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A federal judge indicates that a verdict against Johnson & Johnson’s DePuy Orthopaedics division over alleged problems with Pinnacle hip implants will stand, but the amount of damages awarded by the jury will be reduced from $500 million to $151 million for five plaintiffs whose cases were tried together.
U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade said he was forced to reduce the jury’s award of punitive award in a DePuy Pinnacle hip trial, pursuant to Texas state laws, which limit the amount of such damages that may be awarded to punish corporations. However, Judge Kinkeade refused to set the verdict aside or allow the manufacturer to have a new trial.
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.
Johnson & Johnson argued that the verdict should be thrown out, or in the alternative indicated that the $360 million in punitive damages should be reduced to about $10 million.
The verdict came in the second bellwether trial scheduled in a federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) established for cases filed throughout the federal court system, which are centralized before Judge 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 caused 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.
Judge Kinkeade also issued an order (PDF) on July 5 refusing a request by Johnson & Johnson and DePuy to stay additional Pinnacle hip bellwether trials while the most recent verdict is appealed, noting that numerous courts have held that it is normal for the MDL process to continue during an appeal.
A series of bellwether trials in the DePuy Pinnacle hip litigation are expected to move forward, serving as test cases for thousands of similar lawsuits pending nationwide for individual who experienced problems with the implant.
The next trial is scheduled to begin on September 6, and will be selected from a pool of seven cases.
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 faced by their subsidiary, 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.