Medtronic Lawsuit and Judge’s Potential Conflict of Interest

When US District Court Judge Richard H. Kyle dismissed all of the lawsuits against Medtronic regarding its defective Sprint Fidelis defibrillator five weeks ago, it was not widely known that the judge’s son Richard H. Kyle, Jr. is a partner with the firm Fredrikson & Byron. The firm represents Medtronic (although not in the defibrillator lawsuits) and is listed as their counsel on Medtronic’s own website.
Of course, Judge Kyle as well as Medtronic spokesmen were quick to downplay the significance of the relationshship as well as the conflict of interest. However, plaintiffs attorneys may pursue the conflict of interest matter and seek to have the judge removed from the multidistrict litigation lawsuits.
Judge Kyle’s decision five weeks ago on the Sprint Fidelis lawsuits effectively dismissed all the lawsuits on the basis of preemption ie. the notion that federal regulation (FDA) of medical devices preempts or trumps any product liability lawsuits in in state courts. This was a major victory for Medtronic.
In 2007, some cardiologists began to report fractures in the Sprint Fidelis leads at an alarmingly high rate. These leads connect electrical defibrillators to the heart and ensure proper cardiac rhythm, at least that’s what they were designed to do. In the case of the Sprint Fidelis leads, shorts in the leads caused irregular shocks to the heart or in some cases, no shock at all when the defibrillator was designed to do so.
In this matter, the new revelation of Judge Kyle’s son representing Medtronic is interesting. However, not enough is known to demonstrate a conflict of interest. On the other hand, more often than not in these types of situations the following axiom holds sway: perception is reality.