Products Liability: Hospital May Be Held Liable for Distributing Defective Hip Implant

February 1, 2015 | Healthcare Risk, Quality, & Safety Guidance

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A U.S. district court in West Virginia held that a hospital may be held liable for strict products liability for distributing an allegedly defective hip implant as well as for spoliation of evidence. The plaintiff underwent hip replacement surgery at the hospital. The hip device failed, requiring its removal five months later. Subsequently, the plaintiff obtained an injunction from the court ordering the hospital to preserve the explanted device and related materials. The plaintiff later sued the device manufacturer and the hospital in state court on various legal grounds, asserting strict products liability and intentional spoliation of evidence against the hospital. The plaintiff claimed that the hospital acted intentionally or in conspiracy with the device manufacturer and that the hospital spoliated evidence when it gave the hip implant, metal debris, and bone and tissue to the manufacturer. The manufacturer sought to move the litigation from state court to federal court and claimed that the hospital cannot be held liable for spoliation or products liability under state law and thus it had been fraudulently or misjoined in the litigation.

The court rejected the arguments, noting that West Virginia law recognizes a cause of action for intentional spoliation of evidence. The court also rejected the traditional jurisprudence applied in many jurisdictions—that hospitals are "providers" of medical services and not "sellers or distributors of products" and are thus not subject to products liability suits. It concluded that no binding legal precedent in West Virginia prevents a claim against a hospital for products liability and quoted from a West Virginia Supreme Court opinion in which a justice characterized today's hospitals as "massive corporate structures" within one of the most profitable industries in the United States and that they are sufficiently economically mature to handle strict products liability claims. The court found a current legal treatise, Restatement of the Law Third, supports imposing strict products liability on a hospital. It states that a retail seller or "other distributor" of a prescription drug or medical device may be held liable if at the time of sale or distribution, the drug or...

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