Last Thursday, a federal jury in Dallas handed down a $1 billion verdict against Johnson & Johnson’s DePuy Orthopaedics division for defects in its line of Pinnacle artificial hips, marking the second major verdict against the company’s metal-on-metal hip replacement system.
The jury concluded that Johnson & Johnson knew that the devices were defective, and that the company had intentionally failed to warn doctors and patients that the devices could potentially fail.
The award was comprised of $1 billion in punitive damages, as well as $40 million in compensatory damages for the six plaintiffs involved in the case. According to Bloomberg, this represents the third-largest jury verdict of 2016.
The bellwether verdict will have resounding implications for the remaining actions in an MDL against the allegedly defective implants; which contains over 8,600 actions as of November 15th.
The Pinnacle hip implant system was manufactured and sold between 2002 and 2012; after which the metal-on-metal implant system was taken off the market. The Pinnacle system was not subject to a recall. However, a number of other metal-on-metal hip implants manufactured by DePuy had been recalled in the past. Namely, the company’s ASR brand of metal-on-metal hip implants was recalled in 2010 due to their high rate of failure.
In the latest suit, plaintiffs alleged that the implants had an unusually high failure rate; with the metal-on-metal construction of the implants contributing to bone loss, tissue damage, inflammation, as well as catastrophic failure of the implant.
The plaintiffs were represented by attorney Mark Lanier of The Lanier Law Firm, while Johnson & Johnson was represented by John Beisner, who heads the Mass Torts, Insurance and Consumer Litigation Group at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
According to Beisner, Johnson & Johnson has appealed the verdict, and claimed that the decision “…provides no guidance on the merits of the overall Pinnacle litigation because the court’s rulings precluded a fair presentation to the jury.”
The company had rejected an earlier settlement offer of $1.8 million from the plaintiffs before the trial took place.
According to Reuters, verdicts of this size are frequently scaled back by courts; citing an earlier verdict against the Pinnacle implant system. It was reduced by $350 million due to a limit on punitive damage awards in the state in Texas, where the verdict was delivered.
Still, the latest verdict has far-reaching implications for the remaining cases in the MDL. It may push the medical device manufacturer to consider a settlement.
According to Mark Lanier, quoted in The American Lawyer, the cases against Johnson & Johnson appear strong.
“Anyone who sees the evidence will be appalled at the conduct of J&J… These cases are not hard to try. J&J needs to get responsible and settle these cases. Thousands are hurting.”