On Feb. 1, plaintiffs filed a petition asking the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) to consider consolidating complaints against Smith & Nephew over its Birmingham Hip Resurfacing (BHR) and R3 Acetabular System devices. As many as 31 cases are still pending in 22 federal district courts, according to the petition, and dozens more are expected to flood in. Pretrial coordination before a single judge in Maryland would facilitate resolution of the claims, the plaintiffs say.
In June of 2012, Smith & Nephew recalled its R3 Acetabular System, an optional metal liner component used in hip implant devices. This includes about 7,700 metal liners that were installed since they were first introduced on the market in 2007.
The BHR, a metal-on-metal hip implant design intended to be more durable and hold up better over time, has proven to have an extremely high failure rate. Metal-on-metal hip implants are usually a ball-and-cup design made up of a cobalt-chromium alloy. When the parts rub together during normal use, the parts shed metal ions, which can pollute the bloodstream and damage the surrounding tissue, resulting in severe pain, inflammation, bone erosion, tumors, and tissue death.
When the metal ions infiltrate the blood, cobalt and chromium toxicity can occur, leading to symptoms such as tremor, poor coordination, cognitive decline and depression as well as damaging effects on the heart, hearing and vision.
Metal-on-metal hip device failures have led to thousands of lawsuits against manufacturers such as Smith & Nephew and DePuy Orthopaedics. As many as 8,900 lawsuits have been filed against DePuy in the U.S. alone.