Medtronic Appeal in Paraplegic Suit Gets U.S. High Court Query

By Greg Stohr | October 8, 2013

The U.S. Supreme Court expressed interest in Medtronic Inc.’s appeal in a lawsuit by a man who was rendered a paraplegic after surgeons implanted a system that infuses pain medication into the spine.

The justices today asked the Obama administration for advice on a federal appeals court decision letting the suit go forward. The suit accuses Medtronic of failing to tell federal regulators about previous problems with the SynchroMed EL pump and catheter.

Medtronic argues that patients can’t use state law to sue device makers for allegedly violating a duty under federal law. The appeals court rejected that argument, allowing the suit by Richard Stengel and his wife under Arizona state law.

Previous Supreme Court decisions have interpreted the federal law that governs medical-device approval as limiting the types of suits patients can press. In a 2008 ruling, the court said device makers can’t be subjected to additional requirements under state product-liability law.

That ruling left room for patients to sue under state rules that are “parallel” to federal requirements. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the claims by the Stengels met that test and could go forward.

The case is Medtronic v. Stengel, 12-1351.

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