October 03, 2022

“Alternative Avenues” Argument in Failure-to-Warn Cases Adding an Additional Wrinkle to Medical Device Litigation

Faegre Drinker on Products Blog

A developing line of cases across the nation may have large implications for medical device manufacturers defending against failure-to-warn claims. While a treating physician’s failure to read or rely on the manufacturer’s warnings has historically been fatal to a failure-to-warn claim in many jurisdictions (at least those without a “read and heed” presumption), plaintiffs have tried novel “alternative avenues” arguments to make summary disposition of the claim more difficult.

There are two theories under which a failure-to-warn claim may be brought in the products liability context:  a manufacturer with a duty to warn may breach its duty by either (1) failing to provide an adequate warning of the product’s potential risks (the “content theory”) or (2) failing to adequately communicate the warning to the ultimate consumer (the “communication theory”). Plaintiffs have traditionally pursued failure-to-warn claims in prescription medical device cases under the content theory, with most courts holding that a treating physician’s failure to read or rely on the manufacturer’s warnings in the product’s instruction for use (“IFU”) is fatal to the claim. See, e.g., Foster v. Ethicon, Inc., 2021 WL 1169473, at *7 (D.S.D. Mar. 26, 2021).

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