In a recent decision levied in the wake of Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc., the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania concluded that Pennsylvania products law does not impose strict liability on medical devices such that claims of design defect, manufacturing defect and failure to warn are inapplicable.
In Cogswell v Wright Medical, plaintiff Roy Cogswell sued the manufacturer of his failed hip replacement after complications caused him to experience continuous pain and undergo additional surgeries. More specifically, Cogswell alleged that defendant Wright Medical Technology, Inc. was strictly liable for his ongoing hip condition on theories of, among other things, design defect, manufacturing defect and failure to warn. After removing the case to the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, however, Wright Medical objected to Cogswell’s products claims, arguing that the hip replacement falls into a class of “unavoidably unsafe” products that social utility inoculates from strict liability.
Operating in the post-Tincher world of Pennsylvania products law, Judge Cathy Bissoon dutifully considered the Restatement (Second) of Torts to predict whether Pennsylvania’s state courts would subject medical devices to strict liability. In particular, Judge Bissoon focused her attention on Comment k to Section 402(a) of the Second Restatement that had previously been interpreted by Pennsylvania jurists to except prescription medications from strict liability. Even though Judge Bissoon noted that this aspect of the Restatement had not been previously interpreted in the context of medical devices, she ultimately adopted the Superior Court’s statement in dicta that there is “no reason why the same rationale applicable to prescription drugs may not be applied to medical devices” as both are inherently risky and beneficial to society.
All told, Cogswell is an interesting decision for Pennsylvania insofar as it continues to reflect the federal courts’ adherence to Tincher while also indicating that the Second Restatement’s pyrrhic victory in many ways stagnated the Commonwealth’s development of fundamental concepts in products law. As a result, Cogswell implicitly confirms the unfortunately unpredictable cycle of products jurisprudence in Pennsylvania where there is considerable delay between the federal courts’ preliminary consideration of novel concepts and the Commonwealth’s eventual endorsement or rejection of the same. Thanks to Adam Gomez for his contribution. Please email Brian Gibbons with any questions.