A federal judge has rejected a suit against the maker of the Copper 7, the most widely used intrauterine device in the country, ruling that 17 women who sued the company failed to prove that the device causes the kind of injuries that would have made them unable to bear children.
In January, the firm, G.D. Searle & Co., took the Copper 7 off the market, citing the rising costs of increasing numbers of lawsuits it called unwarranted.
The company said the suits made future product liability insurance on the Copper 7 "virtually unobtainable."
Lawyers involved in the widely publicized lawsuit today received copies of the 22-page directed verdict from U.S. District Judge Joseph H. Young.
Young presided at a trial of the suit here that ended Dec. 16 when the jury was unable to agree on a verdict.
A new trial was expected, but the judge's ruling came in response to a motion filed by Searle contending there was not enough evidence to justify a new trial.
The judge found that, based on the evidence presented during the three-week trial, the plaintiffs' contentions that the Copper 7 caused perforation of the uterus, infection and other injuries "were mere possiblities rather than probabilities."
The suit, brought by 17 women from around the United States and Canada, was the first major legal test of the safety of the Copper 7.
Searle is facing hundreds of similar lawsuits over the device, and a verdict holding the company liable for injuries could have led to additional suits.
Paul F. Strain, Searle's lawyer in the Baltimore case, said today that Young's ruling "lines up the law with the medical community's opinion that this is a safe and good product.
"I think those plaintiffs' lawyers who are considering other actions like this in other places should take note," Strain said.
The plaintiffs, most of whom are in their 30s, claim to have suffered serious injuries from the Copper 7 that rendered them infertile and forced some of them to have hysterectomies.
They contended that in addition to perforation of the uterine wall, dangers from the Copper 7 include pelvic inflammatory disease, a serious infection that can cause sterility through scarring of the uterus and Fallopian tubes.
They also said the device can cause ectopic pregnancy, an abnormal condition in which a fertilized egg is implanted in the Fallopian tube.
Searle maintains that many of the health problems reported by plaintiffs in this and other Copper 7 cases are due to other causes, including sexually transmitted disease.
Much conflicting medical evidence was presented during the trial.
In his ruling, Young said that while it is possible the Copper 7 causes the kinds of injuries suffered by the plaintiffs, they had failed to prove that the device was the probable cause.
"The jury was forced into an exercise in speculation rather than reasoning," said Young.
Robert Erwin, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said no decision has been made on whether to appeal the verdict.