WASHINGTON - In a move that may lessen resin makers' liability while exposing some processors to greater risk, the Supreme Court ruled June 26 that consumers may sue medical device manufacturers in state court. Two plastics industry lawyers hailed the decision as good news.
``This is excellent news for the plastics industry,'' said John Dubeck, a lawyer with Keller & Heckman in Washington. ``Plaintiffs will be more likely to target medical device manufacturers for their injuries and less likely to go to resin manufacturers to find a solvent party to sue.''
However, Alan H. Magazine, president of the Health Industry Manufacturers Association of Washington, noted, ``We are disappointed in the ruling because it may present a potential step backwards for medical device innovation.''
He added that the decision may subject medical device firms ``to a confusing maze of differing state product tort liability laws.'' Maga-zine contends the effect ``will be particularly unfortunate for small companies, often the leading source of innovative ideas.''
In a 5-4 decision, the high court ruled a Florida woman whose pacemaker failed could sue the manufacturer, Medtronics Inc. of Minneapolis, in state court under the 1976 federal Medical Device Amendments.
The pacemaker met all federal requirements at the time it failed. The woman claimed the device was of faulty design and manufacture and was poorly labeled.
Dubeck and another Keller & Heckman lawyer, Doug Behr, noted that resin makers and the companies they supply have been ``defendants of last resort'' in questions of medical device liability, because device manufacturers were exempt from liability.
Dubeck cited the case of DuPont Co. in the Vitek jaw implant cases of the 1980s, as an example of how resin manufacturers have been affected by medical liability.
``DuPont spent a lot of money defending itself, yet cases were always dismissed,'' he said.