Jury awards family $7.2 million for defective cochlear implant

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Ruling on complaint calls device 'unreasonably dangerous'

By Sarah Bennett

More than four years after a 6-year-old girl was shocked by an implantable hearing aid, a federal jury awarded more than $7 million to the girl’s Vine Grove family.

Brian and Michelle Sadler filed a civil complaint against the implant’s developer, Advanced Bionics, in August 2011 in the U.S. District Court of Western Kentucky. The complaint was filed on behalf of their daughter, Breanna, who has suffered permanent hearing loss.

According to the company’s website, Advanced Bionics is a “global leader” in the development of cochlear implants, a surgically implanted electronic device that provides sound to those who suffer severe or profound hearing loss.

Breanna Sadler was 4 when a surgeon installed an Advanced Bionics HiRes 90k cochlear implant in her ear in January 2006, according to the 50-page complaint filed by the plaintiffs.

In December 2008, the device failed, according to a report by the Associated Press. The girl’s mother heard her screaming and found the 6-year-old convulsing and rubbing her head on the carpet.

After the device was removed in 2010, testing revealed it failed because water leaked into the implant through minute cracks in the “feed-thru,” an internal component that conducts electrical signals, according to the complaint.

Advanced Bionics sets the allowable amount of moisture in the implant at 0.5 percent, according to the plaintiffs. Testing revealed Breanna’s device had more than 38 percent moisture content.

“Advanced Bionics confirmed in a Failure Analysis Report that Breanna’s device was a ‘confirmed Device Failure,’” the complaint reads.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, multiple device models were recalled in 2004 because of the “potential presence of moisture in the internal circuitry, which can cause the device to stop functioning.” The plaintiffs said the FDA cited Advanced Bionics for violations on at least three occasions.

Last Tuesday, a jury in federal court in Louisville found Breanna’s implant was “defective” and “unreasonably dangerous” and awarded the family $6.25 million in punitive damages and about $994,000 in compensatory damages, according to court records.

The jury deliberated for about three-and-a-half hours, according to Ronald Johnson, who represented Breanna’s family.

“They were very pleased,” Johnson said. “It certainly made the company accountable for what happened to Breanna.”

Sarah Bennett can be reached at (270) 505-1750 or sbennett@thenewsenterprise.com.