An Indiana woman suing the manufacturer of a medical device for product liability lost when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of the device manufacturer because the plaintiff failed to produce expert witness testimony on causation, as required by Indiana law in such claims.
It was a disappointing outcome, but as Indiana product liability attorneys, we recognize it’s important for attorneys – and plaintiffs too – to understand what went wrong so that we can formulate a smart strategy moving forward in similar cases. Appellate court opinions on the state and federal levels are especially important to consider because they help us gauge how courts are likely to interpret other cases in the future.
Here, according to court records, the plaintiff’s physician implanted an intrauterine device called ParaGard, made by a company named Teva. About five years after the device was implanted, the plaintiff decided she was dissatisfied with it and asked her physician to remove it. The physician did so by grasping the strings of the IUD with a ring forceps and pulling down. However, in so doing, only a piece of the device was removed. Another piece broke off either prior to or during removal, and it became lodged in her uterus. The only way to remove it, her doctors opine, is for her to undergo a hysterectomy.
The plaintiff sued the product manufacturer in federal court, alleging strict product liability, strict product liability failure to warn, and a manufacturing defect. She was given a deadline for expert witness disclosures, but she made none. After the deadline passed with no expert witness disclosure, the defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing Indiana statute requires expert witness testimony to prove causation in product liability actions. The plaintiff’s failure to do so meant she would be unable to prove a key element of her claim. She responded that causation in this Indiana product liability action was so straightforward that no expert witness testimony would be required because it could be well understood by a lay juror. The trial court disagreed, granting the motion.
On appeal, the court noted these claims arise under the Indiana Products Liability Act, which governs all actions brought by consumers against manufacturers for physical harm caused by a product. For each of her claims, she would have to prove the injury was “proximately caused” by the defect or breach of duties that underlies her claim. State law indicates expert witness testimony is required when a certain issue isn’t within the understanding of a layperson. Causation of an injury typically falls under this umbrella. Thus, if circumstantial evidence requires the average juror to purely speculate in order to find causation, expert witness testimony is necessary.
The plaintiff insisted that proximate cause here was obvious because it involves facts that are not complicated. A juror could look at the fact of the broken medical device and clearly see that there was some error on the manufacturer’s part that caused the break. However, both the trial court and the appellate court ruled that this would require speculation by jurors. Yes, the IUD was broken, but what caused it? Was it damaged before it came into the possession of the physician who inserted it? Was it damaged during implantation? During removal?
The appellate court called this matter “far removed from situations in which the causation issue would be obvious.”
As our Indiana product liability lawyers can explain, in almost all defective product lawsuits, expert witness testimony is required to prove causation.
Indiana Injury Attorney Burton A. Padove handles personal injury claims throughout northern Indiana, including Highland, Gary and Hammond. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.
Dalton v. Teva North America, June 4, 2018, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Actual or Constructive Knowledge Necessary Element in Indiana Slip-and-Fall Lawsuit, May 16, 2018, Indiana Injury Attorney Blog