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Judge Who Dismissed Sprint Fidelis Lawsuits Linked to Medtronic Law Firm

Feb 13, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

A judge who recently dismissed hundreds of Medtronic Sprint Fidelis defibrillator lead injury lawsuits apparently has a personal connection to the device maker.  According to The Wall Street Journal, the son of Judge Richard H. Kyle of the federal district court in Minneapolis is employed by a law firm that has had Medtronic as a client for quite a while.

Medtronic suspended sales of its Sprint Fidelis Leads in October 2007, after receiving reports of 5 fatalities linked to lead fractures. A lead is a wire that connects an implantable defibrillator to the heart. When it breaks, the defibrillator can emit a massive and painful shock. And in the worse case scenario, the fractured lead can prevent a defibrillator from sending a necessary, lifesaving shock to the heart. Replacing a lead is not an easy procedure, as the invasive surgery can cause the tissue of the blood vessels and heart to tear. In fact, replacing a defibrillator lead is so risky that patients with Sprint Fidelis Leads were told to leave the defective components in place unless they fracture.

Before the recall, Sprint Fidelis leads had been implanted with 90% of Medtronic’s defibrillators. According to the Wall Street Journal, 268,000 defective Sprint Fidelis Leads had been implanted worldwide, and about 235,000 people still had these leads in their chests when the recall was issued.  Not surprisingly, the Sprint Fidelis recall spawned scores of personal injury lawsuits.

Last month, Judge Kyle dismissed hundreds of Sprint Fidelis lawsuits that had been consolidated in federal court in Minneapolis.  The judge based his decision on a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling called Riegel vs. Medtronic (which did not involve the Sprint Fidelis lead) that said the Medical Device Amendments of 1976 to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act that require Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approval of medical devices preempt product liability lawsuits in state courts. The judge wrote that “the court recognizes that at least some plaintiffs have suffered injuries from using Sprint Fidelis leads, and the court is not unsympathetic to their plight. But plaintiffs assert claims for which the court simply cannot provide a remedy.” In the decision, the judge said that it was up to Congress to change the law that bars such lawsuits.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Judge Kyle said lawyers for Sprint Fidelis plaintiffs raised the issue of his son's relationship with Medtronic  in a conference call Thursday.  Judge Kyle told the Journal that during the call, plaintiffs' lawyers told him they plan to seek his disqualification from the litigation.  

Judge Kyle said in the Journal interview that he does not believe his son's connection to Medtronic poses a conflict for him.  For its part, that law firm, Fredrikson & Byron, said in a statement that it does  represent Medtronic in the Sprint Fidelis litigation.

One legal expert interviewed by the Journal said plaintiffs' lawyers could win such a disqualification if they meet a  "tough test that a Medtronic loss would have a substantially negative effect on the son's firm."  In that case, the expert said, the cases Judge Kyle dismissed could be reinstated and sent to a new judge.

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