Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $502 million to a group of patients who accused the company of hiding flaws in its Pinnacle artificial hips that caused the devices to prematurely fail and left patients facing surgeries and pain. The verdict was the company’s first courtroom loss over the products.
A federal-court jury in Dallas concluded Thursday that artificial hips sold by J&J’s DePuy unit under the Pinnacle brand name were defective and company officials knew about the flaws but failed to warn patients and doctors of the risks. They awarded $142 million in actual damages and $360 million in punitive damages to a group of five patients whose hips broke down and had to be surgically removed.
“The defendants have tried six different arguments against people with failed implants,” said Mark Lanier, an attorney for those who sued. “One worked, that the surgeon put it in wrong. The other five haven’t worked and won’t, because it is a defective product.”
In an earlier trial, J&J won, using the first argument in a trial with a single plaintiff. Lanier was the attorney for the patient with the implant.
“The grounds for appeal are strong and the punitive damages will be reduced to around $10 million subject to the Texas statutory cap,” John Beisner, an attorney for the company, said by email.
Mindy Tinsley, a DePuy spokeswoman, said the company “acted appropriately and responsibly in the design and testing” of the devices. “The product is backed by a strong record of safety and effectiveness in reducing pain and restoring mobility for patients,” she said in an emailed statement.
The verdict comes in the second trial of about 8,000 lawsuits filed against Johnson & Johnson and DePuy over the metal-on-metal version of the Pinnacle hips. J&J stopped selling the devices in 2013 after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration toughened artificial-hip regulations. J&J won the first Pinnacle case heard by a jury in 2014.
The devices weren’t covered by New Brunswick, N.J.-based J&J’s $2.5 billion settlement of claims over another line of artificial hips known as ASRs. J&J recalled 93,000 of those implants worldwide in August 2010, saying 12 percent failed within five years.
The Pinnacle cases have been consolidated before U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade in Dallas for pretrial information exchanges and test trials. Kinkeade agreed to combine five cases selected by plaintiffs’ attorneys in the most recent trial. About 170,000 DePuy hips were implanted after the devices went on the market in the U.S. in 2000, according to court filings.
Margaret Aoki, Jay Christopher, Donald Greer, Richard Klusmann and Robert Peterson all got Pinnacle Ultamet metal-on-metal hips that failed and had to be surgically removed. Greer, 79, is a plastic surgeon from Chicago, and Klusmann, 68, is a former chief executive of a hospital, according to court filings.
The group said their DePuy hips leached cobalt and chromium material into their bloodstreams, leading to the hips’ failures and surgical removal. They claimed J&J officials knew their metal-on-metal design would cause such injuries but pushed ahead to rack up billions in sales.
Lanier told jurors in closing arguments that DePuy officials launched an aggressive campaign to market the metal-on-metal hips in the U.S. and across the world.
The effort included paying kickbacks and bribes overseas, paying U.S. doctors millions to tout the devices and misleading doctors and consumers about the safety of the hips, the lawyer said.
“It’s a seedy story of deception, payoffs and hidden truths,” Lanier said. DePuy hip patients “are walking time bombs,” he said.
Richard Sarver, DePuy’s lead attorney, countered that the metal-on-metal design was not defective and that each of the five plaintiffs had an individual reason the device failed.
“The defect doesn’t exist and didn’t cause” the hips to fail, Sarver said in his closing arguments. “The devices may not be perfect, but they are not defective.”
Lanier unfairly attempted to paint J&J as a rogue company when it came to selling artificial hips, Sarver said.
“This is not a bad company,” he told the panel. “This company is a good company.”