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$8.3 Million Verdict Sticks in DePuy ASR Trial

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In the first DePuy ASR lawsuit to go to trial at the beginning of the year, plaintiff Loren Kransky claimed that DePuy Orthopaedics and parent company Johnson & Johnson (J&J) failed to provide adequate warnings about the products health risks. Having been implanted with the device in 2007, he later suffered several serious complications, including metal contamination.

A California jury agreed that DePuy had been negligent, and in March 2013, awarded the plaintiff $8.3 million in damages. DePuy tried to get the verdict thrown out, but on May 24, 2013, Judge J. Stephen Czuleger upheld the verdict, ruling in favor of the plaintiff. The decision opens the door for future plaintiffs to potentially win damages in court.

DePuy Knew of the Problems Before the Recall

The DePuy ASR hip replacement device gained FDA approval in 2005, but in only a few years, the agency received hundreds of reports from physicians noting complications like premature loosening and early implant failure. In March 2010, DePuy sent a letter to doctors informing them of the problems with the device, and in August 2010, implemented a voluntary worldwide recall of both the ASR total hip replacement system and the ASR resurfacing system.

Critics say that the recall came too late, however, arguing that DePuy knew long before August 2010 that the device was faulty. Internal documents revealed during the California trial indicated that orthopedic surgeons, who were also consultants for the company, told company executives of the concerns years before the recall. Evidence produced during the trial also showed that the company considered redesigning the ASR to address the concerns, but then abandoned the idea because of a projected low return on the investment.

J&J Requests New Trial

After more than five days of deliberation, the jury in Los Angeles reached a verdict on Friday, March 8, 2013. DePuy and J&J requested a new trial, claiming the evidence did not support the finding. Judge Czuleger disagreed, however, ruling there was sufficient evidence to determine the ASR was defective, and that the company had failed to provide adequate warnings about he risks. The verdict was left intact, though J&J may yet challenge the decision and appeal to the Supreme Court.

J&J’s recent decision to discontinue its metal-on-metal hips, however, could indicate that they are well aware of the concerns of these implants. According to a May article in Bloomberg, the company announced that it will stop selling the hips due to waning demand. Discontinued items will include the metal liners in the Ultamet Metal-on-Metal Articulation and the Complete Ceramic-on-Metal Acetabular Hip System, which will no longer be available after August 31, 2013.

Mindy Tinsley, a spokeswoman for J&J’s DePuy unit, told Bloomberg that the company has seen a 90 percent decline in metal-on-metal sales in the U.S. and Europe since 2007.

Future DePuy ASR Trials

After the California verdict, a second DePuy ASR lawsuit went to trial in the Cook County Circuit Court in Illinois, filed by plaintiff Carol Strum. She was fitted with the ASR hip in 2008, and had to go through revision surgery years later. In this case, DePuy’s lawyers convinced the jury that Strum’s own health issues caused the injury, but DePuy still faces over 10,000 additional lawsuits concerning the device.

In December 2010, all federal DePuy ASR lawsuits were consolidated into the Northern District of Ohio. The first bellwether trial there is scheduled to being in September 2013, while the first trial in the consolidated New Jersey proceedings is scheduled to being in October 2013.