Florida District Court of Appeal Reviews Pain Pump Spoliation Claim

In any personal injury lawsuit, several actors can be liable for the injuries suffered by one person. Each defendant can potentially be liable under differing legal theories in separate jurisdictions. In Gables v. Doctors Same Day Surgery Center (Case No. 2D15-2495), the Second District Court of Appeal looked at whether or not the medical center performing the procedure at issue destroyed would-be evidence, preventing the injured patient from successfully pursuing legal action against the makers of the allegedly defective device. The injured patient, suffering from neck and back pain, had a pain pump system implanted to automatically deliver pain medication through her spinal canal. All of the pump’s parts were made by the same company.

After experiencing persistent pain, the patient visited her physician, who eventually concluded the pain medication was not going into the spine, leaking from the injection site and down the patient’s sides. A surgery was scheduled, and the doctor contacted the company’s representative to advise of the potential problem.

On the date of the surgery, the patient signed an informed consent to treat and disclose form, on which she declared that she wanted the “old pump” through a hand-written note. The doctor performed the surgery, with the representative present, and determined that the likely cause of the problem was the connector between the pump and the catheter. The connector was replaced, and the same pain pump was reinserted into the patient’s body. The doctor then confirmed the system was working correctly. After the surgery, the representative spoke with the patient’s husband, explaining that the connector had been replaced. The husband asked for the old connector, which was refused by the representative. The representative advised that he had to take it back to the company for testing. The patient also requested the connector but was also advised by the doctor that the connector had to go back to the company for testing.

Following the procedure, the patient was fine through the post-op but began to experience medical complication less than two weeks from the appointment. She was twice diagnosed with an infection of the spinal cord and once with an infection of the pain pump. The pump was then permanently removed. Her husband then attempted to retrieve the connector but learned that the connector was destroyed.

The patient filed suit in state court against the pain pump manufacturer, alleging strict liability and negligence. The case was removed to federal court, where motions for summary judgment by the company were granted and the various complaints dismissed. The patient and her husband then filed suit against the medical center where the procedure was performed, arguing spoliation and alleging the center should have prevented the representative from taking the pump. The patient and her husband claimed they would have succeeded in a civil action against the manufacturer if they had the connector.

The District Court of Appeal did not agree. The court first noted that the Medical Device Act (MDA) bars all state-based claims for allegedly defective Class III medical devices. All lawsuits must be pursued in federal court. Since there was no “parallel jurisdiction” available on the specific medical device-related claim, the couple’s spoliation action against the medical center was improper. The appellate court pointed to Florida state case law, which does not permit a private action to enforce violations of FDA requirements. The state legislature must provide a clear intent to give a private cause of action in any statutory violation, and none was provided in this circumstance. The defendant medical center’s summary judgment in state court was affirmed, and the couple’s spoliation claim was dismissed.

Experienced personal injury counsel is essential in matters similar to Gables. The Florida personal injury attorneys at Donaldson & Weston have the knowledge and understanding of the law you need to help assess and pursue all avenues of legal relief. Contact a personal injury attorney today at 772-266-5555 (Stuart) or 561-299-3999 (West Palm Beach) for a free, confidential consultation.