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Jury awards $8 million in suit over Johnson & Johnson metal hip

March 08, 2013|By Chad Terhune
  • Retired prison guard Loren Kransky, 65, left, sued Johnson & Johnson's DePuy orthopedic unit and claimed he was injured by a defective artificial hip that was recalled by the company in 2010.
Retired prison guard Loren Kransky, 65, left, sued Johnson & Johnson's… (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times )

A Los Angeles jury Friday ordered healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson to pay $8 million in damages to a retired prison guard who said he was injured by the company's defective artificial hip.

But in a victory for the company, the 12-member jury declined to levy any punitive damages, despite being told by the guard's lawyer that J&J's behavior warranted up to $179 million.

This marks the first verdict in more than 8,000 similar suits filed against the world's biggest medical-products maker over this all-metal hip introduced in 2005 by DePuy, the orthopedic division of J&J.

In this case, Loren Kransky, a 65-year-old former prison guard in Montana, claimed that he suffered metal poisoning and other health problems from the company's ASR XL hip implant he received in 2007. The company recalled about 93,000 ASR hips in 2010.

Kransky accused the company of selling a defective design, failing to warn about the risks and overall negligence.

The closely watched trial began Jan. 25, and jury deliberations began March 1.

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At closing arguments, one of Kransky's attorneys said the company played "Russian roulette" with patient safety by ignoring high failure rates and surgeons' complaints about this highly profitable artificial hip. 

The attorney, Brian Panish, suggested that jurors award Kransky $5 million for his pain and suffering and up to $179 million in punitive damages against the company.

At closing arguments, Michael Zellers, an attorney for J&J's DePuy unit, said Kransky's injuries were not caused by the hip implant, but rather from an unrelated infection and other pre-existing medical conditions.

"Mr. Kransky's injuries were not caused by a defect in the ASR XL hip or any conduct of DePuy," Zellers told the jurors.

All-metal hips accounted for an estimated 40% of all U.S. hip replacements in 2008. But since then, they have fallen out of favor as concerns grew about their effectiveness and safety.

Last year, J&J took a $3-billion charge to cover costs related to the ASR hip recall, legal expenses and other related items.

Overall, product safety issues have become a major headache in recent years for J&J, long admired by consumers as a trusted medical name. The company has issued more than 30 product recalls since 2009.

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