A nother legal controversy involving rubber medical devices has ended in a multimillion-dollar settlement. Considering the state of product liability litigaton, it's not surprising. Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories continues to distribute Norplant—its hormone-filled, siloxane polymer female contraceptive implants—around the world, and continues to express total faith in its safety and efficacy. Five years of legal claims against Wyeth-Ayerst resulted in thousands of vindications for the company.
Nevertheless, Wyeth-Ayerst feels it necessary to settle most of the remaining claims against it, because it's cheaper to settle than to bring cases to trial.
In fairness, the product literature for Norplant lists a wide range of debilitating, even potentially fatal, side effects reported by women who have the implants. But with many of these symptoms, ``an association with the Norplant System has been neither confirmed nor refuted,'' it adds.
So because of side effects that may not be caused by Norplant and may not even exist, Wyeth-Ayerst must lay out millions of dollars. That'll make company executives think twice the next time they want to develop or introduce new medical products.
Liability questions already have made other medical product manufacturers think twice. The massive litigation over silicone-gel breast implants, for example, caused people with hydrocephalus to worry that silicone rubber manufacturers would stop providing material for brain shunts.
President Clinton's signing of a liability exemption for biomaterials suppliers assuaged that concern. But companies such as DuPont Co., which stopped supplying the medical market for fear of litigation, haven't rushed back to it. And of course there's still no exemption for rubber manufacturers who aren't in the medical market. But as any trial lawyer will tell you, that's all for the best.