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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Finds Strict Liability

Improper Basis of Recovery Against Medical Device Manufacturers

Pennsylvania courts consider strict liability to be an improper basis for recovery in cases where manufacturers fail to provide adequate warnings regarding prescription drugs. In Hahn v. Richter, 543 Pa. 558 (Pa. 1996), the Plaintiff, Hahn, was treated for back pain by one of the defendants, Dr. Richter. The treatment included several surgical procedures and multiple intrathecal injections of Depo-Medrol, a drug manufactured by the other defendant involved in the case, Upjohn. A package insert accompanying the drug provided warnings to physicians that a condition called “arachnoiditis” was reported after doctors administered the drug by way of intrathecal injection, and that this method was not an approved usage by the Federal Drug Administration. Following his treatment, Hahn developed the condition “arachnoiditis”, which required further surgery and ultimately resulted in serious, permanent injury. Hahn filed a suit against both Dr. Richter and Upjohn alleging that his condition was caused by the Depo-Medrol and that Upjohn failed to provide adequate warnings to physicians regarding intrathecal use of the drug.

The court ruled that where the adequacy of warnings associated with prescription drugs is at issue, the failure of the manufacturer to exercise reasonable care to warn of dangers (i.e. manufacturer’s negligence) is the only recognized basis of liability. The court ruled that a “manufacturer of drugs is not strictly liable for unfortunate consequences attending the use of otherwise useful and desirable products which are attended with a known but apparently reasonable risk.”

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