Pain Pump Chondrolysis Lawsuit Centralization to be Reconsidered

Later this month, a panel of federal judges will hear additional arguments about whether to centralize more than 100 shoulder pain pump chondrolysis lawsuits filed in federal district courts throughout the United States by plaintiffs who allege that the use small pumps to infuse pain medication following arthroscopic surgery destroyed their shoulder cartilage.

When the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation meets on March 25, it will be the second time the panel has been asked to consolidate and centralize shoulder pump lawsuits for pretrial litigation. The panel rejected a previous request by plaintiffs in August 2008, saying that the number of different manufacturers of pain pumps and different medications used in the devices made coordination for pretrial litigation inappropriate. At that time, about 30 cases had been filed.

According to a hearing order issued last month, there are currently at least 104 cases pending in 27 different federal district courts in 20 states. Minnesota, Arizon and Oregon have the largest number of cases filed, and a group of plaintiffs have proposed that all of the federal cases be transferred to the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota for pretrial litigation.

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All of the suits involve similar allegations that plaintiffs developed chondrolysis of the shoulder after their doctors used a pain pump to deliver a combination of pain medications directly into the shoulder joint via catheter during the days after surgery. Although the FDA has never approved the pumps for this purpose, plaintiffs argue that the manufacturers encouraged doctors to use the pain pumps instead of oral pain medications, without warning about the risk of these debilitating complications.

In November 2009, the FDA required manufacturers of the pumps and the local anesthetics to add new warnings about the risk of chondrolysis from should pain pumps. The recent warnings were designed to alert healthcare professionals that the use of pain pumps following shoulder surgery to infuse medication directly into the joint increases the risk of chondrolysis, particularly involving the shoulder.

If a multidistrict litigation, or MDL, is formed for the pain pump chondrolysis lawsuits, all of the cases will be assigned to one judge for pretrial proceedings to eliminate duplicate discovery, inconsistent rulings from different judges in different courts and to serve the convenience of the parties, the witnesses and the court.

The lawsuits could be costly for the medical device manufacturers if the first shoulder pump trial is any indicator. In January, a jury in Oregon ordered the maker of the I-Flow On-Q Painbuster shoulder pump to pay nearly $4.75 million to a man who developed the progressive loss of cartilage after he received the pain pump.

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