Articles Tagged with Artificial Hip

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Harmful Medical Devices on HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

I’ve been writing about dangerous medical devices on this site for four years. Over that time I’ve reached thousands and thousands of people injured by these harmful implanted medical products. John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight, picked up the subject this week, and I am grateful to him and to HBO because he reached more people in twenty minutes than I have in four years. I want more people to get the word out about the serious problems with medical devices rushed to market and “cleared” through the 510(k) loophole because it’s a public health crisis. Too many companies are pushing too many untested medical devices to market, and the FDA is not doing enough to protect the public from these devices. John Oliver talks about all of this on the latest episode of his show. It’s funny (and profane), but he lays out accurately the way massive profits have driven companies to push harmful medical devices on to an unsuspecting public. You can check it out at the link below:

Warning: This is HBO. Oliver speaks freely: the language is salty and the subject matter adult. Companies and people other than me own the content linked above. The show is the property of HBO and whoever owns HBO. Neither HBO nor John Oliver has any affiliation with my website.

 

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It’s a great question. And I’m glad I asked it for you. Now let me answer it. There are several ways to identify the specific medical device implanted in your body. (A medical device is any manufactured device–like an artificial hip–implanted in the body for the purpose of resolving an injury, curing disease, or improving a person’s health. Medical devices can be artificial joints like hips and knees and shoulders, heart stents and pacemakers, IVC filters, hernia mesh, and hundreds of other examples.)  Some ways of identifying exact product components are better than others. Identifying the medical device several different ways is the best of all.

Product Stickers: The Gold Standard

Product Stickers
It all sort of starts with “product stickers.” These are the identifying stickers that are attached to the box containing the medical device, and they can be peeled off and affixed to a nurse’s hospital note or to another page in the hospital or surgeon’s record for the implant surgery. It goes something like this: the representative for the device maker shows up with the artificial hip components (or other medical device). The surgical nurse or the surgeon will double check that the components are the precise ones needed for the surgery, scan them into the system and note them in the record. The nurse will then peel off the product stickers and attach them to the hospital record and include them with all the other pages of documents explaining details of the surgery. The image at right is an approximation of what the stickers will look like: a bar code, the name of the manufacturer, the specific product name, the Lot and Reference numbers, and other identifying information.

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Smith & Nephew Birmingham Hip Litigation
I have written about artificial hip litigation on this site more than any other area of product liability law, and for a very good reason: there is a lot to write about. Metal-on-metal hips have gravely injured tens of thousands of people, and new victims are undergoing revision surgeries each week to remove defective hips. One current active litigation involves Smith & Nephew “Birmingham” artificial hips. MDL 2775 is the multidistrict litigation court handling hundreds of lawsuits filed against medical device maker Smith & Nephew for these (allegedly) defective artificial hips. There are several artificial hip products involved in MDL 2775:

Birmingham Hip Resurfacing System (BHR). The multidistrict litigation court was first organized to handle these BHR lawsuits. The BHR system is a type of metal-on-metal artificial hip, but in resurfacing procedures the  hip “ball” bone is shaped and resurfaced with a smooth metal covering and a metal shell is implanted into the hip socket, thus creating a metal-on-metal connection or “articulation.” As with most metal-on-metal artificial hips, Smith & Nephew uses cobalt and chromium to construct both of these resurfacing components. These metals have been shown to wear away and leach into the blood and tissue of the patient, causing all kinds of symptoms and problems, including metallosis.

BHR Hip Components Used in Total Hip Arthroplasty (THA). These hip implants are constructed with Smith & Nephew BHR components and non-BHR components, but instead of resurfacing the “ball-bone” with a metal covering the bone is removed and a metal ball component is implanted. MDL 2775 added these Total Hip Arthroplasty (THA) cases to the litigation shortly after the MDL launched.

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Artificial Hip Joint Showing femoral head and femoral neck and stem
Stryker Orthopaedics has announced that it reached a national settlement in the multidistrict litigation focused on the Stryker LFIT V40 femoral head. The LFIT V40 femoral head is one component of Stryker’s artificial hip system. This settlement announcement is a bit surprising, as the MDL was created for the LFIT V40 femoral head in April 2017. As medical device multidistrict litigation goes, this is a very quick path from formation of the MDL to settlement. One reason for the speed is that this MDL is smaller than other artificial hip MDLs based on the number of injured plaintiffs. The LFIT V40 settlement involves approximately 125 cases in the federal court MDL and an additional 140 cases in New Jersey state court.

In any event, for those people hurt by the LFIT V40 femoral head, this is good news. The terms of the settlement have not been released. I will certainly update this website when the settlement agreement is made available. As for now, all discovery and trial preparation have been stayed (or stopped). The first bellwether trial, scheduled for September 2019, will be removed from the trial calendar. The focus now will be on processing individual settlements for plaintiffs.

Remember that each plaintiff in this or any other medical device litigation is not required to accept the settlement. Although it is often reasonable for the plaintiff to accept the terms of settlement, no plaintiff will be compelled to accept any settlement. As with any litigation, it is important for individual plaintiffs and their attorneys to slow down, review all the terms of settlement, and make a careful decision on whether to participate in the settlement.

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If you have any interest in artificial hips, you need to follow the work of Dr. Steven Tower. An orthopedic surgeon in Anchorage Alaska, Dr. Tower has built a one-man research laboratory studying the horrifying health effects of chrome and cobalt hip components. While hip manufacturers have been slow to produce meaningful studies on the ill-effects of metallosis on the human body, Dr. Tower decided to study his own patients. What he discovered could save lives.

Dr. Tower’s Backstory

Orthopedic Surgeon Steven TowerSteven Tower’s story is remarkable. He is featured in the Netflix medical device documentary The Bleeding Edge. Dr. Tower is an avid cyclist and needed a hip replacement several years ago. He chose the DePuy ASR metal-on-metal artificial hip because it was marketed to “exceptionally active individuals.” Several months after his hip replacement surgery, however, Dr. Tower noticed a tremor in his hand. His ears started ringing, his thinking became confused and he began repeating himself when he spoke. One night while attending a medical conference Dr. Tower had a mental breakdown and trashed his hotel room. He wrote all over the walls with sharpies and pens, and wrote on the hotel mirrors with soap. When he returned home he measured the metal levels in his blood, and the test results revealed 100 times the normal amount of cobalt that should be in his body. Dr. Tower soon arranged to have his metal hip components removed in a revision surgery. Within a month his thinking cleared and his other symptoms mostly disappeared. He was relieved, but also intrigued.

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Smith & Nephew Birmingham Hip Resurfacing System
As we get older, our bodies weaken, bones become sore, and joints break down. Hip and knee problems are common conditions of aging. In fact, in the past decade millions of Americans have had hip replacement surgeries. Unfortunately, some defective artificial hips have caused patients more suffering than their original hip ailments. For one recent example, many patients who received the Birmingham Hip Resurfacing System by Smith & Nephew have had to undergo revision surgeries to cure new and unanticipated problems relating to the medical device. Many of these people have filed lawsuits.

Smith & Nephew’s Birmingham Hip Resurfacing System

Smith & Nephew designs and markets medical devices. One of the medical devices Smith & Nephew manufactures is a joint replacement system. An example of a joint replacement system is a hip implant. The Birmingham Hip Resurfacing (BHR) System is an artificial hip replacement made of metal components. BHRs have been used since 1997. The FDA approved BHRs for use in the United States in 2006; this approval was conditioned on Smith & Nephew reporting and analyzing adverse events, negative side effects, and complaints regarding the BHR. Just like any other medical device or medicine, the BHR must not provide false information (or false hope) to patients about what the device can accomplish.

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Have you ever had a problem with a medical device? If you want to bring state law claims against the manufacturer or a doctor, there’s an important legal concept you should know about: federal preemption. In a recent case, the court dismissed several of the plaintiff’s claims against Smith & Nephew, finding that the claims were preempted by federal law. Let’s look at what happened in that case to illustrate how preemption works. Note that while this case involves a hip replacement, the same legal principle could apply to any medical device regulated under U.S. law.

Smith & Nephew Artificial Hip Replacement

Artificial hip replacement and hip resurfacing
By way of background, the hip is a ball-and-socket joint, moving not just forward and back (like a knee joint) but also sideways. In a total hip replacement, part of the upper thigh bone and the ball portion of the hip joint are replaced with metal components. Part of the replacement includes a liner between the ball and the socket that allows the hip to rotate freely. Some patients have hip resurfacing surgery instead, where only the interface between the hip joint’s ball and its socket is replaced with a new surface.

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As we saw in the previous post, the “Birmingham plaintiffs” submitted a 160-page Master Complaint in August 2017, alleging many Smith & Nephew misrepresentations that led to the introduction of an unreasonably dangerous product into the marketplace. In this post we continue our deep dive into the Smith & Nephew Birmingham Hip Master Complaint. (Part 2 in a series.)

“Apples to Oranges”

Smith & Nephew Birmingham Hip Like Other MoM Hips
In a stunning marketing document directed at surgeons titled “Apples to Oranges,” Smith & Nephew announced boldly that the Birmingham Hip Resurfacing system “is not your average ‘metal on metal.’ It’s BHR.” Depicted in the advertisement is an apple with the names of other artificial hip products: ASR, Durom, Cormet, Conserve. It is rather astonishing, suggesting that the BHR was better and safer than these other MoM hips. I guess the BHR is the orange.

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This is the story about the Smith & Nephew Birmingham Hip Resurfacing Device, the patients harmed by the metal-on-metal artificial hip, the lawsuits that followed, and the massive Master Complaint filed last August against Smith & Nephew.

But First, How Do We Get to a “Master Complaint”?

Smith & Nephew lawsuits moved to MDL
This is how product liability multidistrict litigation begins: a product (like an artificial hip) hits the market. The artificial hip is implanted in thousands of patients. A year passes, then a few more. Patients complain of aches, pains, inflammation, noises, maybe even neurological symptoms. Doctors notify the manufacturer and their patients of these bad outcomes. Post-market studies are done. Problems are discovered with the product (in the case of metal-on-metal artificial hips, those problems included metallosis, loosening, pseudotumors, and many other “bad outcomes”). Injured people file lawsuits in courts around the country. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) eventually realizes it needs to designate one court to handle pretrial issues with the hundreds of cases being filed, so a multidistrict litigation (MDL) site is chosen, and the lawsuits are transferred to that MDL court. From there, the plaintiffs consolidate their efforts, and eventually a Master Complaint is carefully drafted and filed.

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Calculating DePuy Pinnacle Jury AwardsIn the last three DePuy Pinnacle artificial hip bellwether trials, three juries awarded the following amounts of money: $502,000,000.00, $1,041,311,648.17, and $247,000,000.00. That’s a total of $1.79 billion dollars. The juries awarded plaintiffs compensatory damages (or actual damages) and punitive damages (to “punish” the defendant companies). Remember that these juries settled on these huge amounts of money based on their findings in three separate trials that DePuy and Johnson & Johnson were liable for design and manufacturing defects, that the defendants failed to warn plaintiffs about the risks of the defective artificial hip, and that defendants acted recklessly, intentionally, and even maliciously in marketing and selling the flawed DePuy Pinnacle hip. These last findings permitted the juries to award punitive damages.

In the bellwether trial in March 2016, a jury awarded more than $500,000,000.00 to five plaintiffs. On December 1, 2016 a jury awarded more than one billion dollars to six plaintiffs and four spouses. And finally, just two weeks ago, a jury awarded six plaintiffs (and four spouses) $247,000,000.00 in compensatory and punitive damages. Compared to the total awards, the amounts awarded to the spouses of the hip victims were modest, and appear to have totaled around $6,700,000.00.

Let’s do a little math: