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Defective medical devices are not limited to those implanted in a patient's body. Patients who must use canes, wheelchairs, or other devices to get around are susceptible to a whole array of device warnings and risks that other Americans are not. According to The Baltimore Sun, it is imperative to maintain wheelchairs and walkers as you would a car, as a lack of proper maintenance can result in unsafe conditions such as broken or bent parts. If the device is broken, it can result in the requirement of extra energy to get around, more pain, or—worst-case scenario—a devastating accident that can result in hospitalization.

The onus of maintaining these devices is not, however, solely the responsibility of the patient. Sometimes these devices, and machinery used in conjunction with them, are not properly built or vetted before it is put on the market. One such incident occurred earlier this year, when a California-based manufacturer was ordered to pay a $1.75 million civil penalty for continuing to sell faulty wheelchair lifts. The lifts were recalled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), according to an agency report, as they had been labeled as potential fire hazards. Even after the recall was announced, the manufacturer, Rincon Corporation, continued selling the lifts to the public.

More than 4,000 Rincon lifts had been sold to manufacturers of buses and vans to help meet the transportation needs of wheelchair-bound patients. The recall was first announced in September 2012 because the lifts contained a defective cable determined to increase the risk of starting a fire. When the NHTSA followed up with the van and bus companies in 2013 to make sure that Rincon had informed them of the recall, the administration found that though Rincon had stopped producing the defective lifts it had not stopped selling them. Rincon later reported that it had sold 356 defective lifts after the recall had been issued.

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When most patients go in for surgery—especially serious surgeries like knee replacements—they are not concerned with the materials that doctors use. Most patients trust that their doctor is the expert, and will do what is necessary to ensure that the patient can recover quickly and well. Yet sometimes shady business deals are at fault for surgeries gone wrong, and doctors are helpless to remedy them. Such is the case with a device that until very recently was used to aid with knee replacement surgery, the OtisKnee, distributed by OtisMed Corporation.

In December, according to The New York Times, the former CEO of OtisMed pled guilty in a New Jersey federal court to criminal charges of distributing adulterated medical devices. The OtisKnee was not cleared by the Food and Drug Administration before OtisMed began to distribute and sell the device to American hospitals, and 18,000 of the adulterated devices were sold and distributed between 2006 and 2009. The device was marketed as one that would speed knee surgery and aid in patient recovery, but many patients experienced the exact opposite. In one case, a woman experienced intense and lasting pain after the surgery, and ended up having to have a second knee replacement. Another patient said that the revelation that the device that had been used was likely at fault for her persisting knee problems made her feel like she “had been a guinea pig.”

The Times reports that had it not been for a whistleblower, presumably at OtisMed, the public may never have been made aware that this device was being distributed without FDA approval. Knee replacements are the most common elective surgery performed in the U.S.—roughly 700,000 such operations are performed annually. The FDA medical device approval process is long and arduous, and can cost thousands of dollars for the company attempting to have a single device approved. According to the Times, OtisMed, a California-based start-up, saw an opening in a crowded market. While doctors and other experts say that the device is a good idea, because it was not fully vetted by the FDA, it was never decided if the device was actually able to perform the function it purported to do.

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In mid-January the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a first-of-its-kind device to treat obesity, according to a FDA press release. The device, known as the Maestro Rechargeable System, realigns nerve pathways between the brain and the stomach. It's the first FDA-approved device to fight obesity since 2007, and is approved for patients who have a body mass index of 35 to 45, with at least one other obesity-related condition. One such condition would be Type 2 diabetes. The system consists of a rechargeable electrical pulse generator, leads, and electrodes that are implanted surgically into the abdomen. Safety trials consisted of 233 patients, in which 157 received the device and 76 in a control group who did not. Though there were some adverse effects observed, the FDA sponsored a survey that found that patients with severe obesity would be willing to accept the dangers for the weight loss it promised.

There are several devices to help fight obesity that have been on the market for years, including those that tie off the passageways to the stomach. Some of these devices require that the patient eat very slowly, or that he takes very small bites. Many of these devices came under fire by the FDA for safety concerns. One well-publicized event was the discontinuation of the manufacture of one of these devices for teenagers after two percent of patients who were using them experienced severe side effects. According to the National Institutes of Health, a significant number of patients surveyed in a trial of obesity-reducing devices experienced negative side effects.

Only time will tell if the recently approved device will have a similarly bad track record. If you or someone you know has experienced negative side effects or long-term health problems because of an obesity device, you may be eligible for compensation. Do not go through it alone. Contact an experienced Chicago defective medical device attorney today.

Sometimes a medical device meant to provide relief for patients suffering and expedite healing causes more pain than relief. One of these devices is known as a pain pump, most commonly used in patients recovering from shoulder surgery after a serious shoulder injury. According to the New York Times, these devices became popular in the late 1990s because they allowed patients to leave the hospital earlier while they received narcotic painkillers for recovery through the pump. While the pain pumps had received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the FDA had never cleared the devices for use in joints.

It was not long until several young patients returned to their surgeons suffering from chondrolysis, a rare ailment in which the cartilage dies, precipitating the painful condition of a bone grinding on an adjacent bone. One orthopedic surgeon told the Times that he had lost many hours of sleep trying to figure out what was causing the chondrolysis before several medical studies identified pain pumps as a likely culprit.

Throughout 2010 and 2011, hundreds of lawsuits were filed against the manufacturer of one widely implemented pain pump, I-Flow Corporation. The company was ordered to pay millions of dollars in settlements to patients who had experienced negative side effects, many who had to have shoulder joints entirely replaced. The FDA issued a warning discouraging the use of pain pumps in joints, and required manufacturers of anesthetics to change labels, encouraging doctors not to use such anesthetics through pain pumps.

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Last year, a Supreme Court ruling came down that will affect thousands of Americans, even if they were not aware of the ruling. Building on a ruling that declared manufacturers of medical devices could, in some cases, enjoy immunity status if the device turned out to be defective, last year's case determined that no patient could challenge a manufacturer in state court if it had been approved at the federal level. According to Forbes, the ruling is a big win for medical product manufacturers and a loss for American consumers.

The ruling, which, according to Forbes, outlines that “state lawsuits claiming drugmakers failed to adequately design their medicines cannot proceed because they are pre-empted by federal law,” was based on a 2004 incident in which a New Hampshire woman was left unable to see, work, or eat without a feeding tube. The woman had taken a generic non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, but later developed Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis. A lower court ruling awarded her $21 million in damages. The manufacturer of the drug, Mutual Pharmaceutical, argued that the decision should be overturned because the FDA had already approved the drug.

Mutual pointed to a 2011 ruling which determined that generic drugs were not required to change product labeling if alerted to side effects of which they were not previously aware.

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