Drug infusion pumps and pain pumps are electronic devices that deliver drugs or other fluids to patients intravenously, in regulated time intervals. Problems with drug infusion pumps in recent years have led to numerous lawsuits and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recalls. Malfunctions in drug infusion pumps have reportedly injured and killed patients. And hundreds of lawsuits allege that certain uses of pain pumps after shoulder surgery can cause chondrolysis, a painful breakdown of shoulder cartilage.
According to the FDA, in the last five years it has received 56,000 reports of problems caused by drug infusion pumps, including 500 deaths. Between 2005 and 2009, 87 drug infusion pumps have been recalled because of safety issues.
Read on to learn more about when drug infusion pumps are used, how they malfunction, and what legal claims and defenses are available in drug infusion pump lawsuits.
A drug infusion pump is an electronic device that delivers intravenous drugs or fluids in very small amounts at a carefully regulated rate over a period of time. Some drug infusion pumps are external and can be used in the hospital and at home. Others are surgically implanted into the patient.
Drug infusion pumps can be used to deliver a number of drugs and fluids. Some of the more common uses include:
According to the FDA, the most common problems associated with drug infusion pumps include:
When drug infusion pumps malfunction, the resulting underdose or overdose of the drug or intravenous liquid could lead to severe injury or even death. The nature of injury depends on the type of drug and the patient's condition.
Some drug infusion pumps are used to deliver pain management medications to patients post-surgery -- these are sometimes called pain pumps or anesthetic infusion pumps. The FDA has approved the use of pain pumps for injecting anesthetics directly into the muscle. Since 2000, doctors have commonly used pain pumps to inject pain relieving drugs into patients' shoulder joint space (or synovial space) following shoulder surgery. This use, which some say is encouraged by pain pump manufacturers, is not approved by the FDA.
In recent years, medical literature has discussed a possible link between using pain pumps to inject drugs into joint space and the development of chondrolysis, a breakdown of cartilage in the shoulder joint, which can cause severe pain and stiffness in the affected joints and muscles and can severely limit range of motion. Lawsuits involving pain pumps allege that manufacturers encouraged doctors to use the pumps to inject drugs into joint spaces.
For the most part, lawsuits over drug infusion pumps fall under the category of "product liability" claims. In these legal claims, plaintiffs argue that patients were killed or injured by a drug infusion pump because of one or more of the following:
Drug infusion pump manufacturers employ various legal defenses in these lawsuits. The most common include:
The legal and medical issues in drug infusion pump cases are typically complex and sophisticated and usually aren't easily handled without an attorney. If you want to retain the services of a lawyer who specializes in products liability (and perhaps even one who specializes in drug infusion pump cases), read Nolo's article Finding a Personal Injury Lawyer. Or go to Nolo's Lawyer Directory for a list of personal injury attorneys who handle medical device cases in your geographical area.