When retired University of New Mexico economist Brian McDonald decided to get his hip replaced in 2010 to ease his pain, he did not expect his Zimmer M/L taper hip prosthesis with Kinectiv Technology and cobalt-chromium head to cause long-term damage to his health.
But, after years of complications and a possible lifelong ailment related to the Zimmer hip implant, a judge awarded McDonald $2 million for suffering likely permanent injuries as a result of a defective design and insufficient testing from the device maker.
“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,” wrote Judge Nan G. Nash in a 27-page decision.
The two-week bench trial took place at the Second Judicial District Court in Albuquerque between December 12 and December 23 last year, but the decision came down March 31 from the judge.
“It is more probable than not that Plaintiff will need a third, more complicated revision surgery in the future,” Nash wrote, according to Business Wire. “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.”
Nash added, “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.”
McDonald was awarded $2.027 million, with $1 million for past and future pain and suffering and $480,000 for lost enjoyment of life. The rest of the award is for past and future medical expenses, lost household services and other out-of-pocket expenses.
Ruling Important in Future Hip Replacement Lawsuits
Attorneys in New Mexico and around the country are hailing the ruling as possibly representing a new trend in hip replacement cases. Several manufacturers have been sued over similar claims made by McDonald, but this is the first case to have a significant victory.
“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., one of the attorneys representing McDonald in his civil suit against Zimmer.
Osborne, of the Florida-based firm Osborne & Associates, tried the case with Randi McGinn and Allegra Carpenter of McGinn, of Carpenter, Montoya & Love, P.A.
“A hip implant shouldn’t cause metal poisoning and make a patient worse rather than better,” McGinn also said in a news release.
Other companies have settled lawsuits related to defective metal-on-metal hip implants out of court. Stryker Corp. and its subsidiary Howmedica Osteonics Corp. reached a $1 billion settlement in November 2014 over claims related to their Rejuvenate Modular-Neck hip stems and ABG II Modular-Neck hip stems.
Lawsuits against other manufacturers are continuing to make their way through the court system.
McDonald Investigated Options Prior to Surgery
McDonald started exploring the option of hip replacement surgery in 2010 after pain was cutting his tennis and golf days short, accord to the Albuquerque Journal. He looked into his options and was aware of existing reports of problems with hip replacement devices.
“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 said.
His surgeon had told him Zimmer M/L taper hip prosthesis with Kinectiv Technology he was getting had been changed to correct any metal-on-metal issues. The devices had previously been at the center of a Class I recall issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in November 2015.
“The problem is this particular device had other issues that caused metal debris and metalosis,” McDonald said.
The issue was not with the hip socket and ball but rather than femoral stem and ball. Metal debris from the two sections caused McDonald’s leg muscle to start to die.
Judge Nash wrote that the metal debris problem could be traced back to Zimmer’s inadequate testing. Had Zimmer tested the components together rather than in isolation, the problem likely would have been found.
“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.
McDonald underwent emergency surgery to replace the metal pieces in his hip, which resulted in an infection that required another surgery. He also faces the threat of the infection reemerging for the rest of his life.
Zimmer did not respond to the Albuquerque Journal’s request for comment. It remains unclear whether Zimmer will appeal the decision.