Hip Replacement Litigation Expected to Proliferate

When a patient undergoes joint replacement surgery, the expectation is that the joint replacement will last as many as twenty years before it needs to be replaced. Unfortunately, some joint replacements are defectively designed or manufactured, leading to corrosion of the implant within the body, build-up of metal debris in the patient’s soft tissues (a condition called metallosis), and damage to the tissue surrounding the implant. In those cases, patients often have to remove the defective medical device after only a few years in order to prevent further damage to their bodies. When such an event occurs, it is important that the injured patient know his or her rights, including whether the patient can recover the costs of any out-of-pocket expenses they incurred, and be compensated for the damage they sustained from the party responsible: the manufacturer and designer of the joint replacement.

In recent years, multiple medical device manufacturers have agreed to pay large settlements to customers who had defective hip replacements implanted in their bodies. In November 2014, Stryker Orthopaedics agreed to pay injured claimants a total of more than $1.4 billion to compensate them for injuries incurred due to Stryker Orthopaedics’ Rejuvenate and ABG II modular-neck hip stems, based on claims that the metal-on-metal ball and socket design led to corrosion of the implant and the emission of metal particles within the body. In September 2013, DePuy Orthopaedics, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, agreed to settle thousands of similar claims from patients who had received the ASR hip replacement system in an amount totaling more than $4 billion. As joint replacement technology continues to proliferate, litigation in the field may become more and more likely.

One area that may receive particular attention in the near future is taper neck junction corrosion claims. In taper neck junction claims, plaintiffs allege that the metal-on-metal design at the junction of a hip replacement’s neck and ball components may result in corrosion, metallosis, and damage to the surrounding tissue. Unlike the ball-and-socket cases described above, the taper junction neck cases involve components that are relatively static, which would ordinarily suggest that corrosion from friction would be minimal. As a result, the scientific theory for why taper neck junction corrosion occurs is more complex and may involve as many as three simultaneous causes: (1) fretting or grinding between the neck and the ball which weakens the integrity of the metal; (2) crevice corrosion caused by liquids trapped in the space between the neck and head; and (3) galvanic corrosion caused by using different metals for the neck and head. Since the theory is complicated, an expert is needed to both analyze the product and explain why it is defective to the jury. This, in turn, requires an attorney who is both experienced in complex litigation and has sufficient resources to handle such a complex claim.

Trief & Olk represents injured individuals in a variety of product liability actions, including medical devices and consumer products. If you have been injured because of a medical device implanted in your body or any other product, medical or otherwise, contact Trief & Olk by telephone or via our website’s submission form to find out more about how Trief & Olk can help you.