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Following a two-month trial involving five cases brought by individuals who experienced problems with DePuy Pinnacle hip replacements, a Texas jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay about $500 million, including punitive damages designed to punish the manufacturer for recklessly endangering consumers.
The verdict was handed down on Thursday, in a case that was being closely watched as a “bellwether” trial to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that may be presented in more than 8,200 similar lawsuits pending against Johnson & Johnson and it’s DePuy orthopedics subsidiary.
After hearing evidence involving complications suffered by five different individuals who received the controversial metal-on-metal hip implant, the jury awarded a combined $140 million in compensatory damages, as well as another $360 million in punitive damages.
This was the second bellwether trial scheduled in a federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) established for cases filed throughout the federal court system, which are centralized before U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade in the Northern District of Texas.
All of the complaints raise similar allegations, indicating that the DePuy Pinnacle hip replacement was defectively designed, prone to fail and cause metal blood poisoning, known as metallosis, often resulting in the need for risky revision surgery to have the hip implant removed or replaced after just a few years.
Johnson & Johnson received a defense verdict in the first DePuy Pinnacle trial to go before a jury in 2014, after the manufacturer argued that the plaintiff’s implant was improperly positioned by the surgeon. However, the jury in this case concluded that each of the plaintiffs’ injuries were caused by defects and problems with the DePuy Pinnacle hip implant design.
Lawyers for the manufacturer have indicated they plan to appeal the verdict, and will seek a reduction in the punitive damages to $10 million, under Texas tort reform laws that limit the amount juries can award to punish defendants. However, the size of the verdict is likely to send a strong message to the manufacturer, and will likely influence their current position on failing to reach large numbers of DePuy Pinnacle hip settlements.
Metal-on-Metal Hip Implant Problems
Metal-on-metal hip replacements have been sold by a number of different manufacturers in recent years, featuring a metal femoral head that rotates within a metal acetabular cup.
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 faced by their subsidiary, resolving about 8,000 cases brought by individuals who required revision surgery after receiving this newer design that was recalled from the market.
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.