Jury Awards $500 Million Dollar Verdict Against Johnson & Johnson
A federal jury in Dallas had awarded more than $1 billion (recently dropped to $500 million) to six victims of defective hip implants manufactured by a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. The verdict consisted of $32 million in compensatory damages and about $500 million in punitive damages.
More than 8,400 lawsuits involving the Pinnacle hip implant have been consolidated in the Texas district court. Several lawsuits have been designated as “bellwether” cases. After those cases are tried, the parties are expected to use the results to guide settlement negotiations.
Johnson & Johnson won the first trial but lost the second. The jury in the second case awarded $502 million to five patients. A judge later reduced the award to $151 million because the case was tried under Texas law, which limits punitive damages.
California law governed the most recent case. While California law does not require an automatic reduction of punitive damages, the $1 billion punitive damages award was reduced, since it was vastly disproportionate to the compensatory damages that the jury awarded.
Before the most recent case went to trial, Johnson & Johnson rejected a $1.8 million settlement offer. The verdict might persuade Johnson & Johnson to take settlement offers more seriously in the future, although the company’s lawyers continue to insist that Johnson & Johnson did nothing wrong. The company stopped selling the Pinnacle implant in 2013.
Evidence Against Johnson & Johnson
The plaintiffs contended that the Pinnacle hip implant caused tissue death, bone erosion, and other injuries. The jury found that those injuries were caused by design defects in the implants.
The injury victims presented evidence that Johnson & Johnson promoted the metal implants as lasting longer than devices made of ceramic or plastic materials. The Pinnacle system is advertised as being sturdier than alternative hip replacements, permitting younger patients to retain an active lifestyle.
The plaintiffs’ evidence convinced the jury that the metal implants are instead subject to premature failure as small fragments of the metal joint break off when the components grind against each other. The evidence also suggested that the fragments enter the bloodstream, producing blood poisoning and other adverse health conditions.
The punitive damages award is related to the claim that Johnson & Johnson knew about the health risks caused by the Pinnacle system but failed to warn patients about the danger. The plaintiffs testified that they would not have agreed to the implants if they had known of the concealed risks.
Johnson & Johnson’s Response
Johnson & Johnson maintains that its Pinnacle hip implant is “backed by a strong track record of clinical data showing reduced pain and restored mobility for patients suffering from chronic hip pain.” The Texas jury obviously disagreed with that assessment.
Lawyers for Johnson & Johnson claimed that the verdict was the result of unfair evidence. A J&J lawyer asserted that the verdict “provides no guidance on the merits of the overall Pinnacle litigation because the court’s rulings precluded a fair presentation to the jury.” The lawyer was apparently referring to an expert witness who was allowed to give testimony that J&J lawyers contend was irrelevant and prejudicial.
The judge, however, ruled that J&J’s lawyers opened the door to that testimony by portraying Johnson & Johnson as a wholesome, small-town company that is motivated only by the desire to make lives better for patients. Having put its reputation at issue, the judge ruled that the plaintiffs were permitted to impeach that reputation with evidence of the bad things that Johnson & Johnson has done during its corporate lifetime.
Johnson & Johnson vowed to appeal both verdicts. In an unusual move, it said it would try to halt all pending litigation until those appeals are resolved so that rulings it views as mistaken will not be repeated in future trials. However, the judge faulted J&J’s lawyers for failing to learn from the second trial and inviting damaging evidence in the third trial by again portraying J&J as an ideal small town business.
The judge denied a stay of the third trial while Johnson & Johnson appealed the second verdict. The judge noted that thousands of cases had already been delayed for five years. The plaintiffs have criticized Johnson & Johnson for using delaying tactics to prevent the cases from being decided by juries.