St. Joseph County jury rules in favor of device maker
Verdict shocks family of child who died in '05.
By JEFF PARROTT
Tribune Staff Writer
SOUTH BEND -- After a two-week trial, a St. Joseph County jury Tuesday ruled that a medical device maker was not liable in the death of a 14-month-old Walkerton girl.
Samantha McGookin died July 9, 2005, after she stopped breathing at the family's home.
Her mother, Jodi (McGookin) Lillard, her grandparents, Jim and Vicky McGookin, and her father, Julian E. Smith, filed suit in August 2006 against Indianapolis-based Guidant Corp., which designed and manufactured a pacemaker implanted in Samantha when she was 3 days old.
Samantha was born with bradychardia, a heart defect in which the lower chamber of the heart beats slower than the upper chamber.
The suit alleged that Guidant, which has since been acquired by Boston Scientific Corp., had not adequately tested the pacemaker for use in young children, the company knew it was subject to failure, and it had a duty to notify the family of that risk.
But Boston Scientific's lawyers disputed those allegations, arguing that the McGookins could not prove its conduct had caused Samantha's pacemaker to fail, and that the company had adequately notified Samantha's doctors of risks and limitations with device labeling.
The jury deliberated for about nine hours.
After St. Joseph Superior Court Judge Michael Scopelitis read the verdicts, the McGookins looked shocked. They sat silently and gave no reaction.
"I don't know what to say," their lead attorney, Spence Walton Jr., said quietly to the family. "I'm sorry."
The jury had to sort through mounds of evidence and make sense of complex expert testimony on the Food and Drug Administration's medical device approval process.
"This is the most complex case I've tried in my nine years as a judge," Scopelitis told the parties after dismissing the jury. "I know the jury really worked hard and struggled with this. I could see it in their faces."
On the courthouse steps, Jodi Lillard finally began crying in her husband's arms.
"I can't believe it," she said. "I can't believe they sat through two weeks of trial with the information we got and they still came back with a verdict for the defendant. I don't understand."
Lillard said she had been very confident in their chances.