Yesterday was a good day for people fighting Smith & Nephew over defective metal on metal hip implants. On March 1, 2018, the U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled in favor of the consumers in Walter and Vivian Shuker v. Smith & Nephew. Sickened by the implants he received in 2009, Mr. Shuker’s case landed in the Federal appeals court process, where I watched it for the past two + years. The good guys won yesterday, and it spells trouble for Smith & Nephew, an overseas company with a reputation for selling harmful, unapproved hip implants.
- Unapproved Hip Parts.
Mr. Shuker’s metal on metal implant case was unusual for many reasons. For one, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officially weighed in on the legal arguments and actually filed a brief in Federal court. Secondly, it involved a combination of metal parts that received FDA clearances through two entirely different regulatory classification systems. The specific combination of Smith & Nephew parts in this case involved an “R3 Shell and Liner”, a femoral head, and a stem that connected the metal head to the thighbone. The metal liner was FDA approved as a “Class III device”, meaning it supposedly underwent a rigorous pre-market approval process. The other parts, however, all were cleared as Class II devices, involving a much more lenient process.
In the end, the Third Circuit ruled that the Shukers should have a chance to prove that Smith & Nephew is legally responsible for injuries caused by the unapproved device combo. But it hasn’t been smooth sailing. Far from it! While Smith & Nephew must face the Shukers’ claims for negligently promoting this combination of parts for use together, the Court threw out claims for strict products liability, breach of warranty, and general negligence. But after more than four years of waiting, this victory should be encouraging for all people with failing Smith & Nephew hip implants!
- Trouble for Smith & Nephew.
The Shuker case is similar to another case against Smith & Nephew, Joe Mink v. Smith & Nephew, Inc. In 2017, I presented oral argument in the Mink case in the U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Miami. Mink and Shuker are unique in that, to date, they are the only two Federal Appeals Court metal on metal hip implant cases in the country decided against Smith & Nephew. It is doubtful they will remain alone! Smith & Nephew’s unapproved metal on metal hip implants used for hip replacements are failing at an alarming rate. New cases are being filed against this company weekly and nationwide. There is an active and growing mass of Smith & Nephew cases in Baltimore Federal Court in MDL # 2775.
Smith & Nephew, Inc. is a Tennessee company whose parent company, Smith & Nephew, plc, is an international, multi-billion-dollar enterprise based in the United Kingdom. For various reasons that I’ll explain in future blogs, Smith & Nephew has managed to largely avoid the costly nationwide litigation that ensnared its competitors in the metal hip implant industry. Yesterday’s win in Philadelphia is especially encouraging, signaling a new era of accountability.
- No more FDA Shenanigans.
In 2016, the FDA finally changed regulatory requirements in this country for manufacturers of metal hip systems used for total hip replacements. (See “METAL HIP IMPLANT MAKERS STOP SELLING PRODUCTS RATHER THAN PROVE THEY ARE SAFE”, posted on March 8, 2016). The FDA had previously allowed metal hip implants to be sold in this country via a regulatory “fast track” loophole, but growing concern about their safety and effectiveness resulted in the FDA basically closing that loophole for good in May 2016. The FDA gave the companies more than three years advance notice and then issued an Order requiring them to quit selling the devices or prove they were safe by May of 2016. I predicted in early 2016 that none of the hip implant makers would try to prove their products were safe and effective, and I was right. The companies all chose to quietly discontinue selling their metal hip replacement systems as soon as the FDA required them to prove they were safe and effective.
Smith & Nephew, however, was able to avoid FDA scrutiny of their metal hips because the company never obtained approval to sell a metal on metal hip replacement system in the first place. The companies that legally sold FDA-cleared implants had to undergo the expense and embarrassment of publicly withdrawing their bad products. But in an ironic and twisted turn of events, Smith & Nephew was exempt from complying with the FDA’s orders because it had never obtained approval to sell metal on metal hip replacements in the first place. The one company that never obtained approval was also the only company that did not have to comply with the May 2016 deadline.
And so, while yesterday was a banner day, signaling a new era of accountability, it is still just the beginning. Other hip implant manufacturers have been paying significant settlement money for hip implant injuries for years, but Smith & Nephew has managed to benefit from its unique position of non-approval and non-regulation … until recently. I predict Smith & Nephew, will pay a hefty price. And when it happens, I’ll be there to tell you I predicted it all.