St. Jude to Pay $27 Million to End DOJ Suit Over Faulty ICDs

Megan Brooks

July 09, 2021

St. Jude Medical, now part of Abbott Laboratories, will pay the American government $27 million to settle allegations that it knowingly sold defective implantable cardiac defibrillators to healthcare facilities, which were implanted into patients, causing injuries and two deaths, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced.

"Medical device manufacturers have an obligation to be truthful with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the US government will not pay for devices that are unsafe and risk injury or death," Jonathan F. Lenzner, Acting US Attorney for the District of Maryland, said in a July 8 statement.

"The government contends that St. Jude knowingly caused the submission of false claims and failed to inform the FDA with critical information about prior injuries and a death which, had the FDA been made aware, would have led to a recall," Lenzner added.

Those claims were submitted to the Medicare, TRICARE, and Federal Employees Health Benefits programs, according to the settlement agreement.

"The US Attorney's Office is committed to protecting Medicare and other federal health care programs from fraud, and in doing so strengthen patient safety," Lenzner said.

Premature Battery Depletion

The government alleges that St. Jude failed to disclose "serious adverse health events" related to premature battery depletion of certain models of its Fortify, Fortify Assura, Quadra, and Unify implantable defibrillators.

The government further alleges that, by 2013, St. Jude knew that lithium clusters could form on the batteries, causing them to short and run out of power. But it took until late 2014 for St. Jude to ask the FDA to approve a change to prevent lithium clusters from draining the battery.

And at this point, St. Jude told the FDA that "no serious injury, permanent harm or deaths have been reported associated with this" issue, the government alleges.

However, according to the government's allegations, St. Jude was aware at that time of two reported serious injuries and one death associated with the faulty batteries and continued to distribute devices that had been manufactured without the new design.

Not until August 2016 did St. Jude inform the FDA that the number of premature battery depletion events had increased to 729, including two deaths and 29 events associated with loss of pacing, the government alleges.

In October 2016, St. Jude issued a medical advisory regarding the battery problem, which the FDA classified as a Class I recall, the most serious type.

After the recall, St. Jude no longer sold the older devices, but thousands of them had been implanted into patients between November 2014 and October 2016.

In September 2017, as reported by theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology, a nationwide class-action lawsuit was filed against St. Jude Medical and parent company Abbott Laboratories, which had acquired St. Jude earlier the same year. It alleged that, despite knowing about a battery-depletion defect in some of its cardiac defibrillators as early as 2011, St. Jude failed to adequately report the risk and waited nearly 5 years before issuing a recall.

"To ensure the health and safety of patients, manufacturers of implantable cardiac devices must be transparent when communicating with the government about safety issues and incidents," Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton, from the DOJ's Civil Division, said in the DOJ statement announcing the settlement.

"We will hold accountable those companies whose conduct violates the law and puts patients' health at risk," Boynton said.

The civil settlement includes the resolution of claims brought under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act by Debbie Burke, a patient who received one of the devices that was subject to recall.

The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability, the DOJ noted. St. Jude denies the allegations raised in the lawsuit.

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