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Although Johnson & Johnson’s DePuy Orthopaedics subsidiary pushed for stay on further bellwether trials following a massive verdict recently returned in a Pinnacle hip replacement lawsuit, the U.S. District Judge presiding over the litigation indicates that a fourth case go before a jury in September 2017.
There are currently more than 8,600 product liability lawsuits pending in the federal court system involving problems with DePuy Pinnacle metal-on-metal hips, which are all centralized as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, before U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade in the Northern District of Texas.
All of the complaints raise similar allegations, indicate that the system was defectively designed, prone to release metallic debris and fail, often resulting in the need for risky revision surgery to have the hip implant removed or replaced.
In March, a DePuy Pinnacle bellwether trial ended in a $500 million verdict for five plaintiffs, including $140 million in a combined $140 million in compensatory damages, as well as another $360 million in punitive damages, which were designed to punish the manufacturer for reckless actions concerning the research and sale of the artificial hip implant.
Following post-trial motions, the verdict was reduced to $151 million under Texas state laws, but Judge Kinkeade refused to grant a new trial and rejected a request to stay additional bellwether trials pending an appeal.
In an Order (PDF) issued last week, Judge Kinkeade indicates that the next bellwether trial will begin with jury selection on September 5, 2017.
The specific case that will be tried has not yet been chosen, and Judge Kinkeade indicates that the Court will review its own potential bellwether selections, as well as recommendations by the parties on both sides of the litigation that were to be provided by November 7.
While the outcomes of these early bellwether trials are not binding on other Pinnacle hip claims, they are designed to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain testimony, evidence and arguments that are likely to be used in thousands of other lawsuits, and could help form the basis of a DePuy Pinnacle hip settlement agreement.
Metal-on-Metal Hip Implant Problems
The Depuy Pinnacle is a metal-on-metal hip replacements, which features a metal femoral head that rotates within a metal acetabular cup. Similar models have been introduced by several different manufacturers in recent decades, and the design has been linked to substantial problems, often resulting in catastrophic failure within a few years after the artificial hip is implanted.
Most of the devices were introduced through the controversial fast-track 510(k) approval process, which only required that the device be a “substantial equivalent” to an already existing device approved by the FDA. However, the snowball effect of the substantial equivalence test has allowed many devices now considered unreasonably dangerous and defective to be implanted in thousands of Americans.
Unlike other artificial hip designs, which typically feature metal-on-ceramic or metal-on-plastic, the metal-on-metal hips have been found to release microscopic metallic debris as the parts rub against each other. This has been linked to reports of loosening and failure, often within a few years after the artificial hip is implanted.
The FDA released new guidance for metal-on-metal hip replacements in January 2013, indicating that doctors should only use the design if other artificial hip implants are not appropriate. The agency also determined that future metal-on-metal hip designs will be required to undergo extensive human clinical trials before they will be approved.
Thousands of metal-on-metal hip replacement lawsuits have been filed in recent years throughout the U.S., alleging that the manufacturers failed to adequately research the design or warn about the large number of implants that were failing within a few years and requiring revision surgery.
Johnson & Johnson previously agreed to pay more than $2.4 billion to settle DePuy ASR hip lawsuits, resolving about 8,000 cases brought by individuals who required revision surgery after receiving this newer metal-on-metal design, which was recalled from the market after a higher-than-expected failure rate became evident.
Although the DePuy ASR design was based on the Pinnacle hip, Johnson & Johnson has failed to negotiation a large settlement for DePuy Pinnacle hip lawsuits, previously indicating that it intends to defend the cases at trial.