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All-metal hip implants may spur products liability lawsuits

In what is shaping up to be the most expensive medical device problem since Medtronic’s heart device issues in 2007, many patients in New Jersey and around the country are complaining about defective all-metal hip implants.

Hip implants typically last 15 years or longer, but many individuals are having all-metal hip implants removed after only a few years due to device failure. The Food and Drug Administration has received approximately 5,000 complaints about failing hip implants this year, which is more complaints than the past four years combined.

The immediate cause of the hip implant failures is unknown because researchers do not have sufficient data to analyze the defective medical devices. There is no FDA requirement that provides for the tracking of the hip implants’ performance and there is a lack of patient registries that could help produce studies into the hip implant failures.

“They are grasping at how they are going to get this information,” said an orthopedic surgeon with Kaiser Permanente.

This is alarming because although none of the injuries are life threatening, some patients have suffered severe personal injuries when the metal hip implants shed particles of cobalt and chromium. Common symptoms include pain, rashes and inflammation, but some patients who suffer from metallic debris exhibit no pain, which makes it difficult for doctors to decide whether to remove the implants.

The dangers of the metal hip implants have caused many surgeons to stop using them altogether and metal hip implants have plummeted to around 5 percent of the hip implant market.

“It is like playing Russian roulette,” said an orthopedic surgeon who has stopped using metal hip implants.

Source: New York Times, “Hip Implant Complaints Surge, Even as the Dangers Are Studied,” Barry Meier, Janet Roberts, Aug. 22, 2011

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