Napolitano v. Synthes Inc.
In a product-liability case, a court can permit discovery of information about similar models. The plaintiff underwent surgery, to remove about five centimeters of her mandible. The plaintiff's surgeon, Dr. David Shafer, used a locking reconstruction plate and screws to keep the plaintiff's jaw in alignment. Allegedly, the plaintiff's locking reconstruction plate broke. The plaintiff sued Synthes Inc., alleging that the design and manufacture of the plate was defective, her pre-existing condition was exacerbated, and she suffered emotional distress, pain and suffering. The plaintiff filed requests for production of information about any other complaints made about the locking reconstruction plate. The plaintiff also requested discovery about a similar, non-locking model of a reconstruction plate that possesses the same dimensions, shape and material. The defendant objected that the non-locking model is fundamentally different, and that the plaintiff's production requests were not pertinent. Allegedly, the reconstruction plate that the plaintiff's surgeon used had 29 holes, the plate was 2.5 millimeters thick and each hole was threaded. The non-locking plate about which the plaintiff requested discovery had only 18 holes, it was 3 millimeters thick and the holes were not threaded. The defendant argued that the plaintiff's surgeon could not have used the non-locking plate on the plaintiff, because the dimensions were different, and it lacked locking technology. The court found that the plaintiff established that the information was relevant. "[D]iscovery of similar, if not identical, models is routinely permitted in product liability cases," pursuant to Culligan v. Yamaha Motor Corp., a 1986 decision of the Southern District of New York. The court granted the plaintiff's motion to compel. The plaintiff also requested the production of warning letters, if any exist. The court ordered the defendant to produce warning letters, if any, from the federal Food and Drug Administration, concerning the design or manufacturing process for the locking and non-locking reconstruction plates. Alternatively, the court ordered the defendant to state under oath that there were no FDA warning letters. The court denied the plaintiff's renewed requests to depose the defendant's former corporate presidents, absent evidence that they possess personal knowledge about pertinent information.