The power morcellator, a surgical tool employed in minimally-invasive hysterectomies, has been found to spread uterine cancer. More than 20 power morcellator lawsuits have been filed by affected patients and one case has already been resolved in a settlement.
Settlement is a possibility, both for currently pending suits and for those yet to be filed. Read on to learn more about how settlements work in general and how power morcellator settlements might be occur.
The First Morcellator Case Has Settled
Pennsylvania resident Scott Burkhart filed a lawsuit in March 2014, on behalf of his late wife Donna. This case, the first of the 22 or more pending federal lawsuits claiming that power morcellators upstaged uterine cancer, has recently ended in a settlement agreement.
The case was scheduled to go to trial, but in late June 2015, LiNA Medical offered a settlement instead. Scott Burkhart was “relieved” to end the harrowing case in a settlement, especially since he had filed the lawsuit mostly to raise awareness of the serious risks of power morcellators, to help prevent more families from losing loved ones.
Summary of the Burkhart Case
Donna Burkhart underwent a laparoscopic hysterectomy aided by a power morcellator and was later diagnosed with an advanced uterine sarcoma, an aggressive and treatment-resistant form of cancer. Her death was caused by complications from the disease.
According to the Burkhart lawsuit, Donna showed “no signs” of uterine cancer prior to her surgery and was led to believe the hysterectomy, which she sought for treatment of benign uterine fibroids, was a relatively safe and routine operation.
It was only after the surgery that Scott and Donna found out that the power morcellator’s spinning blades could have sprayed bits of cancerous tissue all over the inside of Donna’s abdomen, spreading and worsening the undetected cancer — a claim supported by years of medical research.
Allegations Made Against Manufacturer
Scott directed claims of negligence against LiNA Medical, the manufacturer of the power morcellator used in Donna’s surgery. The lawsuit states, among other claims, that the manufacturer failed in various ways to properly warn doctors and patients of its products’ serious risks.
Though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent out urgent warnings in 2014 regarding the use of power morcellators in surgeries for the treatment of uterine fibroids, the Burkhart lawsuit and many of the other similar cases allege that morcellator manufacturers had ready access to research studies and even direct correspondence indicating the possible risks of the devices long before receiving the FDA warnings.
How Settlements Can Be Reached
Settlements are reached when both parties manage to agree upon an appropriate amount of compensation and can involve lengthy negotiations.
It was actually unusual for the LiNA Medical case to end in a settlement before going to trial, as it is more typical for defendants to fight a case in trial unless there had already been a similar case that was ruled in the plaintiff’s favor.
However, there are numerous reasons why a company may choose to settle early rather than go to trial. For example, a public trial may expose the company to more scrutiny and possibly mire its reputation in negative press. Also, defending a case in trial can require a lot of time as well as significant legal fees.
Thus, some companies may find it more cost-effective to offer settlements early in order to minimize potential public fallout and expenses. In the case of power morcellators, since there has been a good deal of public fallout already in connection with the devices, it does seem that settlement could potentially be the smarter option for manufacturers in many instances.
Is Multi-District Litigation a Possibility for Morcellator Cases?
The other 21 federally-filed cases are still in progress and a request has been filed aiming to consolidate them into a Multi-District Litigation suit. A hearing regarding the request will take place in October 2015 before the Judicial Panel for Multi-District Litigation.
What is MDL?
Multi-District Litigation (MDL) is a legal procedure in which similar lawsuits from various courts are grouped together on the basis of sharing a set of common defendants and a similar set of allegations, to be transferred to a single court for pre-trial proceedings. It is designed to save time and resources in dealing with a large number of similar cases on complex topics.
Here at Monheit law, we believe that MDL is well-suited to power morcellator lawsuits. A significant benefit of MDL is the fact that it offers more flexibility, as plaintiffs are given more control over their individual cases than they would in a legal procedure such as class action. This is particularly important for power morcellator victims, as the details of each case can vary widely.
MDL and Morcellator Settlements
After pre-trial procedures, such as “discovery,” where the plaintiffs and defendants obtain evidence from each other via methods such as interrogation, are completed, the individual plaintiffs have the option to either accept an offered settlement or go to trial, back in their original court.
It is common in MDL for defendants to wait until a few “bellwether” cases go to trial before offering settlements, so that they can gauge the reaction of the juries to any testimony and evidence that might be provided. However, as the Burkhart case demonstrates, defendants may choose to enter settlement negotiations before other cases are tried.
Could I Have a Case?
If you or a loved one received a uterine cancer diagnosis after undergoing a power morcellator-aided operation, you may be able to fight for a settlement to compensate you for the immense hardships and loss you may have endured.
However, be aware that every state enforces a statute of limitations—a time period after which you lose the right to pursue legal action for a given incident. This period varies depending on the type of lawsuit you plan to file as well as on specific details of your case.
Contact Monheit Law as soon as possible for a free case evaluation to start exploring your legal options.