A California state court has cleared the path for nearly a dozen lawsuits to proceed that alleged that pharmaceutical company Bayer’s permanent birth control device, Essure, seriously injured patients. The ruling could have major implications for device manufacturers who, like Bayer, argue that federal regulation of their products means they shouldn’t be accountable for injuries.
Bayer sought to have the cases thrown out on three separate grounds, but on each of them, Judge Winifred Y. Smith of the Superior Court in Alameda County sided with the plaintiffs. The rulings, filed Aug. 2, not only mean that Bayer could still be held liable for the harm alleged in current lawsuits, but they also help lay the groundwork for future lawsuits over Essure.
“I’m hoping the the tide has turned a little bit and that the courts are now starting to understand the gravity of the situation,” said Elizabeth Graham, a lawyer for Grant & Eisenhofer, one of the firms representing the plaintiffs.
The 11 consolidated suits greenlighted last week represent 14 women who say that Essure, a permanent birth control device consisting of tiny metal coils inserted into the fallopian tubes, injured them in ways well beyond the risks indicated in medical literature.
They represent a fraction of the some 200 lawsuits that have been filed in California alone, Graham said. Other cases have been filed outside the state in federal court, and lawyers filed a petition before the judicial council Friday to coordinate cases in California, so they can be assigned a single judge in the hopes that rulings would be applicable to all those cases.
In one of its defenses, Bayer argued that under federal preemption law, the plaintiffs were not allowed to file suit. Because Essure was approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it said, Bayer itself should not be held liable for injuries.
But the court disagreed, in a motion that not only was vital in allowing the Essure cases to forward but could also have major implications for other medical device manufacturers, lawyers said.