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Dallas judge slashes $1 billion verdict over defective hip implants

A faulty DePuy artificial hip removed from a patient in Hartlepool, England, in 2010. A federal jury in Dallas found that officials of Johnson & Johnson and its DePuy unit failed to properly warn doctors and patients about the product’s flaws.
A faulty DePuy artificial hip removed from a patient in Hartlepool, England, in 2010. A federal jury in Dallas found that officials of Johnson & Johnson and its DePuy unit failed to properly warn doctors and patients about the product’s flaws. New York Times

Johnson & Johnson won a ruling cutting almost in half a $1.04 billion jury award to patients who accused the company of hiding defects in its Pinnacle artificial hips that had to be surgically removed.

A judge in Dallas on Tuesday left undisturbed a jury’s finding that officials of J&J and its DePuy unit failed to properly warn doctors and patients about the artificial hips’ flaws, but found the panel’s punitive-damage awards to six patients were excessive and should be reduced, according to court filings.

“Constitutional considerations limit the amount a plaintiff may recover in punitive damages,” U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade in Dallas said in the ruling.

The cut wipes out about $500 million in punishment damages against J&J and DePuy over the company’s mishandling of the hip implants, said Mark Lanier, a lawyer for the patients who sued.

The December verdict against J&J and DePuy was the third-largest overall jury award of 2016 in the U.S. while the punitive award in the case was the largest against a company last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

J&J still faces almost 9,000 lawsuits accusing the company of illegally marketing the flawed metal-on-metal hips. J&J stopped selling the devices in 2013 after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration toughened artificial-hip regulations.

“Now that judgment has been entered in these cases, the company can move forward in seeking appellate review of the legal errors with the trial,” John Beisner, a lawyer for J&J and DePuy, said in an e-mailed statement.

J&J won the first Pinnacle hip case to go to trial in October 2014 after a jury rejected a Montana woman’s claims that the devices were defective and gave her metal poisoning. In March 2016, a Dallas jury ordered J&J to pay $502 million to a group of five patients who accused the company of hiding defects in the hips. A judge cut that verdict in July to about $150 million.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said such bad-conduct awards must be proportional to compensatory damage verdicts that underlie them and has limited punitive verdicts to 10 times a plaintiff’s actual damages.

In his ruling, Kinkeade reduced the jury’s punitive awards to about nine times the actual damages suffered by the six hip plaintiffs, Lanier said. The plaintiffs are appealing the reductions, he added.

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