Medtronic Inc., the maker of the faulty Sprint Fidelis Defibrillator Lead Wire, is now facing a lawsuit filed by a group of Canadians who claim the company failed to warn consumers of a defect in the batteries installed in its defibrillators. Last week, Ontario Superior Court Judge Alexandra Hoy certified the class-action lawsuit in a ruling released Dec. 6 in Toronto, allowing the plaintiffs to seek a portion of Medtronic profits for damages.
In Canada, 2,416 patients had the Medtronic defibrillators implanted as of February 2005, with 613 of them having been removed or replaced as of June 2007.
In 2005, Medtronic announced that it was recalling two heart defibrillators because they had been linked to at least four deaths and one injury. These devices are used to shock the heart into normal rhythm after patients suffer irregular heartbeat or fibrillation, which are rapid, life-threatening arrhythmia’s, originating in the lower chambers of the heart.
The defibrillators are implanted surgically in the chest. When a cardiac arrhythmia occurs, the capacitor is charged and the device delivers the appropriate shock. Medtronic said that some of the recalled defibrillators failed to charge properly, a defect which can result in the late delivery or no delivery of cardiac shock therapy. Medtronic had actually discovered the problem with its defibrillators in 2003, but did not disclose the problems immediately.
In October, Medtronic agreed to pay $130 million to settle U.S. claims it hid the defects in the defibrillators, $55 million more than it proposed in a July settlement, people familiar with the agreement said at the time. The company agreed to the higher amount after more claims were filed over the heart defibrillators than the parties expected, the people said.
But the October settlement was not the end of Medtronic’s defibrillator woes. That same month, Medtronic suspended sales of the Sprint Fidelis Leads after receiving reports of 5 fatalities linked to lead fractures. A lead is a wire that connects an implantable defibrillator to the heart. It is through the lead that a defibrillator is able to sense when a patient’s heart rhythm is out of sync. When it breaks, the defibrillator can emit a massive and painful shock. And in the worse case scenario, the fractured lead can prevent a defibrillator from sending a necessary, lifesaving shock to the heart.
Just last week, lawyers for Medtronic went before the US Supreme Court to ask that people injured by defective medical devices and drugs should not be allowed to sue manufacturers if those products have been approved by the Food & Drug Administration.