People walk along a corridor at the headquarters of Johnson & Johnson in New Brunswick, N.J., on July 30, 2013. (Photo: Mel Evans/AP)
Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary were hit with a $500 million verdict on Thursday after a federal jury in Texas found gross negligence and fraud in connection with the defective design of a hip implant.
The award against Johnson & Johnson and subsidiary DePuy Orthopaedics Inc., which includes $360 million in punitive damages, comes in the second bellwether trial in the multidistrict litigation over its Pinnacle hip implants, which plaintiffs claim caused pain and additional surgeries. A federal jury in 2014 had rendered a defense verdict in the first bellwether trial.
But in this case, which involved five plaintiffs, the jury found DePuy and Johnson & Johnson liable for gross negligence and fraud. It also found that DePuy had failed to warn of a hip implant it had defectively designed and that Johnson & Johnson aided and abetted DePuy’s actions. The total award was $502 million to five plaintiffs and three of their spouses.
“We’re just really stoked,” said lead plaintiffs counsel W. Mark Lanier of The Lanier Law Firm in Houston. “The jury just said money doesn’t get you out of problems. You’ve got to be responsible.”
DePuy immediately vowed to file posttrial motions and appeal the award.
“DePuy acted appropriately and responsibly in the design and testing of Ultamet metal-on-metal, and the product is backed by a strong record of safety and effectiveness in reducing pain and restoring mobility for patients suffering from chronic hip pain,” said DePuy spokeswoman Mindy Tinsley, referring to the Ultamet metal liner used in the Pinnacle devices implanted in all five plaintiffs. DePuy discontinued the liner in 2013.
John Beisner, leader of the mass torts, insurance and consumer litigation group at New York’s Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, who represented Johnson & Johnson and DePuy, called the verdict a “pyrrhic victory” given that there are “strong” grounds for appeal and that, with damages caps under Texas law, the award could be reduced to around $10 million.
Beisner also had harsh words for Lanier. “The lead plaintiff lawyer in this case, Mr. Lanier, has a history of pushing the evidentiary envelope at trial to score substantial verdicts, only to have those trial court victories reversed on appeal.”
U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade of the Northern District of Texas, who is overseeing 8,000 lawsuits filed over injuries associated with the Pinnacle, a metal-on-metal hip implant, consolidated the cases of five plaintiffs for the trial, which began on Jan. 11.
In the first bellwether trial, Lanier said the jury found the doctor at fault and a replacement hip implant the plaintiff had received—which he planned to argue was safer than the Pinnacle—failed three weeks before trial. None of that happened in this case, he said.
“That’s the most fun case I’ve tried in a long time,” he said.