Johnson & Johnson Sued Over Hip-Replacement Device in Australia

Johnson & Johnson was sued by a Tasmanian high school teacher over an implanted hip-replacement device that the drugmaker stopped selling in Australia in December 2009 after reports of defects surfaced.

J&J, based in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and its DePuy International unit broke Australia’s trade law by selling an unfit product and were negligent, according to the lawsuit filed in Sydney Federal Court today by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers.

More than 5,000 Australians had the metal-on-metal prosthetic hips implanted between 2003 and 2009, according to the Australian Orthopaedic Association’s National Joint Replacement Registry. The Australian suit follows similar litigation in the U.S., where J&J was sued in September on behalf of 93,000 patients. DePuy generated more than $5.4 billion in sales last year, according to U.S. court filings.

“A vast number of people are affected by these faulty implants in Australia and internationally,” Ben Slade, a principal at Maurice Blackburn, said in a statement. “These faulty implants can impact in a range of ways including economic loss and the costs of careers.”

Johnson & Johnson didn’t immediately respond to a request from comment.

Tammy Stanford, 40, of Hobart, Tasmania, received a left hip replacement in 2005, according to the lawsuit. Last year her doctor recommended revision surgery after she developed “ever-worsening symptoms.” Following surgery in January, doctors found Stanford’s hip joint was inflamed and tissue and the bone had degenerated, according to the lawsuit.

Pain Relief

The mother of two hasn’t been able to return to work at school and is on crutches and pain-relief medication, the lawyers said.

J&J and Warsaw, Indiana-based DePuy said they recalled the devices, known as the ASR XL Acetabular and the ASR Hip Resurfacing systems, after researchers found many patients needed “revision surgery” after five years because of design defects.

The resurfacing system substitutes a metal device for the ball of a human hip while the Acetabular version helps address pelvic problems.

Researchers in the U.K. found recently that after five years, 13 percent of patients with complete hip replacements and 12 percent with resurfacing devices needed a second operation, known as a revision, J&J officials said in a statement announcing the U.S. recall.

Other medical-device makers have faced costly product-liability cases in the U.S. in the past over hip-replacement systems.

$1 Billion Settlement

Sulzer AG agreed in 2001 to a $1 billion settlement of suits alleging hip and knee implants made by its former Sulzer Medica unit were defective. Sulzer, the world’s second-largest maker of pumps, is based in Winterthur, Switzerland.

The unit, based in Austin, Texas, began recalling hip implants in January 2001, saying they could loosen. Of the 31,000 patients who received the implants, more than 2,700 have had them replaced. More than 560 had knee implants replaced.

J&J and DePuy also face similar suits in U.S. state court in Los Angeles and federal court in New Jersey, according to court filings.

“I don’t want to suffer in silence on this,” Stanford, the Tasmanian school teacher, said in a statement. “I feel like I have been a guinea pig for this company.”

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