return of my security deposit (I won). I also tried to replace the steering box in my 1974 Ford Bronco (that didn’t turn out so well).

These phone calls from pro se litigants are often interesting. Plainly some people have developed a distrust of lawyers. For others, the thought of paying legal fees for a good attorney seems unpleasant and undesirable, even overwhelming. Some may be trying to litigate their claim “on the cheap.” But the real question is: does it work? Can a person represent himself or herself successfully in a product liability injury case?

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