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First Total Artificial Heart Implant in New England; Who's Liable?

In February 2012, the Brigham and Women's Hospital became the first in New England to complete a total artificial heart implant on a patient, reports the Boston Globe. While it is a milestone, the transplant is only meant as a bridge between James Carelli's heart and a donor human heart.

Since Carelli also needs a kidney transplant, he must stay in the hospital while he has the artificial heart, according to the Globe. This advance in technology raises the issue of who will be liable in a future when more people have man-made organs that can potentially fail.

The medical profession is rife with possibilities for liability. There is the ever-present medical malpractice danger, the lesser known battery possibility, and now with artificial organs there is even more of a chance for products liability claims.

Medical malpractice is a version of negligence and occurs when a doctor harms a person because they were acting outside the normal duty that doctors owe to their patients.

Battery is an intentional tort that occurs in the medical field when medical procedures are performed on a person without their consent. An example of this would be if you were undergoing surgery for one ailment and the doctor also mistakenly removed a limb at the same time. Some states allow for a doctor to perform life-saving alternate surgery without liability.

Product liability is when a product injures someone because it was defective. There have been plenty of cases of medical devices gone wrong, with the Dalkon Shield cases being some of the most well-known.

Here, if something goes terribly wrong, the doctors performing this transplant could have been liable under two of the three theories, with product liability belonging to the maker of the organ. However, it is most likely that Carelli signed away most of his rights before undergoing the surgery because of the known risks with the use of artificial organs and the relative newness and riskiness of the procedure.

When you're at the doctor, be sure you know your rights and to what you are consenting. You certainly wouldn't want an artificial heart implant when you were in for the removal of an appendix.

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