A medical device used in a “safe” alternative to open surgery, the power morcellator has severely endangered women harboring undiagnosed uterine cancer. Entering surgery with no signs of the disease, these patients found themselves suddenly faced with the struggle of advanced cancer just weeks after their operations.
Some of these women and their families are standing up to device manufacturers by filing lawsuits. More than 20 power morcellator lawsuits are currently pending in 16 federal districts nationwide, and at least 300 additional cases are being evaluated.
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Power morcellators are surgical instruments that were frequently used in certain types of hysterectomies and myomectomies until the FDA issued serious warnings about the devices in 2014. According to medical experts, the spinning blade of a power morcellator can spread and “upstage” undetected uterine cancers, significantly worsening a patient’s prognosis.
Though many healthcare companies took action after receiving FDA warnings, thousands of patients had already been exposed to morcellator cancer risks.
This exposure was unnecessary and preventable, according to pending morcellator lawsuits. Cancer patients accuse device manufacturers of ignoring 2 decades worth of research discussing the power morcellator’s adverse effects on undiagnosed cancer.
Manufacturers should have heeded the research studies by taking steps such as altering their product designs to increase safety, plaintiffs say. Most lawsuits also state that manufacturers did not sufficiently warn doctors and hospitals about the possible risks.
Patients claim that they were given little information or even misinformed regarding morcellator risk prior to undergoing surgery. Either they were given no indication of the potential of the cancer spreading or were given misleadingly low uterine cancer incidence rates, according to their allegations.
Most of the current morcellator lawsuits are framed as product liability suits, which means that manufacturers are held responsible for patient damages on the basis of actions or inaction that resulted in their products harming consumers.
In some unfortunate cases, the affected patient died from complications of advanced cancer contracted after power morcellation. In these instances, plaintiffs file “wrongful death” lawsuits, in which they ask for compensation for losses relating to their loved one’s death.
Another form of a lawsuit that morcellator cases can take is medical malpractice, where doctors or hospitals are blamed for the morcellated patient’s ordeal. A possible example where medical malpractice might be filed would be a case in which a patient was diagnosed with uterine cancer prior to a surgery and still received morcellation despite known risks.
The first federal power morcellator lawsuit was filed in 2014 by Pennsylvania widower Scott Burkhart against device manufacturer LiNA Medical.
Scott states that his late wife Donna had “no signs” of uterine cancer when she underwent a hysterectomy involving a LiNA Medical morcellator in March 2013, received no warning about possible risks, and was diagnosed with advanced uterine cancer shortly after the surgery, dying only 11 months afterward from the disease.
The lawsuit can be categorized both as a product liability and a wrongful death lawsuit. Scott holds LiNA Medical liable for multiple counts of negligence pertaining to the morcellator used in Donna’s surgery and alleges that her untimely death could have been avoided if the manufacturer had acted appropriately to protect patients from the risks of power morcellators.
This lawsuit was resolved in a settlement in June 2015, just before it was scheduled to go to trial. Scott Burkhart reported that he was “glad” to be done with the litigation, as he had mainly filed the suit to raise public awareness about the risks of power morcellators.
Plaintiffs of the 21 still pending power morcellator lawsuits have filed a request for consolidation via a procedure called Multidistrict Litigation (MDL).
MDL is a form of group litigation that can make the processing of multiple similar lawsuits faster and more efficient. Here, we’ll explore how MDL works and why it may be a good option for power morcellator litigation.
Multiple lawsuits filed in various districts nationwide can be grouped together under MDL if they share important similarities. For example, cases in an MDL might have a list of defendants and/or allegations in common with one another.
If a set of lawsuits are approved for handling under MDL, an MDL number is assigned and all individual cases are transferred to a single federal court for any necessary pre-trial procedures (one widely-known example being “discovery,” in which the plaintiffs and defendants obtain evidence from each other via interrogation and other methods.)
Such group handling of pre-trial events can increase efficiency, because when cases are handled individually, each court needs time to absorb basic background facts and details. But in MDL, the judge of the common court becomes solidly informed after considering several similar cases, saving time for all subsequent ones.
Constituent cases of an MDL remain separate lawsuits. That is, MDL lawsuits do not end in blanket settlement agreements or proceed to trial together. Each one is individually settled, dismissed, or sent to trial back in the court that it was originally filed in.
Another common type of group litigation is a class action. In a class action, a single lawsuit is filed on behalf of all individuals who suffered through a situation similar to that described by the plaintiff filing. All potentially affected individuals are part of the class action unless they specifically opt out.
The plaintiff filing the claim is called the “lead plaintiff” and is responsible for representing all members of the class action lawsuit. If a settlement or court award is obtained, most of it generally goes to the lead plaintiff(s), some is reserved for legal fees, and the remaining is divided amongst the rest of the plaintiffs according to a court decision.
The seasoned attorneys at Banville Law consider MDL to be a more sensible choice for handling power morcellator litigation as it currently stands, for two main reasons:
If you or your spouse contracted an advanced stage cancer after undergoing a hysterectomy or myomectomy involving a power morcellator, you may be able to file a lawsuit and obtain compensation for your pain and suffering.
Continue Reading:Morcellator Attorneys: Addressing Your Legal Concerns