Lieff Cabraser Civil Justice Blog

Pinnacle Hip Trials Begin for Patients Alleging Poisoning Injuries

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As reported on Bloomberg.com, Johnson & Johnson (“J&J”) is facing a new round of medical hip lawsuits over its Pinnacle metal-on-metal hip implants, blamed for the poisoning of recipient patients. The patients allege that the Pinnacle hip implants were defectively designed because they caused metal debris to leech from the devices into patient bloodstreams. These cobalt/chromium materials can damage the surrounding tissue and have required some patients to have their implants removed through revision surgery.

Plaintiff Kathleen Herlihy-Paoli is the first victim whose case is reaching trial. More than 6,000 similar cases have been consolidated before U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade in Texas. Herlihy-Paoli, a 58-year-old graphic designer from Montana, got two Pinnacle hips in 2009 and soon began to complain of pain from the devices, according to court filings. She had the artificial hips removed in 2011, according to the filings. Tests before the removal surgeries found the “implants had released dangerous levels of cobalt and chromium into her bloodstream,” she said in court filings. Tests indicated that Mrs. Paoli’s cobalt blood serum levels were 85 times higher than normal.

The Pinnacle line of hip implants was not covered by J&J’s $2.5 billion settlement of claims that its ASR hip devices [different hip implant products from J&J] also released chromium and cobalt debris, causing tissue death and increased metal ions in their blood. A 2012 British study also raised questions about whether recipients of metal-on-metal hips faced an increased risk of bladder and kidney cancer and genetic damage.

Case documents allege that DePuy officials misled patients and their doctors about the safety of the artificial hips and sponsored a “nationwide satellite telecast to physicians all over the country to tout the advantages of the Pinnacle Device, including representations of the benefits of metal-on-metal hip replacements.”

Herlihy-Paoli is seeking damages for physical injuries connected with the hip-removal surgeries, loss of earnings and other compensatory damages. She’s also asking for damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress over the company’s aggressive marketing of the hips. “In their continued marketing of the Pinnacle devices in spite of known deficiencies and defects, defendants’ actions were beyond all bounds of decency, were atrocious and of a kind utterly intolerable in a civilized society,” the graphic artist said in court papers.

As the trial opened, Herlihy-Paoli’s lawyer told jurors that J&J’s DePuy unit ignored signs that the Pinnacle hips suffered from design flaws and assured doctors the metal devices worked “99.9 percent of the time,” and that DePuy essentially failed to warn its patients that they were basically guinea pigs for the company. He further noted that J&J knew as early as 2001 the metal-on-metal version of its Pinnacle artificial hips might generate debris that could cause metal poisoning.

National Hip Injury Attorneys

Lieff Cabraser represents nearly 200 patients nationwide who received the ASR XL Acetabular and ASR Hip Resurfacing systems manufactured by DePuy. In January 2011, the Court overseeing all DePuy recall lawsuits in federal court appointed Lieff Cabraser attorney Wendy R. Fleishman to the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee for the organization and coordination of the litigation. In July 2011, in the coordinated proceedings in California state court, the Court appointed Lieff Cabraser attorney Robert J. Nelson to serve on the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee. We also represent nearly 100 patients whose DePuy Pinnacle artificial hip with the metal insert, called the Ultamet metal liner, has prematurely failed.