Pain Pump Lawsuits: An Overview

Our lawyers handle shoulder pain pump lawsuits. This blog provides an overview of the facts that gave rise to the shoulder pain pump lawsuits. If you have been injured by a shoulder pain pump or are a lawyer with a client who has a potential shoulder pain pump lawsuit, please contact our shoulder pain pump lawyers at 800-553-8082.

Shoulder pain pumps are small, portable medical devices used to manage post-operative pain. They are used after surgery by surgeons to deliver, through a catheter, continuous doses of anesthetic drugs directly into the incision site. These shoulder pain pumps are manufactured and distributed by I-Flow, DJO/DonJoy, Stryker, Breg, Sgarlatto, Curlin, Moog and McKinley Medical, among others.

Shoulder pain pump litigation began in late 2007 after publication of an article by Brent Hansen and Charles Beck in The American Journal of Sports Medicine, which identified a “concerning and strong association between postarthroscopic chondrolysis [cartilage loss] and intra-articular pain pump catheter use with bupivicaine and epinephrine.” (Hansen B., Beck C. (2007) Postarthroscopic Glenohumeral Chondrolysis. Am. J. Sports Med. 35: 1628-1634). Those lawsuits alleged that shoulder pain pump manufacturers encouraged orthopedic surgeons to use the pumps for patient pain relief following shoulder surgery without conducting the necessary research to determine whether the procedure was safe. As a result, the anesthetic drugs in the pump destroyed the shoulder cartilage, leaving the patient with a lifetime of pain and necessitating future surgeries.

By May 2008, approximately 13 federal shoulder pain pump lawsuits had been filed. Plaintiffs sought consolidation and/or coordination of those cases (and any future filed federal cases) by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) in mid-2008; however, those petitions were denied in August 2008. The litigation thereafter proceeded individually, though pockets of quasi-consolidation have occurred in federal and state courts in Oregon, Minnesota, New York, Kentucky, and California, among others. There are now over 100 pain pump lawsuits filed, many of them including not only the pain pump manufacturers and distributors, but also the manufacturers of the anesthetic drugs used in the pumps.

Plaintiffs in these cases are frequently young and athletic—many of them are high school or college athletes who initially sought routine orthopedic surgery for a sports-related injury. However, three months to about 16 months after using the pump, the shoulder cartilage erodes away, leaving the patient with a limited range of motion and constant shoulder pain, sometimes even while at rest. The prognosis is likewise devastating—frequently the only option is shoulder replacement surgery at the point where the pain becomes unbearable. These surgeries are designed to address the pain, but often do not improve the patient’s range of motion. Furthermore, the surgeries themselves have a limited lifespan of about ten to fifteen years.

Case Evaluation
To confirm that cartilage loss was caused by a pain pump, attorneys must (1) exclude other causes; (2) confirm placement and use of a shoulder pain pump, and (3) identify defendants.

Other causes of cartilage damage must be excluded. These include infection, significant arthritis, gentian violet, and improper use of thermal radiofrequency energy. Ideally, a patient’s x-rays and MRIs (pre-surgical and post-surgical), and their operative reports will be available for evidence of their cartilage condition. If the cartilage along the glenohumeral joint was fine before surgery but was largely absent within 16 months after the insertion of the pain pump, the patient likely has a cause of action.

Pump catheters placed in the intra-articular joint space have the highest probability of affecting the cartilage; however, there have been some reports that anesthetic introduced into the subacromial space may likewise cause cartilage loss.

Potential defendants should include the manufacturers and distributors of the pump and the anesthetic used in the pump. Since the publication of the Hansen article, other studies have revealed that anesthetic (including bupivacaine, marcaine, ropivacaine, lidocaine and others) without epinephrine can cause cartilage damage.

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