On Thursday 1 December 2016, Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, DePuy Orthopaedics, the manufacturer of the DePuy Pinnacle Ultamet metal-on-metal hip system, was ordered by a Texas jury to pay more than $1 billion in compensation to claimants who have suffered injuries as a result of the DePuy metal-on-metal hip systems.
The claimants in the case alleged that the DePuy Pinnacle Ultamet hips were defective and leached cobalt and chromium particles into their bloodstream. This adverse reaction to metal debris caused tissue and bone damage and, ultimately, led the hip systems to fail prematurely. As well as allegations that the hips were defectively designed, the claimants also alleged that Johnson & Johnson and DePuy officials turned a blind eye to studies during the testing phase that showed metal-on-metal prosthetics posed a deterioration risk for human tissue. Despite that knowledge, Johnson & Johnson and DePuy pressed on to bring the products to market and failed to warn doctors and patients properly about the risks posed by the hip replacement system.
Following a trial that lasted two months, the jury took just two days to reach the verdict that Johnson & Johnson and DePuy were liable for the injuries caused to the claimants by the hip replacement system. The six claimants were awarded more than $1 billion in actual and punitive damages.
Mindy Tinsley, a spokeswoman for Johnson & Johnson, said in an official statement that its companies acted appropriately in designing and testing the metal-on-metal hip products and that they had strong grounds for appeal. They would continue defending the further 9,000 claims filed against them.
This is interesting and potentially important news for UK product liability claimant solicitors who are instructed to act against metal-on-metal hip manufacturers, such as DePuy, Biomet UK Limited, Corin Limited and Smith and Nephew Orthopaedics Limited. There will be a trial in the UK in October 2017 to determine whether the same Pinnacle Ultamet total hip replacement system, and the Corin Cormet hip replacement and resurfacing systems, were defective. Claims against other manufacturers are on hold until the resolution of this trial.
Arran Macleod, a solicitor in the product liability team at Penningtons Manches, said: “The recent judgment in the US courts underlines the fact that DePuy has been found to have manufactured a defective product that was improperly tested and marketed without warning of the serious health risk that it could cause.
“Although it will have no effect on the UK cases to be heard next year, this recent judgment may be a warning to DePuy and Corin, and any other manufacturers of metal-on-metal hip systems that have pending claims against them, that there are significant litigation risks of losing these cases.