Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) subsidiary Ethicon had approximately $50 million slashed from punitive damages it owes in a product liability suit over its PPH 03 hemorrhoid stapler, according to recently released court documents.
In December 2015, a California state jury awarded the plaintiff in the case, Florence Kuhlmann, $70 million in punitive damages on top of an initial $9.8 million in compensatory damages.
This week, the Court of Appeals for the State of California’s First Appellate District, Division Five, cut the punitive damages down to $19.6 million, or two times the compensatory damages it owes.
The court argued that $70 million is a “constitutionally excessive award,” Though Ethicon had argued that the maximum should be one times the compensatory damages, the appellate judges disagreed.
“While we must . . . assess independently the wrongfulness of a defendant’s conduct, our determination of a maximum award should allow some leeway for the possibility of reasonable differences in the weighing of culpability. In enforcing federal due process limits, an appellate court does not sit as a replacement for the jury but only as a check on arbitrary awards.” judges wrote in their opinion “We conclude the constitutional maximum in this case is two times the compensatory damages award, approximately $19.6 million.”
The case was decided in the Alameda County Superior Court in 2015, according to the plaintiff’s counsel, the Alexander Law Group, LLP.
The plaintiff alleged that during surgery in January 2012, the defective staple misfired, sealing the patient’s anal canal shut and leading to 21 days of emergency hospitalization, massive infection and resulting abdominal surgeries including a full laparotomy and colostomy.
The PPH03 is used to staple dangling hemorrhoids to the rectal wall in a procedure known as Hemorrhoidoplexy, the firm said. In August, 2012, Ethicon pulled more than 500 lots of its Proximate surgical staplers over performance issues that may cause the devices to misfire.
The medical device company issued a global recall of certain lots of its Proximate PPH and HCS hemorrhoidal circular staplers and accessories “due to difficulty firing the device which may result in incomplete firing stroke, that may result in an incomplete staple formation,” according to the recall report.