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Affirming an $18 million jury verdict in a failure-to-warn and design-defect case, the Illinois Supreme Court on Jan. 25 ruled that a medical-products manufacturer was liable to the estate of a woman whose intravenous tube connector malfunctioned. Hansen v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., No. 89043. The suit is based on a 1991 accident that occurred while Andrina Hansen was being treated for stomach ulcers at Chicago’s Mt. Sinai Hospital. Fluids were administered intravenously through her jugular vein using an IV set made by Baxter Healthcare Corp. The court said Hansen suffered an air embolism when the IV connector came apart, detaching the tube from the catheter. The resulting brain damage and paralysis left Hansen lucid but unable to control her bodily functions for four years, until her death, said John Erb, one of the estate’s trial attorneys. According to the court, the “friction-fit” connector used on Hansen has two fittings that must be pushed together to maintain a connection, and is subject to inadvertent disconnection due to patient movement. Baxter also sold another connector called the “Luer-lock,” which is similar to a friction-fit, but has a locking collar to prevent accidental disconnection. In fact, the court said, Baxter stated in its patent application that the Luer-lock was designed to overcome the friction-fit’s disconnection problem. Hansen’s administrator claimed the friction-fit was unreasonably dangerous because it was designed, made and sold without the lock and it failed when used in a reasonably foreseeable manner. He also alleged that Baxter should have warned health care professionals of the likelihood of unintentional disconnection without a lock. The high court ruled that the jury could have reasonably concluded that Baxter had a duty to warn because its connector knowledge was superior to that of the medical community. On the design-defect claim, the court rejected Baxter’s argument that the learned intermediary doctrine applied, holding that the ordinary-patient test was properly used to evaluate consumer expectations because doctors had little involvement in the purchasing process. Finally, the court said the verdict could be supported under the risk-utility test because there was evidence that a Luer-lock would have prevented disconnection at a cost of less than five cents. Baxter had urged the court to adopt the standard defined by the Restatement (Third) of Torts (1998), which would allow a finding of unreasonably dangerous design only if reasonable health-care providers, knowing the foreseeable risks and therapeutic benefits, would not prescribe the device for any class of patients. But the court declined to address the argument because it was not developed in the lower courts. The ruling pleased James P. Costello, who filed an amicus brief for the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association asking the court not to adopt the Restatement test. The new test would “give manufacturers virtual immunity,” he said. Baxter’s lead appellate counsel, William R. Quinlan, said this was the only case involving friction-fit connectors in the half-century the company has been selling them. But Paul B. Episcope, Hansen’s lead trial attorney, said Baxter should not sell friction-fits just because people buy them, adding, “When does a product become extinct?” He said he tried to settle on the condition that Baxter stop selling friction-fit connectors. The estate’s $18,047,000 recovery was offset by a $2,880,000 pretrial settlement of the estate’s claim against the medical professionals.

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