Johnson & Johnson Must Pay Six Plaintiffs Over $1 Billion for Defective Hip Implants; 8,900 Lawsuits Left to Go

Defective Hip Implants
johnson & Johnson
Depuy Hip Verdict

By David Carnes, Staff Writer

A federal jury in Dallas returned a verdict of $1.041 billion in favor of six plaintiffs against pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary DePuy Orthopedics, over injuries caused by the company’s Pinnacle hip implants.  The verdict included approximately $32 million in compensatory damages and approximately $1 billion in punitive damages. The large punitive damages award was possible because the case was tried under California law (the plaintiffs’ domicile), which places no limits on punitive damages.

This is the second large verdict this year against Johnson & Johnson over its Pinnacle hip implants – in March 2016 the company lost another case in federal court, heard under Texas law, that resulted in a judgment of $113 million. This amount represented a reduction of the original verdict of over $500 million, because Texas law limits the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded. The company still has over 8,900 Pinnacle lawsuits pending against it, many of which were filed in states that place limits on the amount of punitive damages.

The Defect

The lawsuit was based on a design defect in the company’s metal hip implants – since the socket was made of metal rather than ceramic or polyethelyne, metal-on-metal friction rendered corrosion over time inevitable, leading to:

  • leakage of cobalt and chromium into the patient’s blood stream,
  • slow destruction of surrounding bone and tissue,
  • failure of the device once corrosion reaches a certain point, and
  • the necessity of surgery to remove the device and repair the damage done to patients’ bodies.

The plaintiffs alleged that Johnson & Johnson performed insufficient testing of the implant and ignored warnings of the implant’s dangers raised by other studies. The jury found that Johnson & Johnson failed to warn doctors and patients of the dangers of using the implant and intentionally misrepresented the dangers of the product.

Although Johnson & Johnson discontinued distribution if its Pinnacle hip implants in 2013, this was because of new FDA regulations on hip implants, not because of concerns over the implants’ existing design defect. Johnson & Johnson, recently staggered by a series of large verdicts over various products, indicated that it plans to appeal the jury verdict. In addition to denying liability altogether, the company is likely to argue that punitive damages are excessive, based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision indicating that punitive damages should not exceed 10 times the amount of compensatory damages -- $320 million in this case.

A billion dollars is a lot of money to pay out, but it is not necessarily too much to expect from a giant pharmaceutical company that time and time again has marketed dangerous products and then cynically factored in it anticipated lawsuit losses as an affordable “cost of doing business.” Obviously, Johnson & Johnson could not afford to pay its legal bills if all 8,900 lawsuits currently pending against it resulted in billion-dollar judgments (which would add up to $8.9 trillion!). Nevertheless, the shock value of such a large verdict might convince Big Pharma to reconsider its sociopathic cynicism, which is exactly the intended result.

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