Appeals Court Upholds Summary Judgment on Negligence Per Se Claim

Last week, the Ninth Circuit upheld summary judgment for the maker of an artificial disc on a claim that the company's alleged off-label promotion of the device constituted negligence per se. See Carson v. DePuy Spine Inc.,  No. 08-56698 (9th Cir., 2/16/10)(unpublished).

Readers know that alleged violations of state or federal regulations can be used by plaintiffs in a number of ways, including the allegation that the violation constitutes negligence per se under state law.  The artificial disc involved in this action was a class III medical device that had received pre-market approval from the FDA in 2004. All devices approved by the agency carry labels that describe the uses and patient conditions for which they may be used. Any use by a physician that differs from the label is considered an off-label use.  Here, plaintiff argued that the defendant was negligent in allegedly promoting off-label use for its product. 

The court noted that he FDCAct expressly protects off-label use: “Nothing in this chapter shall be
construed to limit or interfere with the authority of a health care practitioner to prescribe or administer any legally marketed device to a patient for any condition or disease within a legitimate health care practitioner-patient relationship.” 21U.S.C. § 396. In addition, the Supreme Court has emphasized that off-label use by medical professionals is not only legitimate but important in the practice of medicine. Buckman Co. v. Plaintiffs’ Legal Comm., 531 U.S. 341, 350 (2001). And a manufacturer is not liable merely because it sells a device with knowledge that the prescribing doctor intends an off-label use.
 

Plaintiffs argued  that the FDA has adopted regulations that limit a drug or device manufacturer’s
ability to promote a drug or device for off-label use. Therefore, while doctors may use a drug or device off-label, the marketing and promotion of a Class III device for an unapproved use violates Section 331 of the FDCA, 21 U.S.C. § 331, claimed plaintiff.  Thus, plaintiff asserted a state law negligence per se theory predicated on violation of federal law.   

In California, negligence per se is not a separate cause of action but is the application of an evidentiary presumption. Quiroz v. Seventh Avenue Center, 140 Cal. App. 4th 1256, 1285-86 (Cal. 2006). In California, there are four elements required to establish a viable negligence per se theory: (1) the defendant violated a statute or regulation; (2) the violation caused the plaintiff's injury; (3) the injury resulted from the kind of occurrence the statute or regulation was designed to prevent; and (4) the plaintiff was a member of the class of persons the statute or regulation was intended to protect. See Alejo v. City of Alhambra, 75 Cal.App.4th 1180, 1184-1185 (Cal.App. 1999).

The court of appeals found that the district court had correctly concluded that Carson had failed to present sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue as to two of the elements: violation of
federal law and causation. There was no evidence in the record to support the claim that defendant illegally promoted an off-label use of the products, that the physician was influenced by such promotion, or that the off-label use of the disk caused the injury. Indeed, there was uncontroverted testimony that plaintiff developed a spinal condition that put undue stress on the device, and that the surgeon broke the disc himself during revision surgery.

Summary judgment affirmed.

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