Balanced story in today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer on a House committee hearing scheduled this afternoon on H.R. 1346, the Medical Device Safety Act. This is the bill that would end what’s called “preemption,” the federal liability protection for FDA-approved medical devices, opening the gates wide for product liability suits in state courts.
The bill comes in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Riegel v. Medtronic, and has long been a priority of the trial lawyers at the American Association for Justice.
The Plain Dealer’s headline represents the pro-lawsuit arguments, “Patients injured by faulty medical devices want laws to hold manufacturers accountable,” and the story leads with the claims of the injured party. Still, the Plain Dealer provides space for manufacturers and others to comment on innovation-stifling effects of the legislation.
“This bill does not in any way improve patient safety,” said Steris spokesman Stephen Norton. “It will, however, restrict patient access to essential medical technologies, produce a chilling effect on medical innovation, create more lawsuits, and ultimately result in higher health-care costs for all Americans.”
And from Medtronic spokesman Rob Clark:
“When you regulate through litigation, which is the recipe the Medical Device Safety Act is aimed at, it places decisions in the hands of a 12-person jury that’s only looking at one particular patient, and one particular situation and not evaluating the safety and efficacy and risk benefit of that device for everyone,” Clark said.
Washington Post columnist Michael Kinsley, who is testifying at today’s House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing, made that important point last year when commenting on the high-profile preemption case, Wyeth v. Levine.
The flaws of litigation as a method of making important government decisions are well rehearsed. It is ungodly expensive: The lawyers typically cost more than even the most worthy plaintiff ever gets. It is arbitrary: The same issues get litigated again and again, usually with a different result each time. Most people who suffer never sue and get nothing. While the FDA has scientists, the courts have jurors, for whom ignorance of the subject at hand is not merely the norm but a virtual requirement. And because trials occur only when a risk has gone wrong, they inevitably overemphasize the risk and undervalue the benefit.
The Subcommitte on Health holding the hearing is chaired by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), sponsor of the bill, so the agenda is clear enough. We trust that agenda allows space for the argument that undermining preemption will create a chaotic, expensive and capricious regulatory system ruled not by medical experts and the disinterested FDA but by juries in the 50 different states. And that’s a regulatory regime that does not serve the public.
For more on the hearing, see our post at Point of Law.com, “Medical Device Safety Act hearing, the PR angle.” It’s an interesting witness list.