Over 8,600 lawsuits involving the Pinnacle Ultamet metal-on-metal hip implant were filed in one federal court in Texas, as of mid-November.
The last trial ended in a $500 million jury verdict against DePuy Orthopedics, Inc., a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. It was later slashed to $150 million under a Texas law capping punitive damages.
This time, all six plaintiffs were from California. That means the $1 billion verdict is not subject to the same punitive damage cap. It is the 3rd-largest jury award of 2016, according to Bloomberg.
Lawyers say the Pinnacle is defective because both pieces of the “ball and socket” are made of metal. When a patient walks, the metal parts grind together and shed tiny particles of chromium and cobalt.
Metal debris accumulating in the hip joint can cause chronic pain, inflammation, bone loss, tissue death, and early revision surgery. Metal can also poison the bloodstream and cause symptoms in other parts of the body.
All six plaintiffs required revision surgery. Houston attorney Mark Lanier told the 9-member jury that the Pinnacle was advertised with a “99.9% success rate,” when only 53% were successful after 11 years.
It’s common sense that you don’t rub metal against metal without there being adequate lubrication. They never solved any of the metal-on-metal problems. But they went to market anyway.”
The 2-month trial ended on November 30. In closing arguments, Lanier suggested that $500 million in punitive damages would hardly be felt by a company worth $72 billion.
DePuy never recalled the Pinnacle, but discontinued sales in 2013 after the FDA ordered the company to conduct safety studies.
Pinnacle was never studied in clinical trials, like most metal hips. Yet the all-metal design was advertised as more durable than ceramic or plastic designs, ideal for younger and more physically-active patients.
An estimated 500,000 American were implanted with metal-on-metal hip implants. Thousands of them are now disabled or required revision surgery to remove the implant and replace it with a new one.
Revision surgery for an all-metal hip implant often leaves patients with a permanent disability. The diseased tissues and bones must be removed, which makes it harder to fit a new implant correctly. A new stem must also be driven into the femur, which is physically traumatic.
Metal poisoning throughout the body (metallosis) cannot be cured with revision surgery. The FDA has issued warnings about the risk of brain damage, depression, kidney problems, thyroid dysfunction (fatigue, weight-gain, feeling cold, etc.), heart problems, skin rashes, and other side effects.
The Pinnacle hip implant Multi-District Litigation (MDL No. 2244) is overseen by U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade in the Northern District of Texas — DePuy Orthopaedics, Inc., Pinnacle Hip Implant Products Liability Litigation.