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Johnson & Johnson scored a victory in the ongoing legal saga the company has been mired in over its defective DePuy Pinnacle hip replacement products, which have injured thousands of patients due to concerns over metal poisoning, early device failure and other defects that have required revisionary surgery to address. After enduring judgements of over $1 billion, a judge recently reduced the rewards to roughly half of what juries had awarded, citing limits to punitive damages. While the recent amendment represents $500 million in relief for Johnson & Johnson, the company is still facing over 9,000 lawsuits from plaintiffs claiming damages.
Damage Caps Have Resulted in Similar Reversals Following Past Judgements
It is not without precedent for judges to reduce the amount of punitive damages awarded when feeling that the jury was excessive in punishing the liable party. The United States Supreme Court has ruled in the past that the amount of punitive damages awarded should reflect the actual damages, or compensatory compensation. Roughly ten times these damages has been established as the limit, meaning that if a plaintiff is awarded $100,000 in compensatory damages, any punitive damages in excess of $1 million would be seen as excessive.
Litigation against Johnson & Johnson has been ongoing, with the first case heard in October of 2014. The jury ruled in favor of DePuy when the plaintiff was not able to provide substantive evidence that the Pinnacle hip replacement system was responsible for poisonous levels of heavy metals in her blood. While J&J won that case, the company was subject to over $500 million in damages in March of 2016 and then another judgement in December that exceeded $1 billion. In both cases, the judgements have been reduced— from $500 million to $150 million and from $1 billion to around $500 million.
In the December case, the judge determined that the reduced damages were about nine times the actual costs that the six plaintiffs incurred due to their injuries. An appeal quickly followed the reduction of damages, but Johnson & Johnson is due to have the advantage here because of historic precedent and past United States Supreme Court rulings.
The Status of Thousands of Cases Still Unclear
Since DePuy was forced to remove its Pinnacle hip replacement system from the market because of more strict oversight, thousands of patients have come forward with claims that the implants were defective. The injuries have included infections, metalosis, early device failure, extreme pain and discomfort, the erosion of the socket and tissue damage to the hip joint and surrounding area. It is very possible that a settlement offer is on the way in light of the judgments that have been rendered against Johnson & Johnson so far.
With 9,000 plaintiffs in wait, it is possible for this mass tort to result in billions of dollars of additional damages being awarded to victims. The reduction of punitive damages does not discount the compensatory damages that plaintiffs are entitled to. These damages can include the cost of revisionary surgeries, emergency medical treatment, physical therapy and rehabilitation, out of pocket expenses, the cost of a new implant, pain and suffering and more.
Even though Johnson & Johnson scored a significant victory in the latest ruling, the reduction of punitive damages from $1 billion to $500 million may be insignificant in the grander scheme of things. There are thousands of victims yet to see their day in court and it has been established now on more than one occasion that DePuy is indeed liable for the injuries patients have suffered after receiving Pinnacle hip replacement products.