EDMONDSON, Circuit Judge:
In this products liability case, the jury returned a general verdict against appellant Baxter Healthcare Corporation and awarded compensatory and punitive damages to plaintiffs Brenda and Michael Toole. On the condition that the Tooles agreed to remit part of the jury award, the district court denied Baxter's motions for JNOV and a new trial and entered final judgment for plaintiffs. 778 F.Supp. 1543. Looking at the law of Alabama, we reverse and remand the case for a new trial.
Brenda Toole had breast augmentation surgery in 1981. In that operation, Dr. Richmond McClintock, an Alabama surgeon implanted two silicone elastomer gel-filled mammary prostheses manufactured by Heyer-Schulte Corporation
Dr. McClintock treated Toole's capsular contracture by performing a "closed capsulotomy." In this technique, physicians compress the affected breast to rupture the scar tissue, which ideally restores suppleness.
When Ms. Toole first got her implants, Heyer-Schulte provided in its product literature written warnings, including these: (1)
Ms. Toole testified that she recalled Dr. McClintock warning her during their initial appointment in 1981 of certain risks, including implant rupture.
Brenda Toole and her husband brought this products liability action against appellant Baxter Healthcare Corporation ("Baxter") and a malpractice claim against Dr. McClintock. Two of the Tooles' claims against Baxter were tried to the jury: a claim that the implants were unreasonably dangerous and a claim that Heyer-Schulte failed adequately to warn doctors of risks associated with the product.
The jury found Baxter liable and awarded $350,000 in compensatory damages to Brenda Toole and $50,000 to her husband. The jury also awarded plaintiffs $5,000,000 in punitive damages. Baxter moved for JNOV or a new trial. The district court found the award excessive in the light of the evidence and conditionally granted Baxter's motion for a new trial unless the Tooles agreed to a remittitur reducing the award of compensatory
The district court denied Baxter's motions for JNOV and for a new trial, and entered final judgment for the Tooles. In this appeal Baxter attacks the district court's denials of Baxter's motions for a directed verdict, for JNOV and for a new trial. Baxter also asserts error in the admission of certain evidence and the award of punitive damages. The Tooles' cross-appeal challenges the district court's order of remittitur.
2. Issues & Analysis
A. Denial of Directed Verdict/JNOV: Adequacy-of-Warning Issues
Baxter contends that the district court erred in denying its motions for directed verdict and JNOV for three reasons. Baxter argues that its warning was clear that a closed capsulotomy could rupture the implant, that Ms. Toole admitted that, had the manufacturer's warnings been conveyed to her, she would not have consented to implant surgery, and that there is no evidence that a different warning from Baxter would have caused Dr. McClintock to behave differently. These arguments have insufficient merit.
The jury in this case was instructed that it could find Baxter liable either because the Heyer-Schulte implant was an "unreasonably dangerous" product or for a negligent warning, and the jury returned a general verdict. Even assuming that the sole basis for the verdict was the warning, under Alabama law, "the existence of a duty to warn and the adequacy of a warning are questions of fact for the jury." State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. J.B. Plastics, 505 So.2d 1223, 1227 (Ala.1987). The jury could reasonably have thought that Baxter's warning, as it was worded, understated the risks of implant rupture from closed capsulotomies.
Under the "learned intermediary doctrine," the adequacy of Baxter's warning is measured by its effect on the physician, Dr. McClintock, to whom it owed a duty to warn, and not by its effect on Ms. Toole. See Stone v. Smith, Kline & French Lab., 447 So.2d 1301, 1304-05 (Ala.1984), adopting Reyes v. Wyeth Laboratories, 498 F.2d 1264, 1276 (5th Cir.1974). The jury heard evidence from which it could reasonably conclude that a different warning would have caused Dr. McClintock to warn Ms. Toole before her augmentation surgery.
B. Evidentiary Error
Baxter contends that the district court abused its discretion when it admitted into evidence a document about implants prepared by the Food and Drug Administration. Baxter also contends that remittitur is insufficient to cure the error in admitting the FDA paper and that Baxter is entitled to a new trial. We agree.
Over Baxter's objection, the district court admitted into evidence, under Fed.R.Evid. 803(8)(C), a document published by the FDA in May 1990 about breast implants. The admitted document contained the agency's proposal to require pre-market approval for silicone-gel filled breast prostheses. The document also stated the agency's "proposed findings" on risks posed by the devices. See General and Plastic Surgery Devices; Effective Date of Requirement for Premarket Approval of Silicone Gel-filled Breast Prosthesis; Proposed Rule, 55 Fed.Reg. 20,568
The report said that FDA thought human carcinogenicity and autoimmune disease to be among the "significant risks" of implants. The Tooles relied on the report to corroborate testimony by their expert witness, Dr. Shanklin. On direct examination, plaintiff's counsel asked Dr. Shanklin to review the admitted FDA report. Shanklin testified that he agreed with the FDA report's assertions that implant recipients faced risks including cancer and autoimmune disease.
Rule of Evidence 803(8)(C) excepts certain kinds of government investigative reports from the hearsay rule in civil actions. Under the rule, courts may admit reports containing "factual findings resulting from an investigation made pursuant to authority granted by law, unless the sources of information or other circumstances indicate lack of trustworthiness." Fed.R.Evid. 803(8)(C). We conclude that it was an abuse of discretion to admit the FDA report in this case because the report was irrelevant and failed to qualify for admission under Rule 803(8)(C).
The FDA report contains no findings specifically about the Heyer-Schulte implants at issue in this case, but rather proposes findings about implants generally. The report contained findings proposed by the FDA in 1990, years after the dates of Ms. Toole's initial implant surgery or her later capsulotomy. As a simple matter of timeliness, those statements are irrelevant and inadmissible on what Heyer-Schulte knew or should have known about risks before 1988. See Fed.R.Evid. 401, 402.
In addition, the FDA report is not the kind of trustworthy report described in Rule 803. By its own terms, the FDA report contained only "proposed" findings. The report invited public comment and forecasted the issuance of a "final" document after more study. Rule 803 makes no exception for
The FDA's proposed findings are inferred from articles in medical journals (documenting investigations made by others). The assumption "that a government agency's findings may be assumed to be trustworthy ... has substantially diminished force when extended to the sources outside the investigative agency from which the agency culls the information for its report." Brown v. Sierra Nevada Mem. Miners Hosp., 849 F.2d 1186, 1189-90 (9th Cir.1988). We doubt that the kind of academic exercise behind the FDA report produced findings deserving special presumptions about trustworthiness in a court of law.
For these reasons, we think that the FDA report was inadmissible hearsay. Admitting the report, which contained highly and unfairly prejudicial assertions about the risks of cancer and autoimmune disease, was an abuse of discretion. Counsel was permitted to argue to the jury that the FDA evidence showed both Baxter's liability and the Tooles' damages, improperly influencing both issues. In these circumstances, remittitur alone is no cure for the error; a new trial is mandatory. See Edwards v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 512 F.2d 276, 283 (5th Cir.1975).
C. Punitive Damages
Baxter also argues that insufficient evidence supports the award of punitive damages in this case.
In a case about "wantonness" under Alabama law, we have stressed that "wantonness" must be distinguished from negligence. Salter v. Westra, 904 F.2d 1517, 1525-27 (11th Cir.1990). Wantonness means knowledge that an act or failure to act does not merely increase risk of injury, but that the act makes injury "likely" or "probable." See id.; see also Coca-Cola Bottling Co. United, Inc. v. Stripling, 622 So.2d 882 (Ala.1993). The evidence in this case showed that the actual incidence of implant ruptures from closed capsulotomies is probably slightly less than one percent.
The judgment below is VACATED and the case is REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Pl. Exhibit 50.
R.Vol. 5-135 at 16. That Dr. Shanklin's views were not the "only evidence" that purported to show risks of cancer and autoimmune disease is plain to us. The Tooles urged the jury to view the FDA report as independent evidence of cancer and autoimmune risks, corroborative of Dr. Shanklin's testimony. R.Vol. 12 at 15, 75 ("When Doctor Shanklin testified about what he believed Brenda was at risk for, he wasn't pulling this out of thin air ... You are going to have back there with you the Federal Register and the report of the FDA, Federal Food and Drug Administration [sic] of the United States government. Nobody can challenge this as being a biased report....").