The Ill-Designed “Continuous Treatment” Rule for the Health Law of Massachusetts

By Alex Stein

Under Massachusetts law, suits alleging medical malpractice in a treatment of a minor patient must be filed “within three years from the date the cause of action accrues.” G.L.c. 231, § 60D. In a recent case, Parr v. Rosenthal, 57 N.E.3d 947 (Mass. 2016), the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts decided that a patient’s continuous treatment by the same physician can toll this period under certain restrictive conditions. One of those conditions requires the plaintiff to show that the physician continued to treat the patient “for the same or related condition” after committing the alleged malpractice, and that “treatment” in that context includes supervision of, as well as consultation and advice to, other treating physicians. Another condition makes continuous treatment part of the discovery rule that moves the onset of the limitations period to the day on which the patient knew or could have reasonably suspected that her physician treated her negligently. According to the Court, continuous treatment instills in the patient “innocent reliance” that the physician treats her properly, which makes the physician’s malpractice not reasonably discoverable. Moreover, innocent reliance can even be present when the patient realizes that she sustained harm from the physician’s treatment. As the Court explained, “A patient who continues under the care of the same physician will still have the same challenges in learning whether the harm [she] suffered from the physician’s treatment arose from the physician’s negligence.” Based on these observations, the Court decided that the “continuous treatment” rule will not benefit patients who affirmatively suspected that they received negligent treatment from their physician. Such patients, the Court held, cannot show “innocent reliance.” Continue reading

Medical Publications as Evidence

By Alex Stein

Whether a medical publication – a book or an article – can be used in court as evidence for its truth is determined by the “learned treatise” exception to the hearsay rule. This exception provides that a court can admit into evidence an excerpt from a treatise or periodical when it “is called to the attention of an expert witness on cross-examination or relied on by the expert on direct examination” and when “the publication is established as a reliable authority by the expert’s admission or testimony, by another expert’s testimony, or by judicial notice.”  Federal Rule of Evidence 803(18) and its state equivalents.

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has recently narrowed this exception.  Continue reading

Medical Malpractice in Reproductive-Choice Procedures

By Alex Stein

Malpractice suits filed in connection with reproductive-choice procedures often present unique problems. The suit filed by Jami Conner against her former gynecologist, Dr. Bryan Hodges, is a case in point. The plaintiff, a mother of two children, decided that she did not want to have more children. To avoid future pregnancy, she asked the defendant to perform bilateral ligation of her tubes and the defendant granted her wish. Two and a half years later, however, the plaintiff discovered that she was pregnant again. Her suit against the defendant promptly followed that discovery. Continue reading

Lost-Consortium Damages for Same-Sex Spouses

By Alex Stein

Yes, those damages are now available. The Connecticut Supreme Court decision that affirmed their availability, Mueller v. Tepler, — A.3d —- (Conn. 2014), was widely anticipated. Continue reading

Massachusetts’ Ban on “Prescribing and Dispensing” Zohydro: The Arguments For and Against Preemption

By Kate Greenwood

Cross-Posted at Health Reform Watch

As Kurt Karst reported at FDA Law Blog, here, drug maker Zogenix has filed a Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction challenging Massachusetts’ decision to “prohibit the prescribing and dispensing” of the company’s extended-release hydrocodone capsule, Zohydro ER. At a hearing on Tuesday, Judge Rya Zobel told the parties that she is likely to decide in the company’s favor. While Zogenix argues that Massachusetts’ action is unconstitutional for a number of reasons, including that it violates the dormant Commerce Clause and the Contracts Clause, Karst predicts that Judge Zobel will grant Zogenix’ motion on preemption grounds.

Zogenix argues in its Memorandum that “[t]he emergency declaration issued by Governor Patrick, and related order by the Commissioner of the Department of Public Health (DPH), purported to ban Zohydro™ ER based on safety concerns that squarely conflict with – and are therefore preempted by – FDA’s determination that Zohydro ER® is safe and effective and may be marketed and sold in the United States.”  Zogenix notes that the reason Massachusetts gave for banning Zohydro—that the drug lacks abuse-deterrence features—was expressly considered by the Food and Drug Administration during the course of the approval process.  FDA concluded that Zohydro’s benefits, in particular the fact that it contains no acetaminophen, outweighed the risks posed by its lack of such features.

Zogenix acknowledges that the Supreme Court’s decision in Wyeth v. Levine stands for the proposition that when the FDA approves the contents of a drug’s label, the agency merely establishes “a ‘floor’ upon which state tort requirements may build.” But, the company argues, “this is not a labeling case; it is a case about the safety and efficacy vel non of a drug already found to be safe and effective.”  If Massachusetts’ ban is upheld, Zogenix concludes, “Congress’s objectives to promote the public health through FDA drug approvals could be directly contravened by a potential flood of state policy disagreements.”

While Massachusetts has not yet filed papers in opposition to Zogenix motion, there are a number of strong counter arguments it could make. Continue reading

Regulating Compounding Pharmacies: Why An Increased FDA Role Shouldn’t Be Our Default Option

By Patrick O’Leary

A friend and I were having a conversation about health policy the other day when he observed that drug regulators like FDA face an impossible task in terms of public expectations: as consumers, we expect the drugs we take to be 100% safe, 100% of the time. Of course, no regulator, no matter how powerful or well funded, could deliver on that expectation, and the reality is that FDA operates under a variety of limitations, both fiscal and legal.

The current deadly meningitis outbreak linked to contaminated injections made by a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy shocks us and upsets our expectation that the drugs we take to get better will not, at the very least, cause us harm. Responding reflexively to this crisis, many in the media and in Washington have already started to call for greater federal oversight. This is a natural impulse, but one that merits cool-headed consideration. FDA is an agency that already has a broad statutory mandate and limited resources. Enforcement resources are slim enough that the agency’s response to an HHS report this month finding rampant violation of dietary supplement-labeling laws was simply to say that the agency would “address the recommendations as its resources and priorities allow.” Before we add still further to FDA’s crowded plate at a time when it is already facing a potential budget crisis (and it is worth noting that according to at least one former FDA chief counsel and congressional testimony by agency officials, FDA already possesses the authority to regulate pharmacies like the one involved in the outbreak and historically has done so), it is worth asking whether FDA enforcement is the only or best solution to the problem.

Continue reading