Hip implants are designed to replace the ball-and-socket joint of the hip. The implants generally consist of an artificial ball that fits inside of a cup. In metal-on-metal implants, both the ball and cup are made of metal -- usually a combination of chromium and cobalt. While metal hip replacements were designed to be more durable than their ceramic and plastic counterparts, they have been linked to a number of serious health complications.
These complications have led several manufacturers of metal hip implants to withdraw their devices from the market. The manufacturers include Johnson & Johnson's DePuy Orthopaedics which recalled its ASR hip replacements in 2010. Another common problem with metal hips is that friction between the hips' metal components can cause metallic debris to be released into the body. This condition, called metallosis, can lead to swelling, severe pain, and even blood poisoning in some cases.
Why Manufacturers May Be Liable
Many patients have filed lawsuits against DePuy and other metal hip manufacturers, including Stryker (makers of the Rejuvenate and ABG II implants) and Biomet (maker of the M2a Magnum implant). Over 10,000 individual lawsuits have been filed against DePuy alone. Under product liability law, metal hip manufacturers can be made to compensate patients for any injuries caused by defective hips. In a hip replacement lawsuit, the plaintiff typically must prove that the implant had either a design defect or a manufacturing defect, or that the manufacturer gave inadequate warnings about the dangers associated with the implant.
Injured patients have alleged that the metal implants had a flawed design that caused them to fail after only a few years and release toxic metals into the body. Many of these patients claim that they were forced to undergo a painful and costly second surgery (called a revision) in order to replace the failing implants. Patients have also alleged that the manufacturers failed to provide adequate warnings about the dangers associated with their metal hips.
Class Action Lawsuits and Multidistrict Litigation
While a huge number of hip replacement lawsuits have been filed throughout the United States, it's important to note that these are not considered class action lawsuits. A class action is when a large number of people with the same kind of injury jointly file a single lawsuit. Instead, the hip replacement lawsuits so far have either been heard as individual lawsuits in state courts or consolidated in one federal court in a process called Multi-District Litigation (MDL).
In MDL, cases that share common issues of fact are heard by a single judge before the trial phase. An advantage of consolidating cases in this way is that a plaintiff can have her case heard more quickly, without having to give up the right to individualized compensation for her unique injuries. Once the pretrial phase is over the cases are heard separately in the courts where they were originally filed.
Because injuries can greatly vary from patient to patient all hip replacement lawsuits filed in federal court have so far been heard through MDL. In state courts, two verdicts against DePuy were reached during the first half of 2013. DePuy was ordered to pay $8.3 million to compensate plaintiff for his injuries in a California case, while another jury in Illinois gave an opposite verdict, finding that DePuy wasn't liable in that case.
Medical Malpractice for Hip Implant Injuries
Liability for injuries caused by metal-on-metal hip replacements is generally placed on the manufacturer. However, in certain circumstances the surgeon who performed the procedure may be liable for medical malpractice. Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare provider acts in a way that falls below the level of care practiced in the profession, and patient is injured as a result. For example, a surgeon may have made an error while implanting a metal hip, misdiagnosed a patient, or failed to inform a patient about the known risks associated with the procedure.
For More Information about Hip Replacement Lawsuits, Talk to an Attorney
Metal hip replacements have been responsible for a relatively large number of injuries, including cobalt toxicity, failing mechanical components, and a buildup of metal flakes in the bloodstream. Because most hip replacement lawsuits have been focused on product liability, you should consider talking to a products liability attorney.
Contact a qualified product liability attorney to make sure your rights are protected.