Zimmer Inc. has been ordered to pay more than $2 million to a New Mexico man who received a defective hip implant that likely led to permanent muscle damage and metal poisoning in his blood.
After a two-week bench trial in December, Judge Nan G. Nash ruled on March 31 that Zimmer had created and sold a defective design and should pay for lost wages and past and future medical expenses required to remove dead flesh caused by infections in plaintiff Brian McDonald.
“It is never appropriate to design a hip implant system that would create an unreasonable risk of injury to the health or safety of a patient,” Nash wrote in a 27-page decision.
Although hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against many manufacturers of metal-on-metal hip implants, attorneys say this is a landmark case that could begin a new trend.
“This is the first case we know of that has gone to trial in the country, and a growing number of these are going to court,” said Joseph Osborne, Jr., of Osborne & Associates based in Florida. Osborne represented McDonald in his civil lawsuit against Zimmer along with Randi McGinn and Allegra Carpenter of McGinn, Carpenter, Montoya & Love, P.A., of Albuquerque, N.M.
“A hip implant shouldn’t cause metal poisoning and make a patient worse rather than better,” McGinn also said in a news release.
Zimmer Implant Previous Subject of Recall
McDonald, a retired economist at the University of New Mexico, told the Albuquerque Journal that pain in his hip was limiting his active life at the age of 62. He decided to investigate his options for hip surgery and ensure the safety of any devices he would have implanted.
“Back in 2010 when I had the first surgery, there already were some lawsuits about what they called metalosis, which is when the hip implant gives off metal debris and gets in the muscle’s tissue and, in my case, basically killed it,” McDonald told Maggie Shepard of the Albuquerque Journal.
At the time, his surgeon told him that the device he would use, Zimmer’s dual modular hip implant — the M/L Taper Hip Prosthesis with Kinectiv Technology (“MLTK”) and a cobalt-chromium head — had been corrected to address any issues of metal on metal.
“The problem is this particular device had other issues that caused metal debris and metalosis,” McDonald said.
Although Zimmer did address the initial problem, the metal debris came from the femoral stem and ball instead of the hip socket and ball.
The judge said that the issue is traced back to Zimmer’s testing of its components in isolation rather than testing how they interacted together.
“In designing the MLTK, Defendants knew that the use of dissimilar metals can result in a higher potential for corrosion and that wear debris from a junction of two dissimilar metals had been documented to be toxic and harmful to the human body,” she wrote, according to Business Wire.
Certain M/L Taper Hip Prosthesis with Kinectiv Technology devices were the subject of a Class I recall in 2015 due to “higher than allowed cytotoxicity levels found with the product,” according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
McDonald Remains Afflicted with Lifelong Issues
McDonald’s issues are expected to continue with the possibility of an expensive third operation to further rectify the problems that arose from the defective hip implant.
“It is more probable than not that Plaintiff will need a third, more complicated revision surgery in the future,” Nash wrote. “This surgery will cost approximately $250,000 and will involve removal of all of the implant components for a period of 2-3 months to try and kill the infection, during which Plaintiff will be wheelchair bound. If the infection can be successfully eradicated, another hip prosthesis will be implanted, necessitating the same type of physical therapy and recovery period as the first two revision surgeries.”
Zimmer was ordered to pay $1 million for past and future pain and suffering and nearly $500,000 for lost enjoyment of life. The rest is for medical expenses, out-of-pocket expenses and lost household services.
As a result of the two revision surgeries McDonald underwent after the initial implant, he told the Albuquerque Journal that he is now able to walk again but would not be able to play as many sports. He said he used to play tennis and golf all the time.
Zimmer has not responded to the verdict, and it remains unclear whether it will appeal the ruling. More lawsuits are expected to be filed in the future.