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Medical Malpractice or Product Liability?

Product LiabilitySometimes the line between medical malpractice and other areas of law can be difficult to parse. Nowhere is this more evident than in discussing product liability, given how many medical devices have been the subjects of lawsuits. If you are harmed by a medical procedure or a doctor’s negligence, it may be a good idea to assess what is actually at fault - the product used (such as a pacemaker or surgical machine), the medical professional, or both.

California Product Liability

California product liability is rooted in the doctrine of strict liability, which means that a defendant (usually a manufacturer) can be found liable even if there was no actual negligence on their part. The landmark case of Greenman v. Yuba Power Products (1963) codified this doctrine, stating that manufacturers have an implicit duty to the users of their products that those products be appropriately designed and manufactured, and that any potential dangers be adequately identified and addressed.

Given this duty, the manufacturer of a defective product can actually be said to have breached its duty not only to you as the patient, but to the hospital or doctor as well. It is not uncommon for a hospital, after settling a malpractice case with a patient, to bring suit against a manufacturer for contribution, either having joined them to the lawsuit, or in a separate proceeding. If a medical device malfunctions or was never designed properly to begin with, it harms both the patient and the medical institution.

California Medical Malpractice

By comparison, medical malpractice requires four elements of negligence to be proved, and if one is not present, the entire case collapses. A plaintiff must be able to prove that a duty of care is owed by the doctor to their patients (in California this is established by law, but it is not in every state), and that that duty was breached by the doctor’s conduct. They must also be able to show that they were genuinely injured - not just bumps and bruises, but an injury (be it physical or mental/emotional) that lasts a significant amount of time.

Thus, the best way to assess which type of case you may have is to examine the facts specifically for the alleged wrongdoing. For example, if a doctor improperly installs a perfectly functional pacemaker, you would likely have a case of medical malpractice, as the error came from the doctor’s improper surgery, rather than the product. However, if the pacemaker were not functioning, or had been designed so badly that exposure to bodily fluids would cause it to malfunction, then it would be more likely that a plaintiff would sue under a theory of product liability. It is plausible that both the doctor and the medical device might be at fault, but in terms of who to sue and in which order, the answer will depend on the specific facts of your case.

Ask a Malpractice Attorney for Help

Medical malpractice cases are notoriously complex, especially when dealing with the issue of malfunctioning medical devices. If you are having trouble determining where to go with your suit, or whether you should file one, it can help to consult an experienced attorney. The skilled San Jose medical malpractice lawyers at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. are knowledgeable regarding this type of case, and are happy to help you make decisions regarding your future. Contact us today by web form, or by telephone at (408) 289-1417, to schedule an appointment. We serve San Jose, the Bay Area, and the counties of Alameda, Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara and San Mateo.

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.