A Philadelphia jury returned a $33.7 million verdict on Monday after agreeing that Rex Medical LP had defectively designed a clot-catching vein filter that perforated a major blood vessel and became permanently lodged inside a woman’s body.
Jurors sided with claims from Georgia resident Tracy Reed-Brown that defects in Rex’s so-called Option filter, which was designed to be removable, had resulted in the device perforating her inferior vena cava and puncturing her pancreas, aorta and renal vein.
The verdict included $30.3 million in punitive damages on top of $3.4 million worth of compensation for medical expenses and pain and suffering.
The case is the first to go to trial as part of a mass tort program designed to consolidate nearly 800 pending lawsuits over the Option filters in Philadelphia.
Surgeons placed an Option filter in Reed-Brown’s inferior vena cava, a large vein that carries blood from the lower part of the body to the heart, in September 2010 to help prevent pulmonary embolisms from blood clots traveling into her lungs.
Six years after receiving the implant, however, Reed-Brown ended up back in the hospital as doctors discovered the device had perforated her IVC and damaged other organs in the area.
According to her attorneys, surgeons carried out a three-hour procedure in January 2017 to try and remove the device but were ultimately unsuccessful.
David Matthews, an attorney with Matthews & Associates representing Reed-Brown, told jurors during closing arguments on Friday that the device remained a clear and present danger to his client’s health as long as it remained in her body.
“If she leaves it in, the organs may fail,” he said. “She may be injured and it may kill her.”
The defense, meanwhile, attempted to pin blame for Reed-Brown’s complications on the surgeons who they said had failed to implant the device properly.
The company likewise argued Reed-Brown had never received any follow-up care or monitoring after she received the implant.
Attorneys for Reed-Brown said that blaming implanting physicians was a common theme for Rex as it pointed to evidence that the company’s co-founder, James McGuckin, had derided a doctor participating in a clinical trial as a “pussy” after he expressed hesitance about the amount of force needed to pull out of the devices from a patient.
Tim Goss, an attorney with Freese & Goss PLLC representing Reed-Brown, tagged McGuckin as the embodiment of Rex’s culture during arguments over punitive damages on Monday afternoon.
He also pointed to evidence that Rex had worked to convince doctors participating in clinical trials to withdraw initial opinions that complications their patients experienced after receiving the devices were not a result of defects.
After helping to change the results of the clinical trial, Rex was able to win the Food and Drug Administration’s blessing to begin selling the product in June 2009.
The company later sold the product line to Argon Medical Devices Inc. in January 2016 for $160 million.
“This never should’ve happened, the company cheated its way through a broken process to get $160 million they didn’t deserve,” Goss told the jury on Monday.
Walter “Pete” Swayze, an attorney with Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP representing Rex, urged the jury to draw a clear distinction between the company and it’s co-founder.
“Rex is not Dr. McGuckin,” he said. “These are hardworking people, just like all of us, and to suggest that the most extreme remedy available under civil law should be exercised with a heavy hand is not something that Rex wants to stand here and agree with.”
He added that, as of the end of last year, the company’s net worth was actually nearly $7 million in the red.
Deliberations had started on Friday following about two-and-a-half weeks of testimony, but the panel was forced to start the process over again on Monday after a juror was dismissed by Judge Michael Erdos following revelations that he’d posted comments about the case on Facebook over the weekend.
“I find his inability to follow a really simple and important instruction concerning,” the judge said on Monday, according to a transcript.
After returning a verdict on compensatory damages on Monday afternoon, the jury briefly heard additional evidence and argument before being sent to deliberate on the amount of punitive damages to award.
The verdict is the fourth win for plaintiffs nationally in seven trials related to IVC filters sold by three different medical device companies.
Juries in cases against Cook Medical Inc. returned verdicts of $1.4 million and $3 million, respectively, in trials in Houston and as part of a federal multidistrict litigation program in Indianapolis.
A third case against Cook in Indianapolis resulted in a defense verdict.
Three cases tried against Bard as part of a federal multidistrict litigation program in Arizona beginning in April 2018 resulted in an initial $3.6 million award against the company before juries returned defense verdicts in two subsequent trials.
By Matt Flair with Law 360