February 11, 2002- Court Affirms $18 Million Award in Brain Damage Suit
The Illinois Supreme Court has affirmed a ruling by the Appellate Court in a product liability case.
In March 1991, Andrina Hansen was admitted to Mount Sinai Hospital for treatment of stomach ulcers. After successful surgery, fluids were administered intravenously through a "central line" running into Hansen's jugular vein. The connector between the IV tube and a catheter came apart, causing the decedent to suffer a seizure. She also suffered an air embolism, resulting in brain damage, paralysis and, ultimately, death. Her estate claimed that the IV tubing was defective because it lacked a locking device and instead was made with a slip connector.
Defendant Baxter Healthcare Corp. denied that the product was unsafe because 100 million of them had been sold throughout the world without incident. The defendant also contended that it was the hospital's and clinician's responsibility to select a locking IV set.
The decedent's estate filed a medical malpractice claim against Mount Sinai and a hospital nurse, and later alleged survival and wrongful-death claims against Baxter based on product liability.
Shortly before trial, all defendants except Baxter settled for nearly $ 2.9 million. After the jury returned its verdict of $ 18,047,000, the trial court allowed a setoff against the award based on the pretrial settlement.
The appeals court affirmed, disagreeing with Baxter's argument that there was insufficient evidence of a defective design to support a verdict based on that theory. The court said Baxter sold two kinds of IV sets, including the one that could come apart inadvertently, even after being properly connected. Baxter also sold a slightly more expensive locking IV line.
The appeals court said the issue was whether the slip connector involved in this case was unsafe when put to a reasonably foreseeable use.
The plaintiff's expert had testified that the connector used on the decedent was not a safe design because it could come apart inadvertently. Based on this testimony, the appeals court said, the jury could have found that the line used on the decedent posed an unreasonable risk of harm beyond that contemplated by the decedent while she lay in her hospital bed.
The Supreme Court affirmed. The court first held that Baxter had a duty to warn of the dangers inherent in the connector used on the decedent but that Baxter gave the medical community no warning at all about the need to use better locks in central-line applications. The Supreme Court also held that the jury's verdict could be supported under a design-defect theory.
The court said the decedent could have reasonably expected that her IV catheter connection, if properly designed and manufactured, would be safe for its intended purpose. Expert testimony adduced at trial was sufficient to establish that the design of the device was defective and that this design caused the decedent's injuries.
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