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Big verdict in Depuy hip implant case — will it make us safer in the long run?
As you know, toxins come in many shapes and sizes, and often from unexpected places. I was reminded of this the other day, when my husband told me about a verdict that affects some of his cases. Some of his practice includes representing people who have been harmed by products, including clients who have been affected by hip replacements that have not worked out.
It turns out that a company called DePuy (pronounced “de-PEW”), which is now owned by Johnson & Johnson (of No More Tears fame), made some hip implants that caused people a lot of trouble. It turns out that DePuy made the two parts of the implant – the cup and ball that make up the replacement hip socket – both out of metal, including cobalt, chromium and molybdenum. Apparently, for some people, the metal parts rubbed together, wearing them down.
As a result, there were two problems. First, the cup and ball no longer fit together, and people had problems with how the hips worked. In addition, the minute shavings of the metal (metal ions) entered the bloodstream, meaning that some people have increased health problems due to elevated levels of the metals in their blood. These consequences vary by individual. In some people, even low amounts can affect a person’s nervous system, heart or thyroid.
In addition, increased levels of cobalt and chromium metal particles in the body can lead to metallosis, a type of blood poisoning, and genotoxicity, which can lead to genetic damage. Chromium and cobalt have also been linked to cancer, and can lead to aseptic fibrosis and local necrosis – i.e. the death of tissue in the area of the implant. For more information, see here.
Last week, a jury considered five of the thousands of cases that have been filed so far. After hearing all of the evidence, the jury awarded the five plaintiffs $498,000,000 in damages. Some of this money was to compensate the plaintiffs for their medical bills, pain and suffering and lost wages. A large amount of this is for what are called “punitive damages” – apparently the jury was upset at risks that both DePuy and Johnson & Johnson took with the plaintiffs’ health, and awarded these damages, both to punish DePuy and Johnson & Johnson and to deter other companies from doing the same thing in the future. (My husband says that the amount of the verdicts may be whittled down by the judge or on appeal, but that it is hard to obtain punitive damages, so the evidence of the Defendant’s wrongdoing introduced at the trial must have been pretty strong. He also points out that every case is different, and that the results reached in this one trial are no guarantee that he – or any other lawyer – can obtain similar results for someone else.)
Hopefully, big corporations have taken notice that our health is not to be trifled with. But the bigger lesson here is that anytime we take medicine or have a medical device implanted, we have the responsibility of knowing what it is that is being put in our bodies. Read the labels. For example, I have recently taken a medication that made me very sick. Later, I found out that it had the inactive ingredient sodium lauryl sulfate, which is a surfactant (foaming/cleaning agent) I do not even recommend in cleaning products.
Talk to manufacturers, and don’t take their claims at face value – listen critically. See what results others are having with the medicine or the device. Anything foreign we put in our bodies put us at risk.
How about you? Have you had (or do you know anybody who has had) any problems with hip replacements? This is an interesting development for consumers. Here’s hoping companies make fewer and fewer mistakes like this in the future.