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Cafazzo v. Central Medical Health Services, Inc

    Brief Fact Summary. Cafazzo (Plaintiff) sued Defendants for products liability for an implanted medical device that failed six years after his surgery.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A hospital and surgeon cannot be considered sellers of products, which they install and use in surgery for purposes of strict product liability.

    Facts. Plaintiff underwent surgery for the implantation of a mandibular prothesis. Six years later it was discovered that the device was defective. Plaintiff sued the hospital (Defendant) and the surgeon (Defendant) under strict products liability. Plaintiff alleged that the product was defectively designed and lacked any warning necessary to ensure safety. Judgment for Defendant. Plaintiff appealed.

    Issue. Can a hospital and a physician be held strictly liable under the Restatement of Torts Section: 402 for defects in a product incidental to the provision of medical services?

    Held. No. Judgment affirmed.
    * The manufacturer of the implanted medical device is in bankruptcy.
    * To decide that a surgeon is liable under these circumstances for strict product liability would be tantamount to declaring that the surgical skills necessary for the implantation of the mandibular prostheses are an adjunct to the sale of the implant itself. In this case, Plaintiff did not purchase the implant from Defendants. Defendants operated on Plaintiff and implanted the medical device, but did not sell him the device.
    * Under Plaintiff’s theory of products liability, no product used by surgeons or a hospital would escape the assignment of strict liability. The relationship of a hospital and surgeon to a patient is not one of seller and buyer of products used in surgery. This does not change even if there is some surcharge on the price of a product.
    * The concepts of purchase and sale cannot be separately attached to the healing materials supplied by a hospital for a price as part of the medical services. The determinative question is not what is being charged but what is being done. Supplying medical services is not the equivalent of a retail marketing enterprise.

    Discussion. The court distinguishes the seller of the defective product from the medical professional. Doctors are not in the business of selling medical devices. Doctors operate on patients. The fact that a medical device was used as part of the operation does not elevate the transaction between Plaintiff and Defendant to that of buyer and seller for purposes of strict products liability.



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