Smith & Nephew’s BHR (Birmingham Hip Resurfacing) Statute of Limitations is a hotly debated issue for this week’s Federal Court hearing in Baltimore. There are over 500 filed cases in that Court, and many more yet to be filed, making this an extremely significant hearing. It will be the first time the MDL Judge considers this particular defense in regards to this defendant, but it will certainly not be the last. They will undoubtedly echo this strategy when the non-BHR cases head to trial in a couple years – in the same Court.
What is a Statute of Limitations? It is a major legal hurdle. Every state in America provides that there is a limited amount of time to bring your lawsuit once you have a right to file it. But there are some extenuating circumstances, and that is what will be debated this week. Basically, it is a moving target, and attorneys for both sides, under the Judge’s purview, will hash out the various arguments.
This week’s hearing involves Smith & Nephew asking the Court to throw out a few dozen BHR cases because they were filed questionably late. Smith & Nephew’s Motion, the Plaintiffs’ Response, and the company’s Reply are all in the “Hip Implant Legal Page” section of my website. They are easy to find because that page is in chronological order, and the filings all occurred recently.
It is very common to see this particular defense whenever there are a large number of plaintiffs, and this MDL is no exception. The basic argument is that the plaintiffs in each case knew they had a possible products liability lawsuit but that some waited too long to file. Smith & Nephew has analyzed the individual facts of each case and has identified the length of time available to file suit within each state’s Statute of Limitations. The company is asking the Court to throw out those barred by the Statute. This is serious business, because a case is OVER if it was filed too late.
Again, this argument requires a certain level of interpretation and is affected by various dynamics. For example, some medical device companies argue that the Statute of Limitations begins to run when the Plaintiff first had reason to believe there was a possible problem with the product. This could occur long before revision surgery, perhaps when the client first experienced an implant dislocation or an abnormally high metal level in his or her blood or simply due to recurrent ongoing pain. Smith & Nephew has focused on a later but more certain date – the date when the Plaintiff had surgery to revise the original implant. The company is arguing that every claim “accrues” or starts when the Plaintiff has revision surgery, and then is arguing for dismissal if the case wasn’t filed within the number of years allowed by that state’s Statute of Limitations.
This week, we will begin to learn how the MDL Judge will analyze these legal issues in the BHR cases, but it will likely be a forecast for non-BHR because Smith & Nephew will definitely raise these same defenses across the board. My prediction is that the Judge will throw out some BHR cases relatively quickly on the basis of being filed inarguably too late – too far outside the allowable time in a particular state. I predict “close calls” will go in favor of the Plaintiffs – for now. That said, one Federal Court recently threw out a hip implant case against Zimmer, Inc. that was filed just one day late – which is a little severe. It is a “bright line” legal issue, and while some Smith & Nephew cases will not make the cut, I predict most will.
The bottom line is this: Those who have had Smith & Nephew implants and are experiencing chronic issues, especially if they have already had revision surgery, must file inside the limited period of time for their state. If the deadline to file passes or is coming up soon, it will be difficult to convince an attorney to take your case or a judge to sympathize with the delay. Even if you are uncertain you have a viable case, find an attorney now. If you are reading this, chances are you believe your hip – or a loved one’s hip – has failed. The Statute of Limitations clock is ticking. Time is not on your side. There is literally no benefit to waiting, and acting quickly (i.e., now) could preserve your place in line!