The first lawsuits filed against health care giant Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary DePuy Orthopaedics by plaintiffs alleging injuries caused by DePuy’s metal-on-metal ASR hip devices will go to court this year.
About 4,200 lawsuits have been filed against the companies in federal court, with another 2,000 filed in state courts. The first state lawsuits are slated to go to trial in Las Vegas, Nevada, in mid-December 2012, with another trial scheduled for January 2012 in a Maryland state court.
Federal lawsuits, which will be tried in U.S. District Court in West Virginia, will probably be heard in March or April of next year, a plaintiffs attorney told Bloomberg News.
DePuy’s ASR XL Acebtabular and ASR Hip Resurfacing systems were implanted in some 93,000 patients globally before the company recalled them in August 2010 over safety concerns. Of those 93,000 patients, about 37,000 were in the United States.
Medical researchers and orthopedic surgeons have associated DePuy’s ASR hip implants with a number of dangers. Friction between the devices’ metal parts can cast particles of chromium and cobalt into the body, promoting bone and tissue decay and possibly causing early device failure, bone fracturing, hip dislocation, infection, and intense pain. Some patients with excessive levels of the heavy metals in their bodies manifest a range of symptoms indicative of metal poisoning.
Patients who experience complications from their DePuy ASR hips must have them removed and replaced – a procedure that is progressively more difficult each time it is performed. Muscle and bone decay related to problems with the all-metal implant may make revision surgery exceedingly difficult for the surgeon to perform and the patient to recover from given the loss of supportive tissue and bone.
Both DePuy and plaintiffs lawyers agree that a representative few lawsuits should be tried as bellwether cases – a streamlining process that allows a handful of cases to represent the whole in court.
Bloomberg notes that 22 days of depositions have been conducted, with another 32 days scheduled. Additionally, Johnson & Johnson has submitted more than 37 million pages of documents relevant to the cases – enough paper that if stacked in a single pile would equal the Empire State Building in height.