Guide to preemption of state-law claims against Class III PMA medical devices

Food Drug Law J. 2010;65(1):113-39, ii-iii.


There is a perception that the express preemption holding of the Supreme Court in Riegel v. Medtronic, 552 U.S. 312(2008), immunizes medical device manufacturers from common law personal injury actions involving Class III devices that received FDA clearance under a premarket approval application (PMA). In the aftermath of Riegel, many lawsuits involving Class III PMA devices have been dismissed by district courts applying the new heightened pleading standard of Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). Other lawsuits involving Class III PMA devices premised on fraud-on-FDA have been dismissed based on the implied preemption holding of the Supreme Court in Buckman v. Plaintiffs' Legal Comm., 531 U.S. 341 (2001). When these decisions are carefully analyzed together with Medtronic, Inc. v. Lohr, 518 U.S. 470 (1996), which found no preemption regarding a Class III device receiving FDA clearance through the 510(k) mechanism, it is apparent that the preemption defense does not apply universally to Class III PMA devices. The overall methodology for framing a non-preempted claim is to first identify conduct which violated the PMA or other specific requirements related to safety or efficacy. If such conduct can also be stated in terms of a breach of a parallel common law duty (e.g, failure to warn under strict liability or negligence, manufacturing defect or breach of warranty), then it would appear the claim is not preempted. Alternatively, regardless of a specific violation, common law remedies are not preempted by general CGMP requirements.

MeSH terms

  • Device Approval / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Equipment Design
  • Equipment Safety*
  • Equipment and Supplies / adverse effects*
  • Fraud / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Humans
  • Liability, Legal*
  • Medical Device Legislation*
  • Product Labeling / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Prostheses and Implants / adverse effects
  • Safety-Based Medical Device Withdrawals
  • State Government
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration