(Reuters) – Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) was found not liable by a Texas jury yesterday in the 1st case to go to trial over whether Pinnacle hip implants made by the company’s DePuy Orthopaedics unit were defective.
The test case had high stakes for the medical device giant, which is hoping to avoid a replay of a $2.5 billion settlement it agreed to last year for a different metal-on-metal hip device.
The Dallas federal jury ruled unanimously against plaintiff Kathleen Herlihy-Paoli, who said the 2 metal-on-metal Pinnacle hips she received in 2009 were faulty and that the company failed to warn patients and doctors about the device’s risks.
DePuy had said the implants were improperly positioned and not to blame for her injuries. Jurors needed about 2 days to deliberate, after a 7-week trial.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers selected Herlihy-Paoli’s lawsuit to be among the 1st to go to trial out of more than 6,600 lawsuits over the Pinnacle hips. The unanimous win for DePuy is expected to affect its approach to the rest of the lawsuits, which are consolidated before Judge Ed Kinkeade.
"We are pleased with the jury’s decision, which reflects the facts of this case," DePuy Synthes senior director of communication & public affairs Mindy Tinsley told MassDevice.com via email. "The evidence showed that UltaMet metal-on-metal was designed to meet the needs of patients and is backed by clinical data showing a track record of safety and effectiveness in reducing pain and restoring mobility for patients suffering from chronic hip pain.
"Patients have always been our top priority," Tinsley added. "UltaMet Metal-on-Metal was appropriately developed, thoroughly tested, and responsibly marketed."
A lawyer for Herlihy-Paoli, Mark Lanier, called the case "the 1st skirmish in what is likely to be a long war."
"We still plan to press on with fierce dedication to clients we believe have been tragically wronged," Lanier said.
Herlihy-Paoli said she required multiple surgeries to fix and replace her implants after the surrounding tissue became infected and the level of the metal cobalt in her blood soared to 85 times the normal level.
Her 2012 lawsuit said the device’s metal components rubbed together, shedding metal ions.
At trial, lawyers for Herlihy-Paoli accused DePuy of aggressively marketing the devices to more active people, while concealing abnormally high failure rates.
DePuy’s lawyers countered that the devices were safe when used and implanted properly. They also said Herlihy-Paoli unfairly targeted DePuy for problems linked to different metal-on-metal hips, such as the company’s ASR devices.
Last year, DePuy agreed to pay $2.5 billion to settle more than 7,000 lawsuits over the ASR devices, which it recalled in 2010.
DePuy stopped selling the metal-on-metal Pinnacle devices in 2013.
Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor, called the verdict surprising and said jurors may have responded to DePuy’s argument that the hips may have been improperly positioned.
"They can take some comfort in this verdict," he said, referring to DePuy. "But I’m sure there will be more."