Medtronic, one of the world’s largest medical-device makers, already has been the focus of high-profile litigation that resulted in an $8.45 million settlement. The Dublin, Ireland, company whose operational headquarters are in Fridley, Minnesota, is now the focus of more high-profile litigation involving thousands of Medtronic Infuse cases that could result in $300 million in payouts.

All of the cases surround the Infuse Bone Graft product. Infuse Bone Graft, when used correctly, is surgically implanted in an area of the body where bone growth is lacking. It consists of a naturally occurring protein carried via a sponge, which releases the protein in stages so it can be absorbed properly.

“Using Infuse Bone Graft eliminates the need for a second surgery to harvest, or remove surgically, bone from your body (“autogenous” bone) for placement at the surgery site,” the Medtronic Web site states. “Autogenous bone harvest has the risk of pain, complications, longer surgical time, and more anesthesia.”

Problems with Medtronic Infuse Bone Graft Explained

Problem is, Infuse Bone Graft has not been used correctly, according to the plethora of plaintiffs who have suffered debilitating and permanent injuries as a result. In some cases, patients said they were unaware they were going to receive the product.

By Group29 - Own photo, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54280613
Medtronic’s Headquarters in Fridley, Minnesota. By Group29 – Own photo, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia.

“Many of the injured patients allege in their lawsuits that they found out about the use of Infuse only after their surgery ended with complications,” reports the StarTribune in an article titled “Medtronic says it’s close to resolving Infuse lawsuits.” “Some say Medtronic sales reps were present in the operating rooms during their surgeries.”

That allegation was the root of the problem in the first case, where two men being treated at the University of California Los Angeles said their doctors were getting kickbacks from Medtronic.

“Patients Ralph Weiss and Jerome Lew alleged that hundreds of thousands of dollars in Medtronic consulting, grants and royalty payments to UCLA surgeon Jeffrey Wang created conflicts of interest that led to risky treatments about which they were not informed,” the StarTribune reports in another article titled “Patients who received Medtronic’s Infuse product to get $8.45 million in settlements.” “They said they were not told that they were receiving Infuse or that it was being inserted into mechanical devices with which it had never been tested for safety.”

In addition to the sponge, there is another carrier for Infuse Bone Graft – the LT-Cage Device. Small, hollow and thimble-like, it is used for spinal fusion.

“Today there is a clinically studied, proven alternative to taking bone graft from the patient,” according to Medtronic. “A potential advantage to having spinal-fusion surgery using the Infuse Bone Graft and LT-Cage Device is that it removes the need to collect bone from your hip.”

Weiss and Lew both experienced extra spinal bone growth that led to nerve damage. Weiss had lumbar surgery, while Lew’s condition prompted Wang to insert the LT-Cage Device into Lew’s neck even though the U.S. Food & Drug Administration warned that could cause nerve damage.

“The following is a list of potential adverse events which may occur with oral maxillofacial surgery using the INFUSE® Bone Graft:” reads a document on the FDA’s Web site. “Some of these adverse events may have been previously reported in the adverse events table below or have been reported to the manufacturer.”

Off-Label Use of Medtronic Infuse Bone Graft Exacerbates Problems

“Ectopic and/or exuberant bone formation” is listed as a risk in addition to nerve damage. Other potential adverse events include allergic reaction, death, fetal-development complications, itching, scar formation, tissue damage and antibodies to certain types of collagen.

Such off-label use of a medical device is acceptable, according to the FDA. In response to the question of whether the FDA requires and Institutional Review Board to approve off-label use, the agency states, “No, when a physician uses a legally marketed device outside its labeling to treat a patient and no research is being done, IRB review is not required. Note: Although not required by FDA, an IRB may still decide on its own initiative to review such use.”

The $8.45 million settlement was split between Weiss and Lew. Their doctor, Jeffrey Wang, is believed to have received $300,000 in consulting fees, grants and royalties from Medtronic beginning in 2000, and at one point appeared as an endorser on the company’s Web site.

“Substantially all” of the thousands of other cases that stem from the product’s misuse have reached agreements, says Mark Reilly, managing editor of the Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal, in an article titled “Medtronic could soon settle thousands of Infuse lawsuits.”

Reilly notes that Medtronic will pay $22 million to 950 plaintiffs, already paid $85 million to settle a shareholder lawsuit and paid another $40 million to the U.S. Department of Justice.

“In all the settlements, Medtronic denied wrongdoing,” Reilly says.

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