Hysterectomy Cancer Settlements Reached in Lawsuit Against Morcellator Manufacturer
As a growing number of laparoscopic morcellator lawsuits continue to be filed on behalf of women who had undiagnosed uterine cancer spread during a minimally invasive hysterectomy, a settlement has reportedly been reached in one of the first complaints brought in the federal court system.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Lina Medical has agreed to settle a lawsuits filed by Scott Burkhart, resolving a claim over the death of his wife, Donna, who allegedly had undiagnosed leiomyoscarcoma spread throughout her body by a power morcellator manufactured by Lina.
Power morcellators are medical tools used during minimally invasive laparoscopic hysterectomy and myomectomy procedures, allowing the surgeon to cut up the uterus or uterine fibroids and remove the tissue through a small incision in the abdomen.
While these procedures are designed to reduce recovery time and the risk of infections, morcellators have largely been abandoned over the past year, due to the risk that they may cause the spread of aggressive cancers that were previously contained or hidden within the uterus.
In April 2014, the FDA issued a warning about the potential power morcellation cancer risk, indicating that an estimated one out of every 350 women undergoing surgery for symptomatic uterine fibroids may actually have unsuspected sarcoma.
While the cancer can often be safely removed and treated when it is contained within the uterus, use of a power morcellator may send cancerous cells throughout the abdomen, causing the rapid dissemination of the cancer to other areas of the body. This may greatly reduce the likelihood of long-term survival and the woman’s overall quality of life.
The Burkhart complaint (PDF) was filed filed in March 2014, only a few weeks before the FDA warnings. Since that time, nearly two dozen similar lawsuits have been filed on behalf of women diagnosed with the spread of uterine cancer following morcellation.
Trial was scheduled to begin in Burkhart’s hysterectomy cancer lawsuit in November 2015, which was expected to provide a gauge for how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation. However, the confidential settlement appears to have resolved the claim.
The terms of the settlement were not disclosed, and are unlikely to have an immediate impact on the growing number of complaints that continue to be filed as other families learn about the link between morcellators and leiomyosarcoma, endometrial stromal sarcoma or other uterine cancers diagnosed following a laparoscopic hysterectomy or fibroid removal surgery.
Last month, a petition was filed with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) seeking to transfer complaints filed in U.S. District Courts throughout the country to one judge for coordinated handling during pretrial proceedings. Known as an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, the centralized proceedings are designed to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different judges and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.
A group of plaintiffs seek to centralize product liability lawsuits filed against Lina Medical and other manufacturers of power morcellators before U.S. District Judge Kathryn H. Vratil in the District of Kansas, where the litigation would be managed in a manner similar to a power morcellator class action. However, each claim would remain an individual lawsuit, and may be remand back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed if settlements or other resolutions are not reached following pretrial proceedings and a series of bellwether trials.
According to a briefing schedule posted by the U.S. JPML, manufacturers are not expected to respond to the petition until July 10, 2015. Oral arguments over whether to establish a power morcellator MDL are likely to be heard during an upcoming hearing session scheduled for October 1, in New York City.
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