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Pacemakers and Liability

PeacemakerAs people live longer, it is becoming more and more common for those experiencing heart problems to be fitted with a pacemaker. These are small medical devices that use low-voltage electric current to help regulate the heartbeat and correct any arrhythmias. However, with more devices in use, the number of lawsuits related to their use also increases. If you or a loved one has experienced negative consequences from the implantation or use of a pacemaker, you may have a case for medical malpractice or product liability.

Product Liability

There are three distinct theories of product liability, but in California, the most common theory alleged - and the one most often applicable to pacemaker malfunctions - is strict product liability. The case of Greenman v. Yuba Power Products (L.A. No. 26976, en banc, 1963) controls the question, stating that if a product is placed on the market when the manufacturer knew “it would be used without inspection,” but in fact it did have a defect which caused an injury, the manufacturer is liable, regardless of any intent or lack thereof. If a pacemaker is defective, it will generally only be discovered after insertion into a person’s body and an ensuing malfunction. The likelihood of this not causing injury is extremely low.

If, for any reason, strict product liability does not apply, the next most common theory alleged in the failure of medical devices is that of manufacturing defect. Unlike a design defect, which is present from the outset and built into the product’s construction, a manufacturing defect occurs at some stage in the physical process of manufacturing. If a pacemaker is manufactured with, for example, faulty wiring inside, this would be an example of an actionable manufacturing defect.

Medical Malpractice

The other side of the proverbial coin is that the device in question is implanted incorrectly or in a way that causes harm to the user. If it can be shown that the failure of the doctor to conform to the standard of care is the direct cause of the patient’s harm, they will be liable for malpractice. Doctors owe a duty to their patients under California law to perform at the same standard of care as would any reasonable doctor of similar age, experience and talent. If that duty is breached by negligent conduct - for example, failing to adequately monitor a patient post-surgery, or causing an injury while implanting the pacemaker - that patient has grounds to allege medical malpractice.

It is worth noting, incidentally, that there are also medical malpractice claims related directly to the functioning status of the pacemaker unit itself. Some laypeople believe that if the unit itself malfunctions, any action then must lie in product liability, but there are situations where it is not implausible that a negligent doctor might unknowingly insert a defective pacemaker into a patient. In that instance, the doctor would still be liable, though he might conceivably be able to allege product liability against the manufacturer.

Be advised that not all errors made by medical professionals constitute malpractice - some, for example, are characterized as “errors in judgment,” which means that reasonable doctors could conceivably have made the same error. Another common holding is for a court to state that certain medical issues encountered by patients are “recognized complications,” and thus included in any assumption of risk.

An Attorney Can Simplify the Process

Pacemakers are relatively simple devices intended for one primary use. If you have been victimized by a defective unit or a negligent medical professional, your pacemaker could be a serious hazard to your health. Experienced and dedicated legal assistance can help in obtaining the compensation you need to get back on your feet. The skilled San Jose medical malpractice attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. understand that malpractice cases can feel like ultimate betrayals. We will keep you in the loop during your case and ensure that you go through the process alongside us. Call us today to set up a free initial consultation. We serve San Jose, the Bay Area, and the counties of Alameda, Monterey, Santa Clara, San Benito, 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.