February 2000 Bulletin

AAOS, SRS, NASS dismissed from pedicle screw suits

After more than four years of court hearings, depositions, countless meetings and millions of dollars in legal fees, the pedicle screw litgation in federal court finally ended last month for the AAOS, Scoliosis Research Society (SRS) and North American Spine Society (NASS).

The Plaintiffs Legal Committee (PLC), which alleged the medical societies had engaged in a conspiracy with certain orthopaedic device manufacturers to promote the use of pedicle screws, did not file a appeal within the required 90 days of a decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. On Oct. 7, 1999, the third Circuit had upheld part of a ruling by Judge Louis Bechtle, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, that dismissed the alleged conspiracy claims against the defendant medical societies.

In 1998, Judge Bechtle remanded a number of pedicle screw cases to the courts where they were initially filed. Federal district courts granted summary judgments in favor of AAOS, SRS and NASS in nine separate cases.

In the last five years, more than 2,000 pedicle screw civil actions, involving 5,000 individual plaintiffs, were filed against manufacturers, physicians and medical associations. The civil actions were consolidated for pretrial proceedings before Judge Bechtle in 1994. The medical societies were named in the litigation in October 1995.

"We’re happy with the outcome," said William W. Tipton Jr., MD, AAOS executive vice president. "It was an unfortunate situation that we found ourselves involved in the medical-legal system where the end result is not about truth, but is about money." The litigation "lead to a lot of negative energy, a lot of time and staff resources and money to defend outselves," Dr. Tipton said. AAOS legal bills for the pedicle screw litigation, thus far, total more than $2 million.

"Above all, we are pleased that we can carry out our education mission without facing the threat that we are promoting products when we discuss them in our courses, publications or videos," Dr. Tipton said.

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