Bigler-Engler v. Breg, Inc.Annotate this Case
This matter arose from Whitney Engler's use of a medical device, the "Polar Care 500," manufactured by Breg, Inc. (Breg) and prescribed by David Chao, M.D. Engler suffered injuries as a result of her use of the Polar Care 500, and she brought various tort claims against Chao, his medical group Oasis MSO, Inc. (Oasis), and Breg, among others. At trial, the jury considered Engler's claims for medical malpractice, design defect (under theories of negligence and strict liability), failure to warn (also under theories of negligence and strict liability), breach of fiduciary duty, intentional misrepresentation, and intentional concealment. With a few exceptions, the jury generally found in favor of Engler, and against the defendants, on these claims. The jury awarded $68,270.38 in economic compensatory damages and $5,127,950 in noneconomic compensatory damages to Engler. It allocated responsibility for Engler's harm: 50 percent to Chao, 10 percent to Oasis, and 40 percent to Breg. The jury made findings of malice, oppression, or fraud as to each defendant on at least one claim. In the punitive damages phase of trial, the jury awarded $500,000 against Chao and $7 million against Breg. The jury declined to award any punitive damages against Oasis. Breg, Chao, Oasis, and Virginia Bigler-Engler, as administrator of Engler's estate, appealed, raising numerous challenges to the judgment. In the published portions of its opinion, the Court of Appeal considered: (1) whether Engler's counsel committed prejudicial misconduct during trial; (2) whether the jury's awards of noneconomic compensatory damages and punitive damages were excessive; (3) whether the evidence supported the jury's verdict against Breg for intentional concealment in the absence of a transactional relationship between Breg and Engler (or her parents); (4) whether Oasis fell within the medical provider exception to the doctrine of strict products liability; (5) whether Breg was entitled to an instruction on the learned intermediary doctrine; (6) whether the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975 (MICRA) and Proposition 51 applied to the jury's verdict; and (7) whether Engler's pretrial settlement offer under Code of Civil Procedure section 998 complied with the statute. In the unpublished portions of the opinion, the Court considered additional challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence, the trial court's jury instructions, and the trial court's evidentiary rulings. After review, the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment in part, concluding the jury's verdict as to several claims was not supported by the evidence, including Engler's intentional concealment claim against Breg and her strict products liability claim against Oasis. In light of this reversal of Engler's intentional concealment claim against Breg, the jury's punitive damages award against Breg had to be reversed too. Furthermore, the Court concluded the jury's award of noneconomic compensatory damages and the jury's award of punitive damages as to Chao were indeed excessive. Those awards were reversed and remanded for a new trial unless Bigler-Engler accepted reductions in those awards to $1,300,000 and $150,000 respectively. In all other respects, the judgment was affirmed.