The third bellwether trial involving a metal-on-metal version of DePuy Orthopaedic’s Pinnacle Hip Replacement System will soon get underway in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas. According to Reuters, jury selection for the proceeding commenced on September 19th.
The trial will involve seven consolidated DePuy Pinnacle hip lawsuits, all of which were filed on behalf of individuals who suffered premature device failure allegedly due to the implant’s metal-on-metal design. Around 8,400 similar cases are pending in the multidistrict litigation underway in the Northern District of Texas, where federally-filed product liability claims involving the Pinnacle hip have been centralized for the purposes of coordinated pretrial proceedings. The decision in this trial could provide some insight into how other juries might rule in similar Pinnacle cases.
The federal litigation’s second bellwether trial concluded in March, when another group of DePuy Pinnacle hip plaintiffs were awarded a total of $500 million. The verdict was rendered after the jury hearing their cases concluded that Johnson & Johnson and its DePuy Orthopaedics unit knew the implants were defective, but concealed that information from doctors and patients. However, the judge overseeing the trial ultimately reduced that award to $151 million, in order to comply with Texas law governing punitive damages.
The first federal bellwether trial of a Pinnacle hip lawsuit ended in October 2014 with a verdict for the defense.
The implant at the center of the DePuy Pinnacle litigation is a metal-on-metal device that uses the Ultamet liner. Plaintiffs claim that this configuration allows dangerous amounts of toxic metal debris to be shed from the implant, resulting in tissue death, bone erosion, high levels of metal in the blood, and premature device failure.
In May 2011, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) began to investigate metal-on-metal hip implants, amid growing concerns about their safety. In January 2013, the agency announced that its review had, in fact, suggested that all-metal hips were associated with higher rates of early failure compared to other configurations. In May of that year, DePuy Orthopaedics announced that it would phase out metal-on-metal hip implants, including the device named in Pinnacle hip lawsuits. According to The New York Times, the company cited slowing sales, as well as the FDA’s actions in regard to all-metal implants, as factors in its decision.