J&J shoring up for latest courtroom battle over all-metal hip implant

J&J's Pinnacle hip implant--courtesy of Johnson & Johnson

Long beleaguered by claims related to defective all-metal hip implants, Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) is shoring up for its latest courtroom battle as the company faces the first trial for one of its artificial hip devices.

As Bloomberg reports, J&J is preparing for the first of 6,000 cases which claim that a metal-on-metal version of its Pinnacle hip was flawed and caused metal debris to enter patients' bloodstreams. Kathleen Herlihy-Paoli, the plaintiff in the bellwether case, said she received two Pinnacle hips in 2009 and complained of pain from the devices before having them removed in 2011, according to court documents obtained by Bloomberg. The cases are consolidated before U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade in Dallas, who will preside over Herlihy-Paoli's trial.

J&J stopped selling its Pinnacle devices in August 2013 after the FDA said it would roll out a more stringent regulatory process for metal-on-metal hip implants. The product has a failure rate of about 10%--nearly double what's normally accepted among manufacturers but below that of other all-metal hip implants. If jurors in the latest set of cases find J&J/DePuy guilty of mishandling the devices, a panel could order the company to fork over up to $5.78 billion as punishment, Bloomberg reports.

"This is a very dangerous case for J&J," Erik Gordon, a professor at University of Michigan's business and law schools, told Bloomberg. "They could be facing huge damages here and it will be easy for the plaintiff's lawyers to scare the jury with talk of metal poisoning and increased cancer risks."

The latest suits come on the heels of more legal drama for J&J, as the company continues to deal with the fallout from another line of its all-metal hip implants. Last November, J&J's DePuy unit agreed to hand over $2.5 million to settle thousands of lawsuits alleging injuries caused by its ASR all-metal hip devices, but is still defending itself against remaining claims. In 2010, the company recalled 93,000 of the implants citing a 12% failure rate within 5 years.

J&J is not the only devicemaker facing pushback for its all-metal hip devices. Earlier this year, Stryker ($SYK) settled 8 of nearly 1,500 lawsuits alleging it sold faulty metal hip implants to customers. The company voluntarily recalled its Rejuvenate and ABG II devices in 2012, an effort that cost it $700 million in charges. Indiana-based Biomet is also caught in the fray with hundreds of pending cases related to its own all-metal hip product.

- read the Bloomberg article

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