A Texas jury awarded a group of plaintiffs with over $1 billion in punitive damages in a case involving defective hip replacements manufactured by Johnson & Johnson’s Depuy unit after concluding that executives at the company knew about the defects with the hip replacements and the injuries they could cause and nevertheless continued to sell the products. The $1 billion in punitive damages – the largest such award in 2016 nationwide – is on top of $30 million in damages that the jury awarded to the plaintiffs for their physical injuries. The case involved six plaintiffs, and approximately 9,000 other plaintiffs are currently seeking compensation.
How the Plaintiffs Were Injured by the Defective Hip Replacements
The hip replacements in question were so-called “Pinnacle” artificial hips which Depuy had introduced in the early 2000s, with 150,000 patients eventually receiving the the artificial hips. Patients suffered injuries when friction between the metal parts of the hips caused microscopic portions of cobalt and chromium into the patients’ bloodstreams, eventually necessitating removal of the hips.
Attorneys for the six plaintiffs argued that Johnson & Johnson took steps to avoid having the artificial hips subject to regulatory oversight by connecting the hips to an earlier model created in 1976 prior to the introduction of more stringent requirements. Attorneys also pointed to the fact that Johnson & Johnson has faced penalties in the past for making illegal kickbacks and bribes to doctors to promote their products. Although defense attorneys objected, the fact of the matter is that Johnson & Johnson has paid billions of dollars in fines over the past decade in a series of criminal and civil investigations into illegal bribes and kickbacks paid to doctors in the US and around the world to promote its products.
How Punitive Damages Are Calculated
The $1.04 billion verdict is one of the largest verdicts of 2016, and the fact that only six plaintiffs were involved in the case makes this all the more striking, with each plaintiff conceivable receiving over $100 million if the verdict is upheld on appeal. Again, “only” $30 million of the amount was awarded based on the patients’ actual injuries while $1 billion was for punitive damages.
Punitive damages are awarded in cases where a jury determines that a defendant acted so egregiously that it should be punished above and beyond the costs that the plaintiff suffered to prevent the defendant and others like it from acting similarly in the future. The jury may well have taken into account the fact that Johnson & Johnson is a very large company with a long record of misdeeds in marketing its products in reaching this award.
A Separate Jury Awarded Hip Replacement Plaintiffs with $502 Million
Notably, a separate Texas jury awarded $502 million in punitive damages in another trial involving the Pinnacle hip replacements in June, but that award was lowered to $150 million based on Texas state law regarding caps on punitive damages. This case, however, involved six California residents, and the federal court applied California law, which does not have similar caps on how much punitive damages can be awarded. The defendant has said that it will appeal the size of the verdict. Oftentimes, appeals courts will lower an award made by a jury if it is excessive under the law, and plaintiffs may settle for a lower amount rather than face the delay and uncertainty of an appeal.
Injured by a Defective Medical Product?
The personal injury attorneys at McCuneWright are dedicated to obtaining justice for plaintiffs in the Inland Empire and across California and beyond. If you have been injured by a defective medical product, contact the complex litigation attorneys at McCune Wright at 909.572.8019.