A federal appeals court reversed the dismissal of a product liability lawsuit filed against Stryker (NYSE:SYK) over 1 of its pain pumps, ruling that a lower court should have given the plaintiff a chance to earn an exception to the statute of limitations.
Mark Milton sued Stryker in the U.S. District Court for Southern Texas in 2011, 6½ years after the Stryker pain pump was used following shoulder surgery, according to court documents. Although he complained to his surgeon of continued pain after the procedure, he was told that such pain is normal.
"Though Milton alleges that he ‘continued to have problems with [his] shoulder’ for years after the surgery, he did not seek further medical attention until May 27, 2009, when Dr. Bryan diagnosed him as having complete loss of articular cartilage in the shoulder, consistent with glenohumeral chondrolysis. Milton asserts that ‘he had no idea that it was possible the pain pump caused increased damage to his shoulder’ until this diagnosis in 2009, when Dr. Bryan told him that the condition was linked to use of the pain pump," according to the documents.
The district court granted Stryker’s bid to have the case tossed because the lawsuit was filed outside of the 2-year statute of limitations. Milton appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, arguing that the discovery rule – which "defers accrual of a cause of action until the plaintiff knew or, exercising reasonable diligence, should have known of the facts giving rise to the cause of action," according to the documents – should set the statute of limitations at the point when he learned of the chondrolysis.
The 5th Circuit agreed, vacating the dismissal and remanding the case back to the district court in Southern Texas, court records show.
"While the district court held that Milton’s pain would have prompted a reasonably diligent person to investigate the cause of the pain earlier, the record is inconclusive. It is not clear when damage to the shoulder joint could have been detected had Milton investigated the cause of his pain," according to the records. "Accordingly, we cannot determine, on the basis of the present record, whether Milton exercised reasonable diligence in waiting 4-and-a-half years before seeking a diagnosis. Milton has the burden of proof on this issue, and he must present evidence that chondrolysis is the type of condition that is inherently undiscoverable during the 2-year limitations period and that he could not, exercising reasonable diligence, have discovered that he had chondrolysis earlier than 2 years before he filed suit."