Leading class action law firm Maurice Blackburn has today launched legal action over faulty hip implants that have been used extensively in Australia over the past five years.
The devices were made in the UK by DePuy International Ltd and distributed in Australia by Johnson & Johnson Medical Pty Ltd.*
Official figures show that between 2003 and 2009 over 5000 Australians** had these specific prosthetic hips implanted. Hundreds of Australians have either had to have them removed or will now need to because of the awful health problems experienced when the hips have failed.
Two types of metal-on-metal hip implants are involved - the DePuy ASR Hip Resurfacing System and the DePuy ASR XL Acetabular System.
Ben Slade, Maurice Blackburn NSW Principal said, "A vast number of people are affected by these faulty implants in Australia and internationally. Australian surgeons began noticing problems with the ASR devices in 2007. The company withdrew them from sale in Australia in December 2009, but this was too late for many people who have been left with serious health problems that continue even after the painful operation to remove and replace them with safe devices."
In March 2010, Johnson & Johnson issued a safety alert in Australia warning of concerns with the DePuy ASR implants and in August 2010 issued a more significant "hazard alert".
"So far, DePuy and Johnson & Johnson have been quite constructive by paying for some medical costs incurred by victims but these faulty implants can impact in a range of ways including economic loss and the costs of carers, not to mention the compensation that is due for pain and suffering," said Mr Slade.
"These devices can cause problems that make it harder for a second hip replacement to be successful, after the faulty implant is removed. Sadly, many people have greatly reduced quality of life and reduced mobility if they have to suffer faulty prosthetic hip replacement surgery."
"The most efficient legal avenue for affected Australians is a class action, as it will generate a fair compensation regime for all those who have suffered a significant injury."
Maurice Blackburn alleges that DePuy and Johnson & Johnson have breached the Commonwealth Trade Practices Act 1974 by selling a product that was not fit for its purpose and was not of merchantable quality. It is also alleged that the companies have been negligent because they failed in their duty of care to users of these implants. The class action will be conducted in the Federal Court in Sydney.
Class action lead applicant Tammy Stanford
The lead applicant in the Maurice Blackburn class action is Tammy Stanford, a 40 year old Hobart woman.
Mrs Stanford had a left hip replacement in late 2005 as a result of developmental dysplasia of the hip. In mid 2010 she began to develop ever worsening symptoms and at the end of the year her surgeon recommended revision surgery. After surgery in January 2011 it was found that Mrs Stanford's hip joint was inflamed and that the tissue around her hip joint and her bone had degenerated.
Mrs Stanford is a high school teacher, and mother of two. She is not able to return to classroom work and is still on crutches and pain relief medication.
"I'm concerned for my health and for my quality of life. I had this implant in for five years and I don't know what the long term impacts are. I don't want to suffer in silence on this. I feel like I have been a guinea pig for this company.
"I've seen how hard it is for older people with hip replacements but they need to be checked out if they are having problems."
Symptoms experienced by people with the ASR devices include
People whose DePuy ASR devices fail are commonly experiencing pain, swelling and a decreased range of movement, usually caused by inflammation.
In its hazard alert in August 2010, Johnson & Johnson said that some patients may develop progressive soft tissue reactions to metal wear debris, which can cause soft tissue damage which in turn compromises the results of revision surgery. Higher than normal cobalt and chromium ion levels are also observable in some patients.
Maurice Blackburn is has previously secured compensation in 2004 for people who had faulty knee implants made by Smith & Nephew and its lawyers have long experience with other legal action over faulty medical devices.
*According to the Australian Orthopaedic Association's National Joint Replacement Registry (NJRR), which collects data on joint replacements, approximately 5,558 ASR implants were used in Australia between 1 January 2003 and 31 December 2009. Data for the 2010 calendar year is not yet available from the NJRR.
**DePuy and Johnson & Johnson are subsidiaries of the US based global health care company Johnson & Johnson, Inc.