johnson-and-johnson-considering-3-billion-settlementJohnson & Johnson is the largest seller of healthcare products. When you consider that fact, $3 billion seems like a drop in the bucket to settle lawsuits over its recalled hip implant cases.

There are up to 11,500 lawsuits pending in the United States against the corporate giant, and to resolve them, it may pay more than $300,000 per case. If these plaintiffs accept their offers, the total amount would exceed $3 billion, which would top the $1 billion paid in 2001 by Suizer AG, a Switzerland-based pump maker, to resolve lawsuits from patients who claimed the company’s hip and knee implants were defective. This was the largest settlement of its kind, so if J&J follows through, its settlement will be a record-breaker.

Johnson & Johnson wants the U.S. cases resolved by early 2014, according to undisclosed sources. In 2010, J&J’s DePuy unit recalled 93,000 implants with 37,000 of those being in the U.S.

This recall came after 12% of these implants failed within five years. However, that rate continues to rise, as do lawsuits from plaintiffs who claim the chromium and cobalt devices caused them pain, metal debris and replacement surgeries.

To date, J&J has spent approximately $993 million on medical costs and informing patients and surgeons about its DePuy ASR metal-on-metal hip implant. According to Lorie Gawreluk, a spokeswoman for DePuy, “Reports about a possible resolution of the litigation are premature and speculative, including any estimates of resolution amounts.”

In its first trial, J&J lost an $8.3 million verdict over the device. This past March, a California jury awarded damages to a retired Montana prison guard. Just six weeks later in a second case, a Chicago jury ruled in favor of DePuy, rejecting a defective design claim by an Illinois nurse.

There are seven upcoming trials filed by plaintiffs blaming the ASR for injuries. The first is scheduled for September 9 in a Cleveland federal court, and was filed by 58-year-old Ann McCracken. After her hip implant, she needed two additional surgeries. U.S. District Judge David Katz will oversee this lawsuit, and about 8,000 federal cases consolidated for the pre-trial collection of evidence. Approximately 2,000 cases are pending in the California Judicial Council Coordinated Proceeding before Judge Richard Kramer in San Francisco. Other trials are scheduled in San Francisco in October, New Jersey in October and January, in West Palm Beach Florida in November, in Chicago in December and in Los Angeles in January.

The J&J hips were made from a cobalt/chromium alloy, which is used in the company’s ASR XL Acetabular System and ASR Hip Resurfacing System. Within five years, 13% of the ASR XL hips failed and needed revisions, and 12% of the ASR Hip Resurfacing System failed.

Lawyers for plaintiffs claim that debris from the metal ball sliding against the metal cup causes tissue to die around the joint and may increase the amount of metal ions in the bloodstream to dangerous levels. J&J runs a worldwide reimbursement program for these hips, and has apparently made thousands of payments to patients for testing and treatment of out-of-pocket expenses.

Metal-on-metal hip implants are known to fail sooner and require replacement faster than other artificial hip products. In fact, the devastating effects of these hips can be horrific to patients. A 2011 New York Times article reported, “As surgeons here sliced through tissue surrounding a failed artificial hip in a 53-year-old man, they discovered what looked like a biological dead zone. There were matted strands of tissue stained gray and black; a large strip of muscle near the hip no longer contracted.”

A New England Journal of Medicine study showed that these hips failed 3 times faster than other artificial hips. But in its usual snail-like fashion, the FDA only recently ordered an in-depth study of metal-on-metal artificial hip systems. And of course, it’s leaving it up to the manufacturers themselves to conduct its study, further demonstrating the ongoing ineptitude of the agency. As Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different outcome.” The FDA needs to take that quote to heart.

Dallas’s expert medical device attorneys at Reyes Browne Reilley have handled thousands of product liability lawsuits nationwide. If you or someone you know has had a metal-on-metal hip implant and experienced severe problems, consult with one of our attorneys today.

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