Manufacturers Settle Huge Hip Litigations
And the majority of these large litigations (or mass torts, as they are known in the legal field) have ended in massive settlement agreements. To date, every major hip replacement company has settled at least one large litigation involving a hip implant:
- DePuy Synthes
- Zimmer Biomet
- Wright Medical
- Smith & Nephew
While the last ten years saw an unbelievable explosion in hip replacement litigation, 2017 has proved no exception. Today, three prominent hip implant cases are proceeding in federal court, with patients from across the country accusing Stryker, DePuy Synthes and Smith & Nephew of selling unreasonably dangerous medical devices.
Consolidated Stryker, Smith & Nephew Lawsuits
Stryker, now a subsidiary of health care giant Johnson & Johnson, recalled its LFIT CoCr V40 Femoral Head in 2016, after a number of medical providers informed the company that the component could fracture or release toxic metal particles at unacceptably high rates.
Stryker’s LFIT V40 Femoral Head
Now, dozens of patients who suffered severe injuries after receiving one of Stryker’s LFIT V40 implants are taking the company to court. In nearly 130 legal complaints, injured patients argue that the hip replacement component should be considered defective, since it appears to fail prematurely, even under normal conditions of use.
Most of the patients claim to have undergone revision surgeries, operations that are invasive, painful, costly and also pose their own significant risks. And because all of the Stryker hip lawsuits are similar in their factual allegations, the claims have been consolidated by the federal court system.
On April 7, 2017, a panel of federal judges decided that, in line with the suggestion of several plaintiffs, the new Stryker litigation should move forward in the US District of Massachusetts. In Boston, the cases have been assigned to District Judge Indira Talwani, who is now guiding the consolidated litigation through pre-trial proceedings.
Birmingham Hip Resurfacing System
A similar process is taking place in the US District of Maryland, where more than 200 patients are suing British medical device manufacturer Smith & Nephew. The company’s Birmingham Hip Resurfacing System, plaintiffs say, is defective because it was manufactured from an alloy of cobalt and chromium (as was Stryker’s LFIT V40 Femoral Head).
When implanted in the human body, this combination of metals poses serious problems, patients argue, as particles of toxic metal are worn away from the implant and enter the body’s soft tissues. Many plaintiffs have developed metallosis, a condition prior to metal poisoning. More acutely, the Birmingham Hip Resurfacing implant appears to fail prematurely, lawsuits claim, which is why many patients have undergone revision surgeries shortly after going in for their first replacement procedure.
A Closer Look At Multi-District Litigation
In short, these two growing litigations have taken the form of a Multi-District Litigation, or MDL. This is a common step when multiple plaintiffs file very similar lawsuits in federal courts, but their cases are scattered across the country. To make things more efficient, the Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation can transfer all of the claims to a central court.
MDL means that plaintiffs can band together to pursue their cases, but unlike a class action, no one loses control over the fundamental decisions that will affect their lawsuit. Meanwhile, the case’s defendant can focus all of their defense efforts in a single jurisdiction, rather than having to spread their defense attorneys nationwide.
Discovery: Gathering Evidence To Build A Case
MDL proceedings focus on discovery, the phase in any lawsuit when plaintiffs and defendants exchange information and evidence. Injured patients, for example, could ask the defendant to release early clinical trial results or internal corporate communications. And defendants could ask each plaintiff to submit their personal medical records.
Discovery happens in every legal proceeding, but where Multi-District Litigation is concerned, remember that many of the factual allegations against Stryker are shared by each and every plaintiff’s case. In attempting to substantiate those allegations, patients and their attorneys will need to demand evidence from Stryker and its parent corporation, Johnson & Johnson. But instead of submitting their requests for documentation or witness testimony individually, the plaintiffs as a group can make specific demands together.
A group of plaintiffs’ attorneys, appointed by Judge Talwani, are guiding this discovery process, but doing so for the benefit of every plaintiff. So what happens when these pre-trial proceedings have been completed? Very simply, the lawsuits are ready for trial. Now, in theory, each lawsuit can be transferred back to its original court for trial. That’s not usually what happens.
More common is that the MDL judge, having deemed the cases ready, will schedule a few “bellwether” trials. MDL is designed to encourage settlement, rather than protracted and costly trial proceedings. But no defendant would choose to settle all of the cases at once unless they had some reason to believe that the alternative, taking each case to trial, would be somewhat worse. And defendants can only learn that (or learn the opposite) by fighting the case through a real trial.
Bellwether trials, then, are more than just trials in which several plaintiffs’ cases are heard before an actual jury. They’re also a tool used in settlement negotiations. A defendant that loses several bellwether trials will probably be more amenable to the idea of a global settlement, in which all of the cases are resolved. A company, on the other hand, that wins a series of bellwether trials will just be more convinced that the facts and legal arguments are on their side.
That can dramatically alter the balance of leverage in settlement talks. When injured patients have a strong case, they can usually demand more compensation. The logic is reversed when a defendant’s argument is vindicated at trial; strong defense cases can drive the amount of a settlement down.
DePuy MDL Continues, Despite Plaintiff Trial Wins
Johnson & Johnson-subsidiary DePuy Synthes currently faces over 8,000 product liability lawsuits involving the company’s metal-on-metal Pinnacle hip implant.
Despite having been advertised as a long-lasting option for patients who require hip replacement, a number of medical researchers have found the exact opposite: Pinnacle implants appear to fail earlier than other models. That means patients landed back in the hospital shortly after receiving their device and were forced to undergo invasive and dangerous revision surgeries.
The device was pulled from the market in 2013. The same year, DePuy and Johnson & Johnson settled over 7,000 lawsuits involving the companies’ ASR metal-on-metal hip implants for $2.5 billion.
Pinnacle Claims Move Ahead In Texas
The Pinnacle litigation has been building for years. In 2011, a panel of federal judges decided that, because all of the claims shared similar factual allegations, they should proceed in the same court. As a result, Pinnacle hip lawsuits filed in federal courts were transferred to the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas, where District Judge Ed Kinkeade was selected to preside over the newly-formed Multi-District Litigation.
Six years later, the litigation remains in Texas, but it’s been changed forever by several major developments. Three bellwether trials on the issue of DePuy Synthes’ Pinnacle hip replacement have now been held. Injured patients have won huge damage awards in two of those cases.
Pinnacle Hip Plaintiffs Secure Compensation
While the first bellwether (held in 2014) ended in a verdict for the defense, two subsequent federal juries in Texas have concluded that DePuy Synthes should be held liable for creating a defective medical device. Likewise, parent company Johnson & Johnson, juries have found, should be held accountable for signing off on the implant’s sales and marketing.
$500M & $1B Jury Awards
In the first case, a jury awarded a group of plaintiffs around $500 million in compensation. The second verdict was even larger. On December 1, 2016, a Texas jury ordered DePuy Synthes and Johnson & Johnson to pay over $1 billion in compensation to six patients who claim to have been injured by a Pinnacle hip replacement.
That’s $1 billion and, while Judge Kinkeade has scaled down these verdicts after their announcement (in line with a Texas law that restricts punitive damage awards), the amount of compensation ordered to injured plaintiffs remains considerable.
Yet both defendants, DePuy Synthes and Johnson & Johnson, continue to stand behind the product’s safety. In recent court filings, the companies appear to remain committed to defending themselves in further Pinnacle trials. At least at this point, a global settlement to resolve the massive litigation doesn’t seem to be forthcoming.
Learn More About Filing A Hip Replacement Lawsuit
Our experienced product liability attorneys believe that some patients may still be eligible to file Pinnacle lawsuits of their own. We are also actively investigating the cases of patients who believe they were injured by Stryker and Smith & Nephew hip implants.
Were you or a loved one injured after a hip replacement? Did your implant fail prematurely, or lead to forms of metal poisoning? Our lawyers can help. Contact our firm today to secure a free consultation and learn more about case eligibility at no cost and no obligation. Just call now or complete our contact form to speak with a caring attorney.