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Two Recent Reports Demonstrate Dangers Associated with Defibrillators

It’s an especially difficult time to be a patient suffering from cardiac-related ailments.

According to separate reports by MSNBC and the New York Times, respectively, problems have arisen with devices intended to treat heart problems: implanted defibrillators and automated extrinsic defibrillators have each, individually, had problems that could potentially cause death to patients who rely on their use for survival.

A defibrillator is a device that is intended to emit a potentially life-saving electrical jolt to interrupt a failing heartbeat and restore the heart to normal cadence.

As it relates to these situations, Illinois product liability law is an area of personal injury law that focuses on dangerous and defective products; it is the area of law in which manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and others who manufacture and disseminate goods to the public are held responsible for the injuries caused by those products. “Products” in this instance covers a wide range of categories, including medical devices such as the defibrillators and defibrillator parts in question.

There are three main types of Illinois product liability claims:
1. A manufacturing defect, which generally occurs when an otherwise safe product is assembled carelessly;
2. A design defect, which occurs when, no matter how well the product is put together, its intent or layout is inherently dangerous;

3. A failure to warn, which can occur when a product markets a product that they know to be potentially hazardous, and fails to warn consumers of the latent danger.

In each particular situation, a different type of liability is involved.

The New York Times reports that St. Jude Medical, a company responsible for manufacturing defibrillator implants, has become aware of several situations in which problems have arisen where the cable or lead connecting the defibrillator to the heart has failed and the electrical wires inside it have worked their way out through the lead’s coating. In fact, a study conducted last summer showed that wires were protruding out of their casing in 15 percent of the devices produces by St. Jude. When that happens, the potential arises for a short circuit when the device fires what otherwise should be a life-saving jolt. This would constitute a manufacturing defect, because the device is put together in a way that ultimately fails and has the potential to cause serious harm to the consumer.

The second situation involves external defibrillators purchased by hospitals around the country in order to save the lives of patients who go into sudden cardiac arrest.

According to the report by MSNBC, the newest generation of defibrillating gear (automated, as opposed to human-powered) now found in nearly all U.S. hospitals, saves fewer lives than the old, lower-tech defibrillators. In fact, estimates show that the use of automated equipment means that close to 1,000 more hospital cardiac-arrest patients die every year in the U.S. than when the older equipment was used.

This is one case in which new technology does not provide improvements in healthcare, and provides a clear representation of Illinois product liability cases involving design defect because, no matter how well the device is put together, it is inherently hazardous as compared to the other available options.

Our Chicago personal injury attorneys understand the dangers associated with defective medical devices. In fact, our attorneys brought a case against Orion Research Inc. and Baxter Health Care Corporation for a flawed test for the genetic disease cystic fibrosis. The failures of the test led a set of parents to have second child born with cystic-fibrosis. In addition to winning a substantial settlement for the family, our attorneys and the family were more concerned with the discontinuation of the test. As a result of our efforts, the test was eliminated.

If you or a loved on have suffered injury as a result of the a defective medical device, contact an attorney to learn whether you are entitled to compensation under the law.