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Ethics Experts In Product Liability Cases

Ethics-Definition-05-25-10.jpgSean Wajert of the MassTortDefense Blog has a post on a court’s denial of a plaintiff’s ethics expert in an OBTape MDL pending in Georgia. We routinely disagree with Sean’s blog (we’re on different sides of the aisle, of course), but there isn’t much disagreement with this post.

Disclaimer: I haven’t been following the OBTape litigation too closely, so all my information is secondhand.

The plaintiffs hired a business ethicist, Professor Ann Buchholtz, to testify that the product manufacturer should have provided certain information about the product to physicians and consumers. This is essentially a failure to warn claim. The problem with hiring a business ethicist (who, apparently has no particular expertise in medical devices or medical ethics, which arguably could alter the analysis) is that she is unnecessary. A jury is tasked with determining whether a company failed to warn about specific dangers. Having an expert say what is “ethically” required is merely an attempt to substitute an expert’s opinion for that of the jury. And the danger is that the opinion comes cloaked in the guise of expert testimony, so a jury might be more willing to accept the expert’s viewpoint.

I don’t know if the plaintiffs hired FDA experts, but that’s really the approach to take. It is important to show that the company had knowledge of specific product problems, defects, or dangers that rose to the level of requiring the company to report those problems to the FDA and likely require the company to issue a better warning. That’s the expert opinion testimony needed in a case like this.

Ethics are important, but they are not rules. It’s not something that should be testified to by an expert in most cases. The jury should determine whether or not they apply in any particular case, and what the standard should be.