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A Texas jury has slammed Johnson & Johnson and it’s DePuy Orthopaedics division with a $1 billion verdict following trial involving a group of six cases stemming from the Pinnacle metal-on-metal hip implant, including punitive damages designed to punish the manufacturer for their actions involving the design and sale of the controversial device.
The verdict requires the manufacturers of the hip replacement system to pay six plaintiffs $32 million in compensatory damages, as well as another $1.09 billion in punitive damages after evidence was presented at trial that suggested Johnson & Johnson knew that DePuy Pinnacle hip replacements could leach cobalt and chromium into the body, causing metal blood poisoning, tissue damage, and hip implant failures that often require revision surgery.
It is the latest in a string of huge court losses for Johnson & Johnson, which faces another 8,900 DePuy Pinnacle hip lawsuits in courts nationwide.
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 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 the judge presiding over all similar federal cases refused to grant a new trial and rejected a request to stay additional bellwether trials pending an appeal.
Although this latest bellwether case was tried again in Texas, the plaintiffs were from California and any challenges to the amount of the punitive damage award will be considered under the laws of that state, which do not specifically cap such damages designed to deter bad behavior by defendants. The verdict is the third largest overall verdict against a company this year, and the largest punitive damages award.
Johnson & Johnson attorneys say they plan to appeal this new verdict, indicating that they were not allowed to present all of the evidence to the jury. They have asked U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade, overseeing all federal DePuy Pinnacle hip claims, to halt future trials until the appeal can be resolved.
All of the Depuy Pinnacle lawsuits filed in federal courts have been consolidated under Judge Kinkeade for coordinated pretrial proceedings as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL).
Judge Kinkeade has ordered a series of bellwether test trials to help parties gauge how juries will respond to evidence and testimony likely to be used throughout the litigation, and last month it was announced that a fourth case will go before a jury in September 2017.
Many experts see the recent verdicts as evidence that Johnson & Johnson should move quickly to resolve the claims as part of a DePuy Pinnacle hip settlement, before more juries get the chance to slap the company with billions upon billions in damages.
Metal-on-Metal Hip Implant Problems
The Depuy Pinnacle is a metal-on-metal hip replacement system, 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 negotiate a large settlement for DePuy Pinnacle hip lawsuits, previously indicating that it intends to defend the cases at trial.