A California state court jury has determined that Johnson & Johnson’s DePuy Orthopedics subsidiary should pay $8.3 million in compensatory damages to a man who experienced problems with a DePuy ASR hip, concluding the first of more than 10,000 lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson over the recalled hip replacement system.
The verdict was handed down on Friday, following more than five weeks of testimony that was closely watched by product liability lawyers throughout the country, as the outcome of this case may help gauge how other juries will respond to similar evidence that could be presented in other cases.
The DePuy ASR trial involved a complaint filed by Loren Kransky, who was given an expedited trial date due to his grave health. Kransky alleged that problems with the design of the metal-on-metal hip replacement caused him to suffer permanent injuries after the components loosened and resulted in a number of complications.
The jury determined that Johnson & Johnson’s DePuy unit was liable for selling a dangerous and defectively designed hip replacement, awarding $8.3 million in damages. However, the jury declined to award punitive damages over the manufacturer’s failure to warn about the increased risk of problems, which could have added up to $179 million to the verdict to punish the company. The jury indicated that it did not believe DePuy acted with fraud or malice.
DePuy ASR Hip Replacement Recall Issued Amid High Failure Rates
According to allegations raised during the trial and in thousands of similar DePuy ASR lawsuits filed by individuals throughout the country, the metal-on-metal hip replacement system carries an increased risk of early failure due to the release of microscopic metal particles as the components rub against each other during normal use. As the potentially toxic metal debris enters the bloodstream, which is known as metallosis, it may increase the risk of inflammation, loosening of the components and other complications.
In August 2010, Johnson & Johnson issued a hip replacement recall for the DePuy ASR XL Acetabular System and DePuy ASR Hip Resurfacing System, after acknowledging that data found about one out of every 8 implants was failing within the first five years. However, by the time the DePuy ASR was recalled from the market, more than 90,000 of the implants were sold worldwide, with most already implanted in patients.
More than 10,000 complaints have been filed in state and federal courts throughout the United States on behalf of individuals who allege that their implant failed within a few years. Prior reports have indicated that Johnson & Johnson has offered to pay an average of more than $200,000 per case to resolve the litigation, but attorneys involved in the lawsuits rejected the DePuy ASR settlement offers, indicating that the manufacturer was not offering sufficient compensation for injuries caused by the defective hip replacement.
During the trial, Kransky’s attorneys put witnesses on the stand who used to work for DePuy that testified that the company had data showing high failure rates for years. In closing arguments, they accused Johnson and Johnson of playing “Russian Roulette” with patients and called the recall a public health disaster.
Additional Lawsuits Over Metal-on-Metal Hip Replacements
In the federal court system, all product liability lawsuits over the DePuy ASR hip implant have been centralized for pretrial proceedings before U.S. District Judge David Katz in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, as part of an MDL or Multi-District Litigation.
A small group of cases are being prepared for early trial dates in the DePuy ASR hip MDL, known as “bellwether” cases. According to a case management order issued in July 2012, the first federal DePuy ASR trial date is scheduled to begin on May 6, 2013, with a second trial scheduled to begin on July 8. The first trial will involve a case filed by Faye Borney-Madgitz, with the second trial involving a complaint filed by Ann McCracken.
In addition to lawsuits over the DePuy ASR, other metal-on-metal hip designs have also been the focus of a large numbers of complaints, including the DePuy Pinnacle hip, Biomet M2A Magnum hip and Wright Medical Conserve Cup.
Additional MDLs have been established in the federal court system for lawsuits involving each of those metal-on-metal hip replacement systems, but trial dates are not expected to begin in any of those litigations before late next year.
In January, the FDA released new guidance for metal-on-metal hip replacements. The agency told doctors that metal-on-metal hip replacement systems should only be used if other artificial hip implants were not appropriate, and called on manufacturers to prove that their implants were safe enough to stay on the market. Future metal-on-metal hip designs will have to undergo extensive human clinical trials before being made available for sale, the FDA decreed.