Federal judge tosses Alabama lawsuit over Stryker artificial hip

May 19, 2010 by MassDevice staff

An Alabama judge dismisses another product-liability suit over Stryker Corp.'s Trident replacement hip implant when the plaintiff fails to line up expert witnesses to bolster her claims.

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Stryker Corp. (NYSE:SYK) notched another legal victory when a federal judge in Alabama sided with the company's Howmedica Osteonics subsidiary in a product liability dispute, ruling that the plaintiff missed a Nov. 30, 2009, deadline to assemble expert witnesses supporting her claims.

In a May 13 summary judgment, U.S. District Court Judge William Steele dismissed a four-count suit brought by an Gulf Shores, Ala., woman alleging Stryker and Howmedica sold defective prosthetic hips, including the one she received during replacement surgery in September 2007. Steele tossed the case brought by plaintiff Judith Hughes "with prejudice," meaning Hughes is barred from refiling the case.

Key to the decision was Hughes' failure to find experts supporting her contention that the artificial hip was defective, with the plaintiff instead arguing that Stryker and Howmedica had "admitted to a manufacturing defect" by way of a January 2008 recall of the device and that "information regarding performance of the hip implant is a matter within the common knowledge of jurors."

Stryker pulled the Trident artificial hip off the market after federal regulators criticized the company's product-cleaning process, including possible bacterial contamination caused by residue left on the devices during production. The company also received numerous complaints from surgeons and patients about pain and other complications such squeaking noises by ceramic bearings in the hip implants.

Despite those problems, Stryker has maintained the devices did not result in higher health risks for patients.

Hughes contends she began experiencing problems with her artificial hip soon after her 2007 surgery. In June 2008, she had corrective surgery but continued to feel severe pain, prompting her to sue Stryker and Howmedica in November 2008.

In lieu of expert testimony, however, Hughes provided nearly 500 pages of her personal medical records — a tactic Steele chided as "superfluous" bulk-filing. In particular, the judge said Hughes failed to excerpt parts of those records relevant to her case, instead leaving it to the judge find supporting evidence. Hughes also hurt her cause, Steele wrote, by not following local court rules asking litigants to provide the court with bound copies of exhibits exceeding 50 pages.

Hughes also relied on a March 2007 warning letter from the U.S. Department of Human Services to a Stryker manufacturing plant in Cork, Ireland, stating inspections of the facility turned up several violations.

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