In Dallas, Texas the first bellwether trial against Johnson & Johnson’s DePuy Orthopedic division for its allegedly defective Pinnacle Hip implant is in its fourth week.
Throughout the trial so far jurors have heard testimony from a parade of DePuy executives, paid consultants, doctors, and defense experts. The plaintiff’s lawyers have been aggressive in their cross-examination, most notably with DePuy President Andrew Ekdahl and Pamela Plouhar, the worldwide vice president of clinical research.
Early testimony by Ekdahl was alarming. Even after e-mails were introduced into evidence that clearly showed DePuy executives were being told as early as 2008 of a case of extensive tissue damage caused by the Pinnacle hip, Ekdahl continued to insist that the Pinnacle Hip was safe. Under withering cross-examination of the DePuy President, plaintiff’s lawyers also showed that as early as 2010, doctors were warning Ekdahl that the Pinnacle was failing at exceptionally high rates, all while the company continued to aggressively market the replacement hip.
More alarming testimony came last week from Pamela Plouhar. Under cross-examination the clinical research VP admitted that there was “no human study that looked at” the health effects of metal debris for the Pinnacle hips before 2001. According to the plaintiff’s lawyers, as early as 1974 research began suggesting problems with metal-on-metal implants. The only response that Plouhar could offer was to insist that DePuy had followed “industry standards.”
Much of the testimony in this trial mirrors that in earlier trials for DePuy’s flawed ASR hip joint. Those trials resulted in a landmark $250 billion settlement. The shadow of that settlement looms large and the defense team has tried to differentiate between the Pinnacle and the ASR, highlighting that the FDA never recalled the Pinnacle – and downplaying how production of the pinnacle was halted over a 2013 FDA ruling that would have required new clinical tests and a redesign.
The two key themes throughout the trial so far have been the safety record of metal-o-metal implants, and whether DePuy properly vetted the devices before they released them. On both, the Plaintiffs lawyers have eviscerated DePuy’s defense. To add insult to injury, during the trial hundreds more Pinnacle lawsuits have been filed, bringing the total to almost 7,000.
Metal-on-metal hip joints represent the greatest medical device failure in history, and of that failure the DePuy’s Pinnacle and ASR joints were the most popular. Metallosis and premature failure have exposed other manufactures of metal-on-metal hip joints. Biomet, Zimmer, Stryker, Smith & Nephew, and Wright, are facing suits over metal-on-metal implants.
As this Pinnacle trial winds down in Dallas, Depuy is failing again to defend their actions and, as with the ASR, they will finally be held accountable for the flawed and dangerous device they knowingly sold to the public.