Court of Appeals: Div. III – Implanting Allergic Metals Into Patient’s Body Not A Violation of the Standard of Care

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Eakins v. Huber

This is a medical malpractice case that was dismissed because the plaintiff’s medical causation evidence failed to meet the standard set forth in Frye v. United States, 54 App. D.C. 46, 293 F. 1013 (1923).  “Under Frye, evidence derived from a scientific theory or principle is admissible only if the theory or principle has achieved general acceptance in the relevant scientific community.”

In September 2004, Dr. Huber implanted three stainless steel stents in Ms. Eakins’ right coronary artery.  The stents contained 10 to 14 percent nickel.  Eakins is allergic to nickel.  Following the surgery Eakins experienced continued problems including a rash at the operation site, episodes of joint pain and swelling, fevers, chills, sweating, elevated blood pressure, itching, and general aching.  These symptoms occurred two to three times a month and lasted for two to four days.  Eakins saw several doctors, but none were able to diagnose her condition or attribute her symptoms to the stents.

In August 2007, Eakins filed a medical malpractice suit against Huber claiming that he knew of of her allergy to nickel and thus his implantation of the nickel-containing stents fell below the standard of care.  Ms. Eakins medical expert, Dr. Adams, filed a declaration which stated, "on a more probable than not basis to a reasonable degree of medical certainty the care rendered to Sheri Eakins fell below the standard of care for a physician practicing in Washington State, and said failure resulted in injury to Ms. Eakins." 

Dr. Huber moved for summary judgment because there was a lack of competent medical evidence establishing a causal relationship between her symptoms and the stents.  This was based on Huber’s argument that Ms. Eakins’s theory of causation was not supported by sufficient scientific data or peer-reviewed literature indicating general acceptance of the theory in the pertinent medical community under Frye.  In response, Dr. Adams filed an additional declaration stating that the FDA had issued warning about implanting stents in patients with metal allergies and cited several medical articles linking these specific stents to allergic reactions. 

Dr. Huber, having a medical expert of his own, Dr. Ayars, filed a declaration stating: "on a more probable than not basis, that the field of medicine and in particular, the fields of allergy and immunology, have not generally accepted any causal relationship between the placement of a Taxus stent in a coronary artery and the development of a systemic reaction like that claimed by Ms. Eakins."  The trial court granted Dr. Huber’s motion and Eakins case was dismissed.

The Court of Appeals reviewed the summary judgment dismissal based on the application of the Frye test.  “We do not evaluate whether the scientific theory is correct, but whether it has achieved general acceptance in the relevant scientific community.”  The Court found that the medical literature provided by Dr. Adams did NOT establish expert consensus regarding the causation theory.  In addition, none of Eakins’ own physicians had concluded that the stents were the probable cause of her symptoms.  The trial court’s dismissal was affirmed. 

Benedryl

I’m wondering if a constant intake of Benedryl would combat the fact that you have something you are allergic to embedded in your body?!

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