The Supreme Court’s decision Wednesday protecting many types of medical device makers from personal injury lawsuits began rippling through the courts and law offices almost immediately.
Hours after the decision in the case, Riegel v. Medtronic, was announced, lawyers involved in a group of Florida state court cases related to Johnson & Johnson’s drug-coated Cypher heart stent received an e-mail message from Judge Mary Barzee Flores asking for briefs on whether the lawsuits should be allowed to continue.
And lawyers for patients with injuries they attribute to other devices like heart valves, artificial hips and defibrillators said they were girding for a flood of court filings from device makers like Medtronic asking judges to dismiss such lawsuits.
“Medtronic probably already has summary judgment motions ready to go, and I expect to see them filed in the next few days,” said Hunter J. Shkolnik, a New York lawyer.
“The next six months will be consumed fighting about such motions,” Mr. Shkolnik predicted.
He represents more than 600 plaintiffs with lawsuits in state court in Minneapolis stemming from potentially faulty electrical leads Medtronic made for heart defibrillators.
Lasr fall, Medtronic recalled the product, known as the Sprint Fidelis, after reports that the leads — wires that connected the device to the heart — were more prone to developing potentially deadly fractures than an older lead called the Quattro.
In addition to the Sprint Fidelis and the heart stent cases — some in Massachusetts have named Boston Scientific rather than Johnson & Johnson as the defendant — lawyers said Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling could also affect the course of personal injury lawsuits filed against St. Jude Medical over a silver-coated heart valve recalled in 2000.
There were 19 state and federal cases pending involving the St. Jude valve as of last October, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission by the company, which is based in St. Paul.
Other lawsuits that could be affected are ones against Johnson & Johnson and Synthes over spinal disks, and Stryker over artificial hip components. Soundtec, an Oklahoma City-based producer of an implantable hearing aid, had been told just two weeks ago by the Arkansas State Supreme Court that the federal approval of its device did not protect it from a claim in state court that its design was defective. Lawyers say the Arkansas decision is now likely to be reversed.
Recent settlements of large groups of lawsuits on terms relatively favorable to device makers are a sign that lawyers had been anticipating the Supreme Court outcome, according to Mark Herrmann, a Chicago lawyer who defends drug and device companies.
In December, for example, Medtronic announced an agreement to pay $114.1 million to settle 2,682 injury lawsuits related to its 2005 recall of defibrillators with a defective battery. In November, Boston Scientific agreed to pay up to $240 million to settle 8,550 claims stemming from recalls of defibrillators made by a subsidiary, Guidant.
Plaintiffs in those cases are free to stay out of the settlements and try to continue suing the companies. But the odds against their success are much steeper now, according to both plaintiffs and defense lawyers.