A group of New Zealand patients caught up in what is predicted to be the world's biggest medical device failure are taking legal action against the manufacturer in England.

Twenty eight people who were implanted with the failed ASR hip joint are this week being interviewed by English lawyer Hugh Preston.

The patients have had surgery to replace the failed cobalt and chrome metal hip and a few have had multiple operations.

Many have high readings for cobalt and chromium and are concerned about possible related health consequences.


Mr Preston, a specialist in product liability and personal injury, said more New Zealand patients may join the legal action as they became aware they could sue under English law.

Worldwide 93,000 people were implanted with the hip, 507 in New Zealand.

New Zealand patients are unable to sue here because of ACC legislation. They can sue under English law because the joint was made in Leeds by English company DePuy, a subsidiary of world medical giant Johnson & Johnson.

Johnson & Johnson is paying medical costs of revision surgery related to its recall of the ASR hips.

Class actions seeking damages have been filed in the United States and Australia but in New Zealand compensation is covered by ACC which is limited to a small weekly disability payment and the cost of necessary modifications to a person's home.

The ASR hip was recalled in August 2010 when the rate of joint failure after six years reached 12 per cent compared to a normal rate of about 4 per cent. The failure rate in Britain has since been reported to be 49 per cent and Mr Preston said some experts are predicting all will fail by 10 years.

Touted as a market leader when it came into use in 2003, the ASR has since been linked to loosening of the joint, toxic levels of cobalt and chromium and damage to surrounding tissue.

Mr Preston, who is being instructed by Wellington firm John Miller Law, said he would first approach Johnson & Johnson to see whether the matter could be settled out of court.


The ASR hip failure is predicted by some product liability experts to top the $US1 billion cost that resulted from the recall of a Sulzer Hip in 2001. The ASR recall involves three times as many people.