Eleventh Circuit Federal Court of Appeals Affirms Multi-Million Dollar Verdicts Awarded to Plaintiffs Injured by Medical Device

If a product causes serious injuries, the manufacturer can be held strictly liable for the injury. The manufacturer is accountable for a defective design or failing to warn of dangers. In a recent Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals lawsuit, the manufacturer of a transvaginal mesh product appealed the final judgment awarding over $6 million to a woman substantially injured by its product. The injured woman’s lawsuit originated in West Virginia but was consolidated and transferred to the Eleventh Circuit with similar Florida product liability cases. The manufacturer argued the federal district court abused its discretion by consolidating the cases. The manufacturer also claimed the court erred by denying it a judgment as a matter of law because the plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence for both the design defect claim and the failure to warn claim.

The product at the center of the litigation was a transvaginal mesh device prescribed and transplanted by doctors. The product is a mesh sheet that is implanted to prevent the uterus, rectum, or bladder from falling through the vagina. The material making up the mesh was made from a type of plastic and cleared by the FDA, based on its similarity to an equivalent device on the market. The plaintiff had the mesh implanted in 2008 after suffering from pelvic organ prolapse. Following the surgery, she experienced pain and bleeding during intercourse, pelvic pain and pressure, and incontinence. Six months after the surgery, a visit to the doctor revealed she had exposed mesh in her vagina. The doctor operated in-office to trim the exposed mesh, but that did not alleviate the discomfort. Eventually, a second procedure was needed, which resolved the pain but caused her to lose sensitivity in her vagina.

On appeal, the defendant argued the consolidation caused unacceptable prejudice. The Circuit Court was unpersuaded by this, looking at established case law in holding the decision to consolidate is purely discretionary. Many factors are considered when weighing consolidation, including the burden on the parties, witnesses, the availability of judicial resources, and the length of time to conclude several cases as opposed to one. Prejudice against the opposing party is also assessed, but courts look at available remedies to mitigate the risks of confusion and prejudice. The appellate court concluded a joint trial was appropriate because there was substantial overlap in the evidence, facts, witnesses, and issues. The district judge had also utilized jury instructions to remind the jury there were multiple plaintiffs with unique aspects to their cases.

The Circuit Court also disagreed with the defendant’s assertion that the verdict was unsupported by the evidence. Under Florida law, a product is considered to have a defective design if the injured person proves the design caused the suffered injuries, and the defendant falls short of showing the benefits of the design outweigh the risk of its inherent danger. The injured woman presented expert testimony regarding two specific defects in the mesh – the polypropylene material, which can degrade through oxidation, and the cross hatched design of the mesh, which made it extremely difficult to move if there’s a problem. Each expert provided extensive testimony explaining the properties of the material and connecting them to the injuries sustained by the plaintiffs. The Court of Appeal found this provided the jury with a solid foundation to conclude the design increased the potential for degradation and issues with removal. The court concluded there was no abuse of discretion by the trial court in its refusal to grant a judgment as a matter of law. After its assessment of these and other issues, the Circuit Court affirmed the multi-million dollar verdict for the injured woman.

Deep-pocket defendants will pursue every legal avenue available to eliminate or minimize the damages paid to an injured party. The Florida injury attorneys at Donaldson & Weston have the courtroom experience you need at your side to maximize the damages you deserve. Call 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999 today for a free, confidential consultation.

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