* Plaintiff says J&J was aware of defects
* J&J says metal hip implant did not cause health problems
By Deena Beasley
Los Angeles, Jan 25 Johnson & Johnson was aware of defects when it started selling its now-recalled metal hip implants in 2004, lawyers said on Friday during opening arguments in a personal injury trial against the company.
More than 10,000 lawsuits have been filed against J&J after its DePuy unit recalled the all-metal ASR hip implants in 2010 following recognition that they were failing at higher-than-expected rates.
Opening arguments were heard in the first case to reach trial. The suit was filed in California Superior Court by 66-year-old Loren Kransky, whose ASR hip was replaced early last year.
"I'm sure that ultimately there will be some sort of global settlement," said Georgene Vairo, professor of law at Loyola University in Los Angeles. "But they are going to litigate some cases. Even though it was clear that something was wrong with the product, that may not be the cause in each individual claim."
Kransky's attorney, Michael Kelly, said the ASR hip caused elevated levels of cobalt and chromium in Kransky, while J&J lawyers said the amount of metals shown in tests was not high enough to cause health problems.
"Doctors relied 100 percent on DePuy and patients relied 100 percent on doctors and information was kept from them," said Kelly.
Lawyers for J&J contend that Kransky, a lifelong smoker suffering from diabetes and eventually kidney cancer, was in extremely poor health, mainly caused by vascular disease, well before he received the ASR hip.
"The evidence will show that DePuy is a good and conscientious company," said J&J attorney Alexander Calfo.
He said the doctor who removed the ASR implant from Kransky will testify that he was "coached" by the Kransky family and its lawyers to use certain phrases, including the implication of metal poisoning, in medical records of the procedure.
With wear, all-metal implants can shed metal where two components connect, potentially damaging bone and soft tissue.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week issued a proposal calling on companies that make all-metal hip replacements to provide additional information proving they are safe and effective before being allowed to continue selling them.
The metal implants were developed to be more durable than traditional implants, which combine a ceramic or metal ball with a plastic socket, but concerns have grown after they were shown to fail more often.
As many as 500,000 American are estimated to have received metal-on-metal hip replacements.