Thursday, May 3, 2012

J&J Hip Patients Will Take ‘Bellwether’ Lawsuits to Trial

By David Voreacos and Susannah Nesmith - May 1, 2012 4:24 PM ET

Recipients of Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) hip implants recalled by the company will start going to trial later this year to help determine liability and damages in more than 6,000 lawsuits, lawyers said today.

J&J’s DePuy unit recalled its 93,000 ASR hips worldwide in 2010, including 37,000 in the U.S., saying more than 12 percent of the devices failed within five years. Lawsuits in federal and state courts describe patients in pain and immobilized by joint dislocations, infections and bone fractures.
Lawyers for patients and J&J, the world’s second-largest health-care company, met with a judge overseeing the so-called multi-district litigation in 4,200 federal lawsuits. Another 2,000 are in state courts. Both sides are negotiating a way to choose suitable plaintiffs to help resolve whether J&J bears blame and how much each case could be worth, lawyers said.

The parties are in agreement that we would like to have a bellwether trial,” J&J attorney Robert Tucker told U.S. District Judge David Katz at a hearing in federal court in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Patients suing J&J, based in New Brunswick, New Jersey, claim metal debris from the hips, made from a cobalt and chromium alloy, causes tissue death around the joint and may increase metal ions in the bloodstream to harmful levels.

‘Acted Appropriately’

“DePuy is satisfied that the MDL process to address the issues raised by this litigation is moving forward,”spokeswoman Mindy Tinsley said in a statement. “DePuy will defend itself against the allegations raised in the litigation and believes the evidence will show company acted appropriately and responsibly.”

The company said in January that it spent about $800 million on the recall in the past two years, while it wouldn’t estimate its product liability costs.

The first trial is scheduled to begin in state court in Las Vegas in mid-December, plaintiffs’ attorney Ellen Relkin said in an interview after the hearing. Another trial is slated for January in state court in Maryland, she said. The first federal trial could be next March or April, she said.

The company has produced more than 37 million pages of documents in discovery, Tucker told the judge at the hearing. He works at Tucker Ellis LLP in Cleveland.

By stacking that paper, “you would have seven towers equal in height to the Empire State Building,” Tucker said.

Another defense attorney, Susan Sharko of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP in Florham Park, New Jersey, told Katz that lawyers have conducted 22 days of depositions with company witnesses and have another 32 days scheduled.

Katz, who normally sits in Toledo, Ohio, held the status conference in West Palm Beach, where he spends the winter.

He said that he is overseeing “roughly 4,200” federal cases, and “roughly half of that” are pending in state courts.

The federal case is In re DePuy Orthopedics Inc., ASR Hip Implant Products Liability Litigation, 10-MD-2197, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Ohio (Toledo).

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