When DePuy Orthopedics launched its recall of thousands of their ASR hip implant models about two months ago, preliminary discussions indicated that San Francisco was on the short list of potential centers for the pending state and federal lawsuits. This week, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation told the hundreds of plaintiffs lining up to sue the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary for their faulty hip implants that the federal cases would all be referred to Judge David A. Katz in Ohio’s northern district.
The forthcoming lawsuits probing DePuy’s faulty hip implants is expected to expand quickly, considering that nearly 100,000 patients were implanted with the recalled model since 2003. Based on a similar hip implant lawsuit settled in 2002, some attorneys expect that these cases could be worth at least $5 billion. But the most important aspect of this recall and the coming lawsuits is to ensure that patients are safe, and attain the legal rights they deserve.
The DePuy ASR models were designed as the hip implant for younger patients who are still relatively active. But soon after patients received this model, they began complaining about pain and other related problems, leading to an abnormally high number of repeated hip surgeries. Upon further investigation, researchers found that if the implant is not installed perfectly, the metal-on-metal model could send harmful metal shards into the blood stream and local tissue. The threat is so present that DePuy now recommends that patients immediately procure a blood test to determine whether they have abnormal levels of chromium and cobalt, which could lead to deafness and even heart disease.
Over and above the faulty hip implants, the F.D.A. has accused DePuy of marketing an unapproved knee device and selling hip implants for purposes not approved by the agency. But the DePuy hip implant timeline suggests health carelessness from the beginning, when the F.D.A. approved the ASR hip implant model for safe use after Johnson & Johnson requested permission to skip clinical trials. With the help of Johnson & Johnson, DePuy Orthopedics holds considerable clout in the medical community, meaning that once their device hit the market, doctors were quick to suggest its use to their patients. As the New Haven Independent reports:
The company discloses payments to doctors on its website, categorizing them as consulting pay, product royalty payments, or compensation for research, meals, airfare and other expenses. The disclosures show that DePuy paid $47.9 million to physicians in 2009, and $32.9 million through September of this year. Some surgeons collected more than $1 million from the company this year, even as concerns were rising about the safety of some of its products.
In 2007, the U.S. Department of Justice filed criminal complaints again four major medical device companies, including DePuy, alleging they were paying kickbacks to doctors for using their products. The charges were dropped last year after the companies paid fines and agreed to pay physicians only for legitimate consulting services.
The federal MDL in northern Ohio was just announced this week, meaning it will take a while for lawsuits to really get under way. GJEL blog will follow the DePuy hip implant lawsuits closely and post any updates that arise.