The first of several thousand personal-injury lawsuits accusing Johnson & Johnson of knowingly making and selling faulty metal-on-metal hip implants commenced Friday in California Superior Court in Los Angeles.
Plaintiff Loren Kransky, a former North Dakota prison guard, received metal-on-metal hip implants made by Johnson & Johnson’s DePuy Orthopedics division in 2007 to relieve arthritis pain. But not long afterward, Mr. Kransky, 64, began experiencing many of the complications reported by others who received DePuy ASR implants: pain, swelling, difficulty walking, and a number of symptoms related to metal poisoning.
On the first day of the trial, the plaintiff’s lawyer showed jurors images of Mr. Kransky’s hip taken during revision surgery to remove the DePuy implant. The pictures showed an accumulation of black material around the hip socket, attributed to metallic debris shed by the DePuy hip device, which consists of a metal ball inserted into a metal socket. On an audio deposition played for the jurors, Mr. Kransky’s doctor explained how the metallic debris around the hip caused the patient to develop a form of metal poisoning, and said Mr. Kransky would have died if the DePuy hip implant weren’t removed.
DePuy recalled its ASR XL Acetabular and ASR Hip Resurfacing devices in August 2010. Internal company documents unsealed ahead of the trial showed company executives knew in 2008 that the implants were prone to fail at alarmingly high rates, but continued to make and sell them before gradually phasing them out of production in 2009. The documents also show that Johnson & Johnson knew that 36 percent of the implants would fail within five years while denying similar data from the U.K.’s orthopedic joint registry, which keeps track of the devices and their performance in patients. Last year, British surgeons warned against using metal-on-metal hip implants of any kind.
All artificial hip devices, whether made of ceramic and plastic in combination with metal parts or strictly metal, shed some debris. However, many patients implanted with DePuy’s ASR hip devices develop toxic levels of chromium and cobalt in their blood and tissue, which can lead to both acute injuries and systemic illnesses in some of the affected patients.
Approximately 93,000 patients received the DePuy implants before they were recalled, including about 37,000 Americans. Johnson & Johnson and DePuy currently face about 10,000 lawsuits alleging injuries from its ASR implants in the United States. More than 80 percent of the lawsuits have been consolidated for multidistrict litigation in Ohio, while nearly 20 percent, including Mr. Kransky’s lawsuit, have been combined for trial in the Los Angeles, California, Superior Court.