Plaintiffs in a UK case filed over DePuy’s Pinnacle Ultamet hip replacement were dealt a serious blow on May 21, 2018, when Justice Geraldine Andrews of the High Court dismissed the claims of over 300 patients who say the hip implant is defective, the BBC reports.
DePuy Pinnacle Hip Class Action Stutters In UK
The patients, most of whom are elderly, have accused DePuy Synthes, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, of allowing a defective hip replacement device onto the market without alerting the public or medical community to the alleged danger. The implant, branded as the Pinnacle Ultamet, was withdrawn from the UK market in 2013.
As a metal-on-metal hip implant, patients and public safety advocates say the device can throw off small metal particles during normal operation, causing severe and debilitating symptoms, including tissue death, pain and swelling. Many of the patients claim to have undergone additional corrective surgeries to alleviate the problem.
US Hip Lawsuits Are Individual Personal Injury Claims
A similar hip implant litigation is playing out in America as well. In fact, several state and federal juries have already handed plaintiffs’ extraordinarily-large verdicts, including a $247 million judgment granted in 2017 by a federal jury in Dallas, Texas.
Unlike in the United States, where large litigations of this sort are generally pursued through thousands of individual personal injury lawsuits, the English plaintiffs chose to file a class action, bundling their claims together for simultaneous consideration. And, in court hearings, their attorneys argued that DePuy’s Pinnacle Ultamet system is capable of causing severe immune system responses through the degradation of its metal components.
Plaintiffs Say Ultamet System Causes Metallosis
Representing a total of 312 plaintiffs, the lawyers premised the majority of their case on metallosis, a medical condition that experts believe is primarily caused by the release of metal particles into the body. It is almost exclusively caused by medical devices that are made from metal.
But DePuy’s hip implant, plaintiffs’ attorneys said, was a perfect storm, featuring multiple metal components that would grind together as a patient moves around. In their complaints, the plaintiffs claim that this metal debris can erode internal body tissues, allowing the implant to loosen and ultimately fail.
High Court Justice Denies Plaintiffs’ Arguments
Their allegations did not convince Justice Geraldine Andrews. In her court opinion, issued on May 21, 2018, the High Court Judge disputed plaintiffs’ assertion that they could prove that the Pinnacle Ultamet device is defective.
Judge: Safety Of Similar, Contemporaneous Implants Is Key
Justice Andrews has held that the plaintiffs’ have failed to sufficiently argue that the Pinnacle implant “did not meet the level of safety that public were entitled to expect at the time when it entered the market in 2002,” according to the Telegraph.
Justice Andrews applied legal principles written into British law in 1987; that year, the UK’s Consumer Protection Act instructed judges to compare products to competitor products released at the same time, rather than newer devices (which may be safer in reality due to technological advances).
UK Justice Takes Issue With Risk Estimates
Justice Andrew’s had other problems with the case against DePuy. In her findings, the Judge concluded that there was insufficient evidence to suggest that DePuy Ultamet replacements failed at a “materially greater” rate than other, comparable implants. The plaintiffs were also incorrect, Justice Andrews wrote, in arguing that DePuy products pose an “abnormal risk” to patient health.
The Judge also took issue with the structure of the case as it was presented to her. Four of the six “representative” plaintiffs, who stood in to represent the interests of the other 312 patients, could not even demonstrate that the hip replacement’s breakdown had affected them.
Plaintiffs May Appeal Decision
Alongside the Court of Appeal and the Crown Court, the United Kingdom’s High Court of Justice is one of three Senior Courts serving the citizens and businesses of England and Wales.
After their defeat in the court, plaintiffs are now reappraising their legal options; they may be able to appeal the judgment. Attorneys at Leigh Day, the British firm representing the patients, say they are “in touch with [their] clients to discuss what next steps could be taken.”