U.S. judge cuts $500 million verdict over J&J hip implants

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge has slashed a $500 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson and its DePuy unit over allegedly defective metal-on-metal Pinnacle hip implants to approximately $151 million.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade in the Northern District of Texas said he was compelled to reduce the verdict under a Texas state law limiting punitive damages according to a specific formula.

In March, the five plaintiffs and three of their spouses had been collectively awarded roughly $360 million in punitive damages, along with $140 million in compensatory damages, following a two-month trial.

Kinkeade also denied J&J’s bid to set aside the verdicts and order a new trial. The company had argued jurors were biased by hearing irrelevant and unfair evidence during trial. Plaintiffs’ lawyers had claimed the company was seeking an improper “do-over” after its trial strategy backfired.

Mark Lanier and Richard Arsenault, lead lawyers for the Pinnacle plaintiffs, said they disagreed with Texas’ cap on punitive damages but were pleased J&J’s bid for a new trial had been rejected.

A lawyer for J&J, John Beisner, said that the company is “confident that the trial verdict will be reversed on appeal.”

J&J and DePuy are facing roughly 8,400 lawsuits over the devices, which plaintiffs say contain design flaws that cause them to fail. The lawsuits claim friction between the devices’ metal components can shed ions into the bloodstream, leading to injuries such as tissue death, bone erosion and high levels of metal in their blood.

J&J and DePuy have denied any wrongdoing in connection with developing and marketing the devices. DePuy stopped selling the metal-on-metal version of Pinnacle hips in 2013. That year, it paid $2.5 billion to settle more than 7,000 lawsuits over another metal-on-metal hip device, the ASR, which was recalled in 2010.

The $500 million verdict in March was the second in a trial involving Pinnacle hip devices. J&J was cleared of liability in the first trial, which involved a single plaintiff and ended in 2014. A third trial involving multiple plaintiffs is scheduled for September.

Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Tom Brown