Judge Grants Newspaper Access to Guidant Defibrillator Documents

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(AP) The New York Times and two Texas plaintiffs won access Thursday to documents they say show Guidant Corp. continued selling some models of its heart defibrillators after knowing the devices could malfunction.

The petition to urge the release of documents was filed as part of a lawsuit by two Corpus Christi residents against the Indianapolis-based Guidant, which is the target in a bidding war between Boston Scientific Corp. and Johnson & Johnson. Both hope to acquire Guidant’s business in a fast-growing $10 billion US market of implantable defibrillators and pacemakers.

The lawsuit accuses the maker of heart defibrillators of knowingly selling a defective product.

State District Judge Jack Hunter granted the motion to release the documents.

The handwritten notes from Fred McCoy, president of Guidant’s Cardiac Rhythm Management division, show a decision was made to sell off defective inventory, plaintiff lawyer Bob Hilliard said.

Hilliard said the notes show McCoy “evaluating and considering what should we do” after learning of the problems.

“We are complaining about their conduct in 2002 when they learned there was a potential for short-circuiting,” Hilliard said. “They made a decision to change the design and sell the defective inventory without notifying the public.”

Guidant spokesman Steve Tragash did not immediately return a call for comment.

Hilliard is representing two patients who are suing Guidant in a case scheduled to go to trial in February.

The trial is the first stemming from Guidant’s recalled defibrillators, which are used to sense irregular heart beats and shock the heart back into a correct pattern.

The company said the malfunctions have been linked to at least seven deaths.

Since June, the company has recalled or issued warnings about 88,000 heart defibrillators – including its top seller, the Contak Renewal 3 — and almost 200,000 pacemakers because of reported malfunctions.

The company is under investigation by federal and state officials and faces dozens of other lawsuits over its recalls.

Beatrice Hinojosa, a plaintiff in the Texas case, has had her defibrillator removed from her heart; the defibrillator for a second plaintiff, Louis Motal, remains implanted.

The Times has published several articles about the defibrillators during the past year and intervened “because the Times was concerned that documents which affect the public’s health and safety were not being released,” said Times lawyer Jorge Rangel.

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