Smith & Nephew hip lawsuits

Smith & Nephew hip lawsuits are mass tort claims against Smith & Nephew for the defective design of their metal implants used in hip replacement surgeries, including their Birmingham Hip Resurfacing System. These metallic implants require far more corrective surgeries than other implants. Worse, metal fragments can grind off the implants and cause severe complications, including metal poisoning. These lawsuits also claim that Smith & Nephew failed to warn people of the dangers of using their implants, and demand compensation for:

  • Medical expenses,
  • Lost wages,
  • Reduced earning capacity, and
  • Pain and suffering.
smith & nephew brand
Smith & Nephew hip implants are a brand of medical devices that can be used in hip replacement surgeries

1. What are Smith & Nephew hip implants?

Smith & Nephew hip implants are a brand of medical devices that can be used in hip replacement surgeries. These implants replace or repair portions of a patient's hip, including their hip socket and the top of their femur.

One of Smith & Nephew's hip implants is their Birmingham Hip Resurfacing System. This medical device comes in two parts: A semicircular cap that resurfaces the top of the patient's femur, and a ball-shaped socket that get implanted in the patient's pelvis. The implants create a “ball-in-socket” joint that mimics the natural workings of a healthy hip.

Importantly, both the metallic cap for the femur and the ball-shaped socket that gets implanted in the pelvis are made of a mixture of chromium and cobalt.

Another Smith & Nephew hip implant that can use a similar design and materials is the R3 Acetabular System. This hip replacement implant also comes in two parts – the femoral cap and ball-shaped socket implant – but was designed to accommodate different materials based on the patient's needs. One possible construction of the R3 System, though, is the same chromium and cobalt mixture present in the Birmingham Hip Resurfacing System.

2. Risks of Smith & Nephew's metal-on-metal hip implants

Smith & Nephew hip implants that use metal-on-metal designs – where both the femoral cap and the pelvic socket are made of metal – have a markedly higher rate of failure than other designs. Worse, the metallic linings can grind against each other and release shards of metal into the patient's bloodstream and nearby tissues, causing metal poisoning.

These problems have each contributed to recalls of Smith & Nephew hip implants.

2.1 High rate of failure for Smith & Nephew implants

Studies have shown that hip implants that rely on a metal-on-metal design, including those made by Smith & Nephew, are more likely to require additional surgeries to correct problems with the implant.1

For example, the British Orthopaedics Association found that especially large metallic implants were shockingly prone to failure: 21% of them required a revision within four years, and nearly half of them required a revision within six years.2

Patients whose metal-on-metal hip replacement implants require revisionary surgery go through a lot of trauma and suffering before the surgery ever happens, including:

  • Lots of pain in the hip and groin area,
  • Decreased mobility,
  • A high risk for a painful and debilitating dislocation,
  • Numerous doctor's visits, and
  • Uncertainty about their mobility.

Additionally, the revisionary surgery comes with potential complications and other setbacks:

  • The risk of infection present in nearly every surgical procedure,
  • Physical pain from the surgery and the recovery process,
  • Mental anguish from the need for a revisionary surgery, and
  • Financial costs of the surgery and rehab.

After three years in use in the U.S. and an estimated 4,000 implants, Smith & Nephew issued a global recall of its R3 System in 2012, allegedly because of the disturbingly high revision rate of nearly 6% per year.3 Smith & Nephew also claimed that high revision rates were behind its decision to issue a global recall of its Birmingham Hip Resurfacing System in 2015, as well.4

In spite of Smith & Nephew's claim that it was the revisionary surgery rates that drove its decision to issue a recall, metal-on-metal hip implants have also been shown to come with a significantly higher risk for metal poisoning.5

2.2 Metal poisoning from Smith & Nephew hip implants

The movement of the metal femoral cap inside the metal socket that has been implanted in the pelvis creates friction. This friction can scrape tiny shards of metal from the implants. If this metal escapes the ball-shaped socket, it can work its way into the patient's bloodstream or seep into the tissues surrounding the implants.

The metal used in Smith & Nephew's Birmingham Hip Resurfacing System and its R3 Acetabular System is a mixture of cobalt and chromium – metals that have been known to release carcinogenic ions into the bloodstream.

The medical complications that come from this exposure to these heavy metal ions are wide-reaching and severe, including:

  • Metal toxicity,
  • Necrosis in nearby tissues,
  • Blood poisoning,
  • Chronic pain,
  • Inflammation,
  • Cobalt exposure, which can lead to cardiomyopathy, and
  • Deterioration of the tissues surrounding the implant, causing it to dislocate and grind even more metallic shards into the bloodstream.

These complications from metal toxicity caused by metal-on-metal hip implants were prominently featured in the Netflix documentary, The Bleeding Edge.

attorneys working on lawsuit
Numerous lawsuits have been filed against Smith & Nephew for the damages caused by their hip replacement implants

3. Lawsuits over Smith & Nephew's hip implants

Because these injuries were suffered by patients who had no control over their plight, numerous lawsuits have been filed against Smith & Nephew for the damages caused by their hip replacement implants.

These lawsuits claim that Smith & Nephew both defectively designed their implants and did not properly warn doctors and patients of the dangers of using them.

Medical device manufacturers have a legal duty to design their products in ways that do not cause unreasonable harm to patients. When companies cut corners and use materials that pose a danger to patients, they should be held liable for the foreseeable injuries that come from those decisions.

The lawsuits against Smith & Nephew claim that the decision to use cobalt and chromium metals in hip implants amounted to a defective design. Smith & Nephew advertised its Birmingham Hip Resurfacing and its R3 Acetabular Systems as being far stronger than traditional hip implants, which had been made of ceramic. However, the lawsuits filed by victims claim that the dangers posed by metallic poisoning so far outweigh the benefits that it amounted to a defect in the product. The lawsuits claim that the trade-off between slightly stronger materials and a high risk of toxicity was negligent, and seek to hold Smith & Nephew accountable.

Additionally, the lawsuits also claim that Smith & Nephew defectively warned doctors and patients about the risks of using metal-on-metal implants for hip replacement surgeries. By not notifying consumers about the risks of these devices, doctors were left unable to make informed prescriptions for their patients, and patients were left completely unable to protect themselves.

Because so many people were hurt in similar ways by Smith & Nephew's metal-on-metal hip implants, and because those injuries were the result of a single course of conduct by Smith & Nephew, the hundreds of lawsuits against the company have been consolidated into multidistrict litigation (MDL). MDLs streamline lawsuits that have similar elements to them by consolidating them into one federal district court for all of the pretrial procedures, including:

  • Discovery of evidence,
  • Depositions of experts, witnesses, and victims,
  • Motions to dismiss,
  • Summary judgment motions, and
  • Challenges to the admissibility of evidence.

The lawsuits against Smith & Nephew for injuries caused by their R3 Acetabular System and their Birmingham Hip Resurfacing System have been consolidated in an MDL in the District of Maryland under Judge Catherine Blake.6

As of May 15, 2019, there were 587 individual lawsuits consolidated in the MDL.7

4. Compensation available to victims of Smith & Nephew hip implants

The lawsuits against Smith & Nephew for damages caused by their hip implants seek compensatory damages that are meant to cover a victim's:

  • Past medical expenses, including the costs of the corrective surgery and care needed to treat the medical complications caused by any metal poisoning,
  • Anticipated future medical expenses associated with the long-term effects of metal toxicity and another hip replacement,
  • Lost wages or professional repercussions of a long recovery and debilitating injury,
  • Pain and suffering, and
  • Loss of consortium felt by the victim's family.

Additionally, lawsuits against Smith & Nephew claim that the company's defective design and warning were so egregious that punitive damages should be assessed, as well.

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Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you have had a hip replacement surgery that used one of Smith & Nephew's metal-on-metal implants, you could be entitled to compensation for your losses. The mass tort attorneys at the Shouse Law Office can help. Call them at 855-LAWFIRM to schedule a consultation.


Legal References:

  1. See Deborah Cohen, “Out of Joint: The Story of the ASR,” British Medical Journal 342:d2905 (2011).

  2. British Orthopaedic Association, “Large Diameter Metal on Metal Bearing Total Hip Replacements,” (March 4, 2011).

  3. See New Zealand Ministry of Health Press Release, “Smith & Nephew R3 Hip Implants Metal Liner,” (June 7, 2012).

  4. FDA Press Release, “Class 2 Device Recall Smith & Nephew BIRMINGHAM HIP (TM) RESURFACING FEMORAL HEAD,” (June 3, 2015).

  5. Gross TP, Liu F, “Incidence of adverse wear reactions in hip resurfacing arthroplasty: a single surgeon series of 2,600 cases,” Hip Institute 23(3):250-8 (May – June, 2013).

  6. In re: Smith & Nephew Birmingham Hip Resurfacing (BHR) Hip Implant Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 2775.

  7. MDL Statistics Report – Distribution of Pending MDL Dockets by District (May 15, 2019).

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