The DePuy Pinnacle is a metal-on-metal hip implant device that consists of three metal components: a ball, a stem, and a shell. These components create an artificial hip joint by connecting a metal head to a metal socket. Bloomberg News reports that “about 170,000 DePuy hips were implanted after the devices went on the market in the U.S. in 2000, according to court filings.” Unfortunately, due to the constant friction between the Pinnacle’s metal parts, the components can loosen and/or metallic ions can shed into the bloodstream causing damage to bones and soft tissue surrounding the implant. This can result in severe pain, disability, device failure, the need for revision surgery, and metallosis (metal poisoning).
Thousands of plaintiffs have filed claims against the manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson’s DePuy Orthopedics. They have alleged claims including negligence, defective design, and failure to warn of safety risks associated with the product. In the first bellwether trial that took place in October 2014, the defense argued that the device never failed and that the plaintiff was unable to identify a specific flaw in the design that led to injury. The defense prevailed at the end of the trial when a federal jury in Dallas, Texas decided in favor of DePuy on all counts.
Two years passed before the commencement of the second bellwether trial in March 2016. This time around, a jury returned a verdict in favor of the five plaintiffs totaling approximately $500 million, including $360 million in punitive damages. Following the verdict, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) requested a stay from Judge Ed Kinkeade of the U.S. District Court for Northern Texas. Defendants claimed that the court had wrongfully allowed “the injection of all manner of irrelevant and highly inflammatory evidence” in the second bellwether trial. Judge Kinkeade denied the request:
“Defendants are asking for a stay that is inconsistent with the agreed-upon bellwether trial plan and is unjustified based on a balancing of interests. This MDL has already been pending for 5 years. The representative plaintiffs in the consolidated bellwether trial this year averaged 68 years old. The court believes that a stay would unduly prejudice plaintiffs and delay resolution of this matter to the detriment of all parties.”
On July 5, 2016, the original award was reduced to $151 million to comply with Texas state law governing the amount of punitive damages awarded. Despite the significant decrease in the award to plaintiffs, J&J continued its struggle to press the pause button on the third bellwether trial by asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit for an expedited appeal of the second bellwether case. The company requested that the court consolidate its review of the five plaintiffs’ cases into a single appeal, arguing that the result could have a significant effect on all future cases in the litigation.
Currently, there are approximately 8,000 more cases filed against DePuy and J&J. The third bellwether trial involves seven plaintiffs and is slated for September of 2016.