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Expert not allowed to offer opinion on poor design of surgical table

Pontiac Osteopathic Hospital hired an expert to criticize its "shoulder chair," after the chair collapsed during surgery on Michael Pagano.  The Hospital, Allen Medical Systems, manufacturer of the chair, and Hillenbrand Industries had all been sued by Pagano after he fell to the floor while unconscious, injuring his neck and back.  The Defendants settled Pagano's claim and then continued the case among themselves to apportion fault.  Ultimately, the trial court excluded the Hospital's expert testimony regarding flaws in the design of the "shoulder chair," leaving the Hospital to bear the entire cost of the settlement because it could not prove fault by the manufacturer.

The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's decision, despite POH's claim that the expert's testimony was admissible to prove that the "L" clamp utilized in the design of the device was inadequate and did not fasten securely to surgical beds.  Relying on tort "reform" statutes limiting expert testimony, the Court held that POH's expert opinion was not admissible because he did not consult with experts within the medical device industry and did not perform scientific testing to document the flaws he identified in the design.  His common sense analysis that the clamp utilized was not appropriate, should have been provided with a bigger handle, and could give users a false sense of stability, was excluded from consideration. 

Even though the device manufacturer was under "a duty to eliminate any unreasonable risk of injury," the court concluded that POH could not meet its obligation to demonstrate the "magnitude of foreseeable risks...including the likelihood of the failure of properly secured clamps."  Further, the court held, since POH's expert had never made or seen the alternative design [clamp] he proposed, POH did not present a prima facie case of a feasible alternative design.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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