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Defective Medical Devices: Product Liability vs. Medical Malpractice

Blood Pressure CuffMedical devices save lives. Items like pacemakers or surgical equipment, used correctly, can be the difference between someone having a good quality of life and having none at all. However, when one goes wrong, it is not only potentially dangerous, it can be potentially confusing bringing suit. Is a suit over a defective medical device a suit in malpractice, or in product liability? The facts of the situation may suggest one or the other.

Product Liability

California product liability law is notoriously particular. The state was one of the first in the nation to abolish the idea of warranty for defective products, and in Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc., 59 Cal.2d 57 (1963), set strict liability as the law of the land in product liability actions. This meant that any consumer could bring suit alleging a defect at any time, without fulfilling the requirements of being in privity as they had to before (in other words, without personally having interacted with or purchased the product from the manufacturer or seller being sued).

In the case of medical devices, bringing suit under a product liability theory would work best if you can show that the device itself was either defective in its design to begin with, used or manufactured incorrectly, or you were not warned about the device’s dangers. For example, a doctor who implants an incorrectly manufactured pacemaker into a patient, when he had no way of knowing that the device was faulty, would not be guilty of malpractice - but the manufacturer would arguably be responsible under product liability.

Medical Malpractice

By comparison, medical malpractice in California is defined as a health care professional breaching the professional standard of care owed to every patient. In other words, it occurs when the care you receive from a physician or other medical professional is not the same level of care that you would get from a medical professional of similar age, experience and ability. The onus is on the professional, who in theory should know better, not to willfully harm or recklessly make a mistake in caring for a patient.

If you have a medical device that malfunctioned or is still malfunctioning, your claim is best filed under the aegis of malpractice law when you can show that the fault comes from the conduct of the person using the device. For example, a manufacturer is not liable if a doctor incorrectly inserts an artificial heart valve into a patient - the mistake would be the doctor’s, unless it could be proved that the heart valve was faulty in some other way.

It is important to note that California does place a cap on non-economic damages (in other words, damages that are for more intangible harms suffered, like emotional distress and pain and suffering) in medical malpractice lawsuits, as well as enforcing a shorter statute of limitations - in medical malpractice, a suit must be filed in less than one year from discovery of the negligent act, while in product liability, a suit may be brought within two years of the injury’s discovery.

A Competent Attorney Can Help

Both medical malpractice and product liability can compromise your and your loved ones’ safety and health. When they happen, you need experienced, knowledgeable representation to help you decide which plan of attack is best for you, and how best to go about it. The San Jose medical malpractice attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. have a long history of success in these matters, and we are happy to put our skills to work for you. We serve San Jose, the Bay Area, and the counties of Santa Clara, San Mateo, Monterey, Alameda and San Benito.

Client Reviews
My experience with Attorney Brad Corsiglia during my recent medical malpractice case was nothing short of amazing given the very stressful circumstances. I was fortunate to find Brad highly recommended from a mutual contact and from the very beginning of the process, Brad was truly engaged and knowledgeable in understanding my case and providing input on what avenues were available to me. Michelle M.