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Patton v. Boston Scientific Corp.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

October 2, 2018





         Before the Court is Defendant Abbott Laboratories' (“Abbott”) Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. See Record Document 56. Plaintiffs Minor S. Patton, Jr. and Lana Patton (collectively “Plaintiffs”) oppose the motion. See Record Document 61-2. Abbott seeks dismissal of all of Plaintiffs' claims. For the reasons set forth below, Abbott's motion is hereby GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs bring this products liability action seeking recovery for personal damages that they allegedly suffered resulting from the use of Abbott's medical guidewire device (the “Whisper Wire”) during Plaintiff Minor S. Patton, Jr.'s (“Patton”) heart procedure. On July 2, 2014, Patton underwent a coronary angioplasty procedure performed by Dr. Eric Reeves, M.D. (“Dr. Reeves”) at the Willis-Knighton Medical Center. See Record Document 56-1 at 4, ¶ 8, Defendant's Statement of Uncontested Material Facts.[1] During the procedure, part of the Whisper Wire fractured while Dr. Reeves was manipulating the wire in performing the surgery, which ultimately resulted in a segment of the wire being left in Patton's heart after Dr. Reeves and the assisting doctors decided no further intervention was necessary given their belief that the wire remnant did not pose any risk of harm to Patton. Id. at 6, ¶ 12.[2] Dr. Reeves later stated that the procedure was complicated by Patton's particular anatomy that made the process of manipulating the guidewire more difficult. See id. at 4-5, ¶¶ 8-9.

         Plaintiffs seek damages for emotional distress, fear of future injury, medical costs, and loss of enjoyment of life, all of which Plaintiffs allege were caused by the use of Abbott's Whisper Wire. See Record Document 1 at 4, ¶ 17; Record Document 76. Abbott points to the statements of its medical experts, and those of Patton's treating cardiologists, that Patton has not been injured by the Whisper Wire remnant and that it is highly unlikely he would suffer any future injury. See Record Document 56-1 at 6, ¶ 12.

         On June 30, 2015, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint (the “Complaint”) in this Court. See Record Document 1. Plaintiffs bring a products liability action against Defendant under the Louisiana Products Liability Act (“LPLA”) for the damages they allegedly suffered due to Abbott's Whisper Wire fracturing during Patton's heart procedure. See id. at 4, ¶ 17. Plaintiffs also bring a claim for breach of the implied warranty of fitness. See Record Document 61-2 at 23.


         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is proper pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”[3] Quality Infusion Care, Inc. v. Health Care Serv. Corp., 628 F.3d 725, 728 (5th Cir. 2010). Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party “who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof [at trial].” See Patrick v. Ridge, 394 F.3d 311, 315 (5th Cir. 2004) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552 (1986)). If the movant demonstrates the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact, “the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine [dispute] for trial.” Gen. Universal Sys., Inc. v. Lee, 379 F.3d 131, 141 (5th Cir. 2004). Where critical evidence is so weak or tenuous on an essential fact that it could not support a judgment in favor of the nonmovant, then summary judgment should be granted. See Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005). The Fifth Circuit has cautioned that “conclusory allegations, speculation, and unsubstantiated assertions are inadequate to satisfy” the nonmovant's burden in a motion for summary judgment. Ramsey v. Henderson, 286 F.3d 264, 269 (5th Cir. 2002).

         The Fifth Circuit has upheld summary judgment in products liability cases, holding that the record evidence was insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact. See Hebert v. Miles Pharmaceuticals, No. 92-4290, 1994 WL 10184, at *3 (E.D. La. Jan. 13, 1994) (“Indeed in a products liability case if the claimant fails to come forward with sufficient evidence of either a product defect within the meaning of the law or that such ‘defect' probably caused the damages, then the trial court should enter judgment as a matter of law in favor of the defendants.”) (citing Willett v. Baxter Int'l, Inc., 929 F.2d 1094, 1100 (5th Cir. 1991) and Anderson v. McNeilab, Inc., 831 F.2d 92, 93 (5th Cir. 1987)).

         B. Medical Causation Evidence for LPLA Claims

         Abbott moves for summary judgment on the ground, inter alia, that Plaintiffs' lack of medical causation evidence precludes their recovery on any of their claims under the LPLA. See Record Document 62 at 10. Plaintiffs counter that expert medical testimony is not necessary to establish causation in this case because the issues are sufficiently within “common knowledge” for a jury to perceive. See Record Document 61-2 at 12, 23. Plaintiffs further contend that they are not required to put forth expert evidence as to a medical causation because the testimony of Abbott's medical expert, Dr. Reeves, establishes it for them. See Record Document 62 at 9. The Court disagrees. This Court's precedent (and that of the Fifth Circuit and Louisiana state courts addressing the issue) have consistently held that in tort actions involving complex medical devices and concepts, medical causation cannot be established without the aid of expert medical testimony because these matters are not within the common knowledge of a layperson. See, e.g., Rhodes v. Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals, Inc., No. 10-1695, 2013 WL 1282450, at *7-8 (W.D. La. Mar. 28, 2013) (“[A] finding of medical causation is not something a layman can readily grasp or divine without some expert guidance.”) (citing Hebert, 1994 WL 10184, at *2)).

         In this case, it is undisputed that Plaintiffs' only expert is Dr. Dana J. Medlin (“Dr. Medlin”), a biomechanical engineer who Plaintiffs admit is not qualified to (and does not intend to) render any opinion regarding injury or medical causation. See Record Document 55-1 at 19. Just as in prior cases, “the lack of an expert to establish causation is fatal to Plaintiffs' claims.” Rhodes, 2013 WL 1282450, at *2 (citing Johnson v. E.I. DuPont deNemours & Co., Inc., 08-628, p. 7 (La.App. 5th Cir. 1/13/09), 7 So.3d 734, 740). The medical causation issues in this case are “matters beyond the common knowledge of a lay person”: they involve scientific concepts such as endothelialization and vascular processes, the use of an FDA-regulated medical device during a complex heart procedure, and the risks and potential of harm associated with such use, all of which “can hardly be characterized as uncomplicated.” See Hebert, 1994 WL 10184, at *2; see also Record Document 62 at 9; Record Document 56-2 at 13-14. Contrary to Plaintiffs' position, these are not “common ...

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