Medtronic Inc., the maker of the defective Sprint Fidelis Defibrillator Lead, announced last week that it had reached a settlement agreement regarding another of its faulty medical devices. The company has agreed to pay out $114 million to settle product liability lawsuits filed as the result of injuries caused by its malfunctioning Marquis line of implanted cardiac defibrillators. Despite the huge settlement agreement, Medtronic said it does not admit liability in the litigation.
Implantable cardioverter defibrillators, or ICDs, provide shocks to stop hearts from potentially dangerous rapid beating. They treat patients at risk for sudden cardiac death, which is the leading natural cause of death in the U.S. In February 2005, Medtronic warned of a potential battery shorting problem in various Marquis-brand defibrillators. According to the Wall Street Journal, 11,000 of the machines were surgically removed and replaced with a different device in the U.S., and 2,000 more such removals took place overseas. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) classified Medtronic’s action as a Class II recall. In a Class II recall, there is either a possibility that the device will cause temporary or reversible health problems, or there is a remote chance that the device will cause serious health problems.
Plaintiffs in the suits against Medtronic argued that the company knew for years that there was a potential for product defects but sold its stock of potentially defective devices and didn’t advise patients that safer devices were available. The company has argued that it fulfilled every obligation in terms of reporting the problem, including seeking and receiving FDA approval in 2003 to implement battery design changes. Yet, in spite of its claims that it acted properly, Medtronic is now settling thousands of defective Marquis Defibrillator Lawsuits. The company will pay a total of $114 million, as it settles 2,682 cases for $95.6 million as well as $18.5 million in attorneys’ fees.
Medtronic, the largest manufacturer of ICDs, has had other problems with many of its devices. In April 2004, Medtronic announced that it was recalling its Micro Jewel II Model 7223Cx and the Medtronic GEM DR Model 7271 ICDs after they had been linked to at least four deaths and one injury. Medtronic said at the time that some of the recalled defibrillators failed to charge properly, resulting in the late delivery or no delivery of cardiac shock therapy. In January 2007, the FDA announced that the agency started an investigation looking into accusations by a former Medtronic engineer that the medical-device company didn’t sufficiently test its new Concerto cardiac device for patients with congestive heart failure. The Concerto device is one that can resynchronize the heartbeat of a patient and also provide backup defibrillator capability to save the patient’s life if the heart goes into cardiac arrest.
In October 2007, Medtronic announced that it was suspending sales of the Sprint Fidelis lead, a vital component in its implantable defibrillators. According to Medtronic, the Sprint Fidelis lead, a wire that connects the Medtronic defibrillator to the heart, could fracture inside a patient’s blood vessel, delivering a massive electrical jolt. This malfunction can cause extreme pain, or in the worst-case scenario, it can be fatal. At least 5 deaths have already been linked to a malfunctioning Sprint Fidelis lead used with an implantable Medtronic defibrillator.